The new face of development is 1.8 billion strong

 “Humans are but emotional beings searching for truth or reason.”

Truth or reason. These two words are behind some of the world’s greatest changes.

Historically, major actions or inactions have stirred development or setbacks in societies across the world. And the root of such changes lies in truth or reason. It is the search for either of them that has helped mankind overcome challenges, advance knowledge and instill beliefs and practices that outlive generations.

The world, today, has seen different agendas come and go with arguably little to no progress being made on ending poverty, gender equity or income inequality amongst others. However, 2015 came with a new approach: putting young people at the center of all development strategies, giving them the responsibility to monitor and hold governments accountable for delivering on commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, “young people will be the torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda.”  So, for the first time, 1.8 billion strong youth has a chance to move the world forward.  Their knowledge, connectedness, innovation and energy are unmatched. They know the future they want and are eager to be engaged and involved in planning towards it.

It is he who wears the shoe that knows where it pinches most. In the case of young people, what pinches most ranges from education to sexual and reproductive health and rights, inequality, gender-based violence, racism, etc. Thus, they are committed to making their future better.  Also, young people have a reason. It is what that drives their commitment to ensuring that the SDGs are met.

Young people across the world are increasingly demonstrating preparedness to acquire competence and capacity to lead. They are well connected. They understand their world, and are leveraging technology to break barriers and build bridges.  However, outside the international development sector, not many have heard of young Sierra Leonean volunteers who braved the Ebola crises, or the character and courage of young people to rebuild local communities after the Nepali earthquake.

But across the world, evidence of youth-led development continues to snowball. For example, in Nigeria, young people holding government accountable for monies budgeted for public good, using data and infographics to inform the citizens about public spending. In Tanzania, young volunteers are the forefront of the Mabinti Tushike Hatamu program, which equips young adolescent girls with knowledge and skills that ensures that they are economically independent and aware of their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Research is also one area that young people have started using to showcase more evidence on the efficacy of youth-led development approach. For example, the MasterCard Youth Think Tank, which unites young people with a commitment to contributing to communities and understanding challenges and opportunities facing young people as they enter the labour market.  In Ghana, Richard Dzikunu is a young activist using data to tackle maternal mortality rates. Richard’s work is highlighting the big gap in the quality and access of health services that could keep expectant mothers and their newborns alive. The result of these research will inform program development and government policies.

Young people are also starting to pool resources together to tackle problems they are most passionate about.  From climate change to education, sexual rights, maternal health, gender based violence, etc. young people are not just advocating. They are also funding causes – some young Nigerians are taking change of community development, raising funds for a local library in one the poorest areas in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital – which, again, provides growing evidence of the potency of youth as an agency for change. Indeed, young people are not waiting for development. They’re working towards delivering it, and they have a damn good reason!