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Youth and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation

Farmanesh, Amir and Ashton, Melanie and Davila-Ortega, Luis and Freeburg, Emily and Kamping, Catherine and Marquez, Solange and Neil, Cameron and Bartlett, Richard (2005): Youth and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation. Published in: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) (April 2005)

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Young people ages 15 to 24 are 1.2 billion of the world’s human capital. Around the world, many of them are already making contributions to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and their work should be further acknowledged and strengthened. Increasingly, youth are recognized as key participants in decision-making and development, as reflected in the growing presence of non-governmental youth organizations and the upsurge of youth advisory boards and committees to international institutions and programmes. Yet building the capacity of and creating sustained partnerships with young people are crucial strategies to achieving the MDGs that have not been fully realized by the international community.

This paper aims to provide an overview of youth participation as it currently exists, to outline the ways in which youth are directly involved and affected by each Goal, to demonstrate the ways in which young people are contributing to the MDGs, and to provide ‘Options for Action’ that governments, the United Nations system, donors and other actors can harness, support, and scale-up in order to support young people in making significant contributions to achieving the MDGs.

Part I outlines the existing mechanisms for youth participation in development policy. These channels can be used by governments and institutions to strengthen and mobilize young people as partners in policy formulation. Successful modes of participation should be recognized and replicated, and also adapted to the challenging political and socio-economic realities facing many youth-led and youth-serving organizations.

Part II presents youth participation as it relates directly to the MDGs. Each goal is analyzed with respect to its effect on young peoples lives as well as how young people can play – and indeed are playing — a role in its implementation. Under each goal are a number of “Options for Action” that governments, the UN and multilateral organizations can use to fully harness the contributions that youth can make to achieving the MDGs.

Part III outlines the synergies between the Options for Action presented in this report and the Quick Wins proposed by the Millennium Project. The Options for Action are complimentary and provide a process to implement the Quick Win actions, using young people as key implementing agents and service providers. Part III also outlines a number of youth-focused Quick Wins that can make a significant and measurable difference to the state of young people in target countries. Part IV elaborates on how youth can participate in achieving the MDGs and contains cross-cutting recommendations on youth engagement in all 8 Goals.

Overall, the report demonstrates that investing in youth will provide the longest and most effective dividend towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by building the social capital needed to foster pragmatic development. Indeed, without the involvement of young people, a demographic that comprises one fifth of the world’s total population, the full achievement of the MDGs will remain elusive and their long-term sustainability will be compromised. Youth participation is currently quite varied, ranging from effective, to sometimes tokenistic, to often non-existent. There are specific ways in which youth and youth organizations can contribute to the design and implementation of MDG-based strategies, some of which are outlined in this document. Many projects are already happening, but there is much work left still to be done.

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