Urgency for Transformation: Youth Engagement in Global Health
Achieving the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will not be possible without the meaningful engagement of young people. This commentary explores how the power of youth engagement can be effectively amplified to address the most pressing and interconnected challenges in global health.
Several youth activists like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and youth campaigns such as ‘March for Our Lives’ have been able to mobilize global youth in addressing important issues such as climate change, education for all and gun control in the US. The world currently has the largest population of youth in its history. Therefore, youth engagement needs to be effectively utilized to realize the 2030 agenda for SDGs.
The youth potential
Among the 1.8 billion young people aged between 10 and 24 years, close to 90% live in low-income and middle-income countries, where health and social systems are often the most vulnerable. This cohort represents a magnitude of human potential, with massive unrealized benefits for both socioeconomic growth and health. An article by the Lancet concluded investing in adolescents will yield a triple dividend—in the present day, into their adulthood, and through to the next generation of children.
Young people also posses the ability to cut through the status quo and hold leaders accountable. They have unparalleled fluency in social media and digital technology. These reasons make young people today some of the strongest advocates for current global issues and most likely in making solutions to these issues a reality.
Involving youth meaningfully to achieve SDGs
Awareness and efforts by many organisations to engage and enable young people to participate in decision making and policy dialogues in global health are increasing.
However, governance structures and a silo mentality prevent the creation of opportunities that are effective or fast enough to meaningfully tap into their potential. Quite simply, by failing to include the next generation of young leaders as equal partners in policy and practice, the Sustainable Development Goals will remain just that—important, yet ultimately unrealized, goals.
The transformative potential of young people can only be achieved through participatory leadership; development of the necessary partnerships and resources to enable young people to fully engage as leaders are urgently needed.
Several initiatives have outlined how to harness the youth potential in realizing the SDGs:
- The WHO report Engaging Young People for Health and Sustainable Development
- The WHO Knowledge Action Portal
- the Global Consensus Statement on Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement
The consensus is that power must be shared, respective contributions must be valued, and young people’s perspectives and skills must be integrated into both the strategic design and delivery of health and related programs and policies, particularly when they affect young people’s lives and communities.
While progress has been made more must be done to position young people as equal stakeholders in the realization of global, regional, and national goals in health.
Investment must be made for intellectual and financial resources for the development and implementation of tangible and meaningful youth engagement strategies. Further global institutions, such as WHO, must act as leaders in engaging young people if they are to achieve health for all. They must commit to transforming their own ethos and organisational cultures by placing young people at the core of their strategy.
Recommendations for strategic opportunities to transform youth engagement with WHO and partners
- Create a fully resourced WHO strategy for engaging with young people
- Modernize WHO culture to orient the organisation towards young people, ensuring that none are left behind in the Sustainable Development Goals era
- Engage all young people, taking into account their diverse backgrounds and characteristics, in health and sustainable development planning and implementation
- Strengthen the capacity of organisations to engage safely, effectively, and meaningfully to enable young people to augment their knowledge and lead on health and rights
Focusing global public goods on impact:
- Engage young people throughout the design and delivery of global public goods, particularly on issues that affect their health and rights
- Establish an innovative partnership and technology-driven platform so that young people can share their experiences and ideas to monitor and drive change on health and the Sustainable Development Goals
- Forge innovative partnerships with diverse organisations that engage with young people
- Mobilize resources for a comprehensive, coherent global movement that engages the power of young people for health and sustainable development