The youth are the greatest asset of the world – without them there’s no future. Young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow – they are also leaders, as well partners of today. Disregarding the power of youth is tantamount to jeopardizing the social sustainability, prosperity and stability of our world.Youth participation in sustainable development issues locally and globally means: “recognizing and nurturing the exuberance, interests, initiatives and abilities of young people through the provision of real opportunities for them to become involved in decisions that affect them at individual and systemic levels.

Our world is undoubtedly in a challenging state – the volatile economic climate continues to define the environment in which we work – the planetary ecosystems are failing – hundreds of millions of young people will look for jobs in the coming decade – an estimated 1.2 billion young people will enter the labour market in the next 10 years while only 300 million jobs await, and the gap between education, skills and jobs continues to increase.

Youth participation in development issues should command the greatest attention today more than ever. It’s quite noteworthy that we live in very exciting times. Our world has never before seen an overlap of crises on a global scale, and never before have we had access to a cornucopia of information, sophisticated technologies, and knowledge that can help resolve those crises.

However, providing real opportunities for young people is often easier said than done. Hence young people are creating solutions, and taking positive actions to advance their communities and societies through myriad youth-led social impact projects. It’s therefore more crucial now, more than ever to create an environment in which young people can flourish and develop their potential to the fullest. Big or small – the contributions of youth towards sustainable development can make a huge difference and help create the better future we want. Therefore, there is, an urgent need to put mechanisms in place that give the youth a broader and more meaningful stake in developing and shaping sustainable development policies and frameworks, both on the national and international arenas.

Inclusiveness, transparency and multi-stakeholder participation are very essential for ensuring a fair, sociably just and sustainable future. Yet, over the years we have seen small groups of people – in our countries and the world at large, sitting and making the decisions that determine the direction of our future. And the irony is that many of these people don’t wear the shoes, so they don’t know where it pains. Clearly, sustainable progress for all will come in fits and starts – therefore the quick-fix and hackneyed approach is dicey and dysfunctional. It creates the potential for misapplication of ideas, strategies and techniques which could create significant inefficiency and incompatibility in the coming decades. It also obliterates in the decision-making picture, the youth, who are mostly affected by the wrong policies and decisions of policy cum decision-makers.

Frankly, achieving “the better future we want” requires greater presence of youth in the whole process of decision-making which affects their future, both in the national and international spheres. Thus, efforts to remedy our planet’s woes must include the youth as major partners and stakeholders – given that the youth have the potency to advance the well-being of the entire human race. They are the inheritors of today’s failure of bold leadership; they also are social justice advocates of the present and of the future, hence they must exercise their rights – amplify their voices and act as true partners in building smart, sustainable and inclusive future for themselves and the future generations.

Our world is witnessing an all time high percentage of youth in the world’s population. The Arab Spring was a clear demonstration of one possible outcome of denying youth the opportunity of participation in decision-making and policy development. While also, clearly indicating to the International Community that there benefits in engaging the youth globally in a positive way.

With optimum empowerment and support, young people could do positively extraordinary things in their communities and nations. Development and empowerment have become inseparable; you cannot talk about development without empowerment. Hence every nation must identify and develop viable learning methodologies and scholarship schemes; empowering the youth with relevant skills and competences for problem-solving. Thus, inspiring them to collaborate and co-create a prosperous and sustainable future. Today, more than ever, it is imperative to equip the youth with new knowledge, skills and competences. Today, it is critical, more than ever, to encourage the spirit of initiative, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, more than ever, stimulating non-formal education and offering experiential learning for personal and professional development of the youth, has become indispensable.

Furthermore, the youth are less stuck in the business-as-usual route to development. The youth are well-aware that governments and businesses alone cannot end our planet’s misery and put us on the path to sustainable growth. Hence they are always taking initiatives and collaborating to change the status quo. An example of such global collaboration is Challenge:Future – Global Youth think-DO-tank: a platform for the youth to share know-how and best practices – showcase new solutions that promote sustainable development and create new jobs. The output of the global Challenge:Future competitions and challenges is ventures, projects and policy initiatives for a sustainable planet. Between 2011-12, a plethora of social impact projects were executed by over 24,000 Challenge:Future members from 213 countries – improving lives of 270,000 children, youth and adults worldwide.

The youth represent new ways of solving social problems, things the older generation might not notice because they’re just used to the “status quo”. Since the “status quo” is extinguishing the polar bears, melting the ice caps and the glaciers, acidifying the oceans––spreading drought and flood across the earth––liquidating businesses and causing big enterprises to shed employees across the globe, it’s a good thing that young people are fashioning out new approaches. For instance, young people all over the African continent are fed up with politicians’ inability to advance the sustainability agenda, hence we’ve taken the bull by the horns – youth-led development organisations and young social justice advocates from across Africa are coming together at the NAYD Summit 2013, being convened with the overarching goal to “create a roadmap for youth-led sustainable development in Africa.”

The youth are a force to be reckoned with and the future belongs to them. To ensure that young people are effective leaders for a better future, today’s leaders are obliged to coach and mentor them and to alert them of the pitfalls of the past. The empowerment of young people will most definitely have positive ripple effects on our world, more than that of any other group in society. The international community should place premium on nurturing and developing the youth for local and global leadership and building bridges and networks of solidarity, which promote the sharing of experiences, ideas and best practices – thus, preparing young leaders to play a crucial and constructive role in the sustainable development of their communities and the world at large.

As Henry Giroux writes, “The stakes have never been so high and the future so dark.” Young people provide light in that darkness – let’s encourage their flames to grow.

Samuel Duru

Chair, Finance and Fundraising Committee

NAYD summit committee