Youth are proven collaborators regardless of background; they have not yet learned to put up artificial boundaries around their location, disciplines, or fields.
Young people are skilled when it comes to identifying gaps on a local level, and developing innovations that fit the needs of communities.
To tap into this energy, intergenerational collaboration is one of the greatest accelerators of youth innovation.
By Meredith Adler
When it comes to the SDGs, the world has one key force it needs to leverage to achieve success. It’s a powerful force that’s active just under the surface, and it’s making serious progress on all 17 Goals. I’m talking about youth.
Young people around the world have great potential to deliver on the innovative solutions we need for a sustainable future. While for many years young people have been attending and organizing at events like Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it has been rare to see established institutions, organizations and leaders demonstrate in-practice that they see youth as more than observers.
With the established ambition and inclusiveness of the SDGs, it is time for the world to recognize the inherent skills young people bring to the table as engines of innovation. Across the globe, youth are proven collaborators regardless of background. They have not yet learned to put up artificial boundaries around their location, disciplines, or fields.
Another advantage is sheer adaptability and propensity for vision. Growing up in the digital age has made constant change normal, easy and exciting. When you think about the big picture, achieving the SDGs means implementing a large-scale paradigm shift. This paradigm is not far from how young people see their ideal future, but it is quite different from how established professionals see their current reality.
Young people are very skilled when it comes to identifying gaps on a local level, and developing innovations that fit the needs of communities. Youth are very conscious of the world around them. Through friends, family, schooling they embed themselves in their communities and are building relationships beyond themselves. This puts them in a unique position to identify community-level needs and solutions.
Wrapping all of these pieces together is a propensity for ambition and speed of action. Anyone under 35 knows that they will be the ones to bear the consequences of our decisions today in the future – goals achieved or not. So, despite formal ownership over processes we all feel the need to involve ourselves and “make it happen.”
This is where our organization, Student Energy, steps in. On a day to day basis, we’re building the next generation of energy leaders who will accelerate our transition to a sustainable energy future. At a practical level, we’re working to build the capacity of young people so they can be as effective as possible in delivering on solutions, and working to create space to help their ambition and youth innovation be realized by governments, organizations, and companies.
This year, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany (COP 23), we had the opportunity to work with some incredible partners on both fronts, all while highlighting the reasons why anyone (or organization) who is serious about the SDGs needs to have a plan for tapping into youth innovation.
Before COP 23 officially began, hundreds of young people took part in the Conference on Youth (COY 13). In itself, this conference represents the power of grassroots action and inclusivity. It’s a volunteer-run initiative that unites young people who are interested in the COP process. The organizers work tirelessly to make it accessible to as many youth as possible by not only having one centralized event but by also running parallel summits all over the world. The conference is the pinnacle of collaboration with hundreds of people jumping in to share knowledge and prepare to make an impact at COP.
The Youth Climate Lab was Student Energy’s partner in bringing the ‘Action Jam: Innovating for Intergenerational Collaboration’ to COY. Here we explored how young people can work with other generations to implement our “big ideas.” At the event we dove into questions around what we have to offer, but also how we feel other constituencies can be partners in bringing youth innovation and ambition to the forefront.
At COP 23, numerous youth organizations focused on showing the world what youth can do, and helping young people to learn what they themselves are capable of.
At COP 23, numerous youth organizations focused on showing the world what youth can do, and helping young people to learn what they themselves are capable of. SDSN Youth, Student Energy, CliMates, and Convergences hosted an event titled, “Supporting youth-led innovation to confront climate change: Opportunities for action.”
The event highlighted some notable young innovators who are actively implementing climate and SDG solutions. The entire spectrum of young entrepreneurs was represented, from Luca Bucken, director of expansion for Liter of Light, a low-cost simple lighting solution, to Abiy Shimelis, partnership manager for Climate Smart Agriculture in Ethiopia, to Josephine Raynauld, the ‘COP in MyCity’ coordinator for CliMates.
The work of each young innovator is different, but the meta narrative is actually quite similar. Wherever youth are in the world, they are identifying opportunities to solve problems and proceeding at full speed using all of the qualities mentioned earlier.
In all the sessions where youth were active at COP, mentors were also present. For Student Energy, this piece is crucial. We can’t make progress if we repeat all the mistakes of the past. We have seen it time and time again that intergenerational collaboration is one of the greatest accelerators of youth innovation. Pairing young ambition, vision and grit with knowledge, wisdom and know-how is a powerful force for achieving sustainable development priorities.
By Meredith Adler, Executive Director, Student Energy