Center for American Progress

Youth Q&A on the U.N. High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda Report

Youth Q&A on the U.N. High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda Report

Nobel laureate Tawakkol Karman and CAP Chair John Podesta, both members of the U.N. High-Level Panel, answer questions about the post-2015 agenda from youth around the world.


While developing their recommendations for a post-2015 development agenda, members of the U.N. High-Level Panel engaged in hundreds of formal and informal consultations with governments, civil-society groups, and individuals to ensure an open and collaborative process. With the release of the U.N. High-Level Panel report, CAP is working to keep the conversation going as the United Nations moves into the next chapter of the process.

That’s why we hosted a Google+ Hangout on July 18, 2013, to take questions from young people on the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and to present our views on how youth can—and should—seek to influence this agenda. We were pleased to be joined by youth representatives from Kenya, Mexico, and Indonesia, and to hear their views and questions.

Below, we have reproduced our opening statements about our views on the youth agenda for post-2015 development and answered many of the questions that we did not have time to address during the course of the Google+ Hangout.

John Podesta

As delivered July 18, 2013

Hello, and thank you all for hanging out with us today. I’m John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress and a member of the U.N. High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. I’m very pleased to be joined by my colleague and friend Tawakkol Karman of Yemen—the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, who also served on the High-Level Panel—to discuss something of tremendous importance to achieve the world we want in 2030: listening to the world’s youth, taking their concerns into account, and empowering them to achieve real and lasting change.

We’ll also be hearing from some outstanding youth advocates from around the world: Luze Aguirre from Mexico; Willice Onyango from Kenya; and Rachel Arinii calling in from Malaysia; and CAP’s own Casey Dunning will be moderating our conversation.

I want to open our conversation today by talking a little bit about why I think the views of young people—their priorities, their energy, their passion—are so critical to the post-2015 development agenda process.

I think it’s first important to understand exactly how different this process has been from the one that created the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. The fact that we’re holding this Google Hangout today speaks to that point. Even if this technology had existed back in 2000, the MDG process was largely a debate among development experts. Nowhere was that more problematic than in the fact that the MDG process did not call on the world’s youth to articulate their priorities for development.

The High-Level Panel tried to change that in our work over the past year. Young people and youth groups played a prominent role in each of our official meetings on four continents. The United Nations held an online consultation especially for youth. I think the voices of the world’s youth are prominent throughout the report released in May—from the emphasis on educational outcomes to the call to end discrimination against women and girls.

But nowhere is the perspective of the young people as apparent as in the goal to bring down youth unemployment in every country, according to respective needs and capabilities. In all of our consultations with young people, reducing youth unemployment was the number-one priority they identified for ending extreme poverty and encouraging sustainable economic growth.

That’s why policymakers and business leaders need to work today to create good jobs to get young people started on their lives. And that’s why the High-Level Panel report also identifies inputs, like increasing technical and vocational skills and teaching entrepreneurship that give young people a boost up the economic ladder.

I wrote about the youth unemployment crisis and the High-Level Panel’s report recently in the Guardian and referenced, too, the elements of the broader youth agenda for post-2015 development, like a commitment to equality and to environmental sustainability.

Some commenters dismissed environmental sustainability as being unrelated to youth unemployment—or maybe even a contributor to the crisis. But one of the best things about all the conversations we had with young people throughout the High-Level Panel process is how easily, how naturally they looked to break down the traditional silos of development policy.

Young people understand intuitively that better stewardship of our natural resources doesn’t come at the expense of economic growth or jobs for young people but is instead necessary to ensure that improvements are maintained over time.

Young men and women alike recognize how vital women’s empowerment, education, and rights are to creating stable, prosperous societies.

Young people understand the importance of political and social participation and know how vitally important it is that political, economic, and social channels are open to all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability.

Throughout the High-Level Panel process, I found myself impressed by the energy, creativity, maturity, and passion of the young people we spoke with, and I’m eager to return to that conversation and engagement today in this Google Hangout.

The fact of the matter is that it will fall to young people to build the more prosperous, just, equitable, and sustainable world that the High-Level Panel envisions in our report. I really do believe that keeping young people like yourselves engaged throughout the process of formulating the post-2015 agenda—turning to you for your perspectives and expertise—will help ensure that we can achieve the world we want in 2030.

I know we have a lot of incisive questions that have been submitted in recent days, and I’m looking forward to answering as many as we can. So I want to thank you again for joining us. I’d like to turn to my colleague Tawakkol Karman now for her thoughts on this important conversation.

Tawakkol Karman

As delivered July 18, 2013

I am so happy to be here. I am one of the members of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. I would like to thank John Podesta for organizing this event today. Before starting, I would like to say that I am so delighted that the report touches on empowering people, especially the call for youth participation in holding governments accountable for their decisions and actions, which I think is very important element for the youth.

Speaking of the report, I want to say that there are three key innovations of this report compared to the Millennium Development Goals. First, the call for civil and political rights combined with transparent and accountable public institutions as intrinsic to development. Second, the importance of ensuring peace and inclusive sustainable growth. And third, a need for urgent action to enhance the ability of women and youth, like you, to take part in the transformation of their societies.

People are struggling for their right to speak freely, to form and join associations, to protest for a responsive government, and to receive protection from arbitrary action by police and prosecutors. Judges will take note when they see that these elements have been specifically included in the list of global development goals.

Requiring governments to make all publicly held information and data available to people—thus giving citizens a powerful tool to expose corruption—is just one aspect of the accountability revolution that can be unleashed if the report’s recommendations are implemented in full.

Also, those seeking to build peace in conflict-ravaged societies will find hope in the inclusion of specific targets on freedom from violence and measures to ensure that sources of conflict, such as organized criminal activity, are singled out for national and international action as part of our comprehensive agenda. Institutions capable of resolving conflict nonviolently are the foundations for a peaceful and stable society, and these are clearly called for in the report.

Also, women and youth hoping to make contributions to the development of their societies have for too long been marginalized. They will find many of the constraints that have impeded their participation addressed in the report; these include specific targets on reducing employment among youth, enhancing women’s capacity to enjoy equal rights, universal access to education for all, an end to child labor and child marriage, and crucially, zero tolerance for violence against women and children.

Civil and political rights, peacebuilding, and women’s and youth empowerment are the signature contributions of the panel’s agenda for the post-MDG era. Over the next three years, governments will have to choose whether or not to adopt this new people-centric framework for development. The temptation for political leaders to retreat to a safer, more conventional approach will mean a strong global grassroots campaign will thus be necessary to build pressure for adoption of these groundbreaking and transformative elements recommended in the report.

Finally, I would like to say that the role of youth was impressive in the report, but governments must place a stronger emphasis on the youth and must start working with them immediately—developing clear strategies, reaching out to youth, empowering them, and promoting youth leadership and greater opportunities for participation in policy and decision making at every level. Also, on youth unemployment—governments should ensure that one out of three of jobs in the public sector are opened up to the youth and that at least one person in every household should have access to a job.

Thank you.


Question: Why is there not a standalone goal focused on youth when there is a specific goal on gender? – Question compiled from the High-Level Panel, or HLP consultation and outreach efforts

Tawakkol Karman: First, I myself am part of the youth movement. However, after a long discussion, it appears that many of the youth demands and needs, like access to education, jobs, and equitable growth, have been addressed under different goals and targets and youth enjoy the benefits of everything else in the report. As it mentioned in the report and mentioned in the media, I believe words “youth,” “young,” and “adolescent” appeared in the report about 69 times, which is an accomplishment by itself, and now our youth have a greater platform to start off from. Also, remember that our agenda is meant to be universal.

Question: What is the HLP doing to advocate for youth key populations such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, folks, and youth living with HIV? – Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, via Twitter

John Podesta: The first of the five key transformations included in the HLP report, “Leave no one behind,” seeks to end discrimination against all people, regardless of identity, age, disability, gender, or illness. In many places around the world, the LGBT community and individuals infected with HIV/AIDS continue to face discrimination in employment, political representation, and access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health care and rights. They certainly must not be left behind. I will continue to push for the inclusion of these marginalized groups in the post-2015 agenda and beyond.

Question: How are children reflected in the report? Are issues of child protection and participation prioritized in the report? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

TK: The report addresses the issues of children’s protection and provides ideas to make sure those children’s issues are addressed in meaningful ways. It recognizes that children are particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse, and there is also a target to eliminate all forms of violence against them, which is a major breakthrough for children.

The panel put targets, for example, on nutrition, education, ending preventable child deaths, encouraging birth registration, putting an end to violence against girls, and child marriage—all of which, if enacted, will improve the lives of billions of children throughout the world.

Question: In the area of education, why is the focus only on lower secondary and primary education? Why didn’t you include higher secondary and tertiary education, especially since goals are meant to be universally applicable? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

JP: Improving basic education outcomes remains a staggering challenge in developing countries. Poor basic education creates a huge roadblock to focusing on upper secondary and tertiary education. As the High-Level Panel report notes, of the world’s 650 million primary-school-age children, 130 million are not learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. If we are unable to teach children the basics, advanced schooling will continue to be out of reach, and including it within the education goal would be overly ambitious and strain our resources.

The goal does, however, include a target to increase the number of young and adult women and men with technical and vocational skills. It’s imperative that more young people have the skills they need to succeed in their higher education and in their livelihoods.  

Question: How can African youths be encouraged to take an active role in development and the post-2015 process? – Youth for Transparency International, via Twitter

TK: African youth, just like other youth around the world can, for example, engage in the fight against corruption and hold officials accountable. This is only one example. As you know, corruption is robbing the youth of resources that they could use to expand their human capital. And second, exposing evidence of corruption is labor-intensive work and creating training programs for young people to learn how to do just that is an important way to support the efforts of newly emerging youth initiatives; and it helps build on opportunities for future youth civic engagement and activism while also addressing the hugely costly problem of pervasive bribery. Youth can also play an important role in engaging and educating their fellow and global citizens about the post-2015 global development agenda and ways to achieve our goals so that we can achieve the developments this time around to the greatest extent possible.

Question: We recognize that global health efforts and controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, play a crucial role in eradicating poverty. How can youth be a part of advocacy efforts to increase awareness of NTDs and the post-2015 health goal? – Alex Gordon, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

JP: We currently have the tools to combat neglected tropical diseases like leprosy, Guinea worm, and river blindness, among other diseases. Successfully treating and reducing the incidence of these diseases is now simply a matter of political will. The youth lobby should emphasize that treating NTDs, which affect one in six people globally and lead to approximately 543,000 “needless deaths” annually, is included in the post-2015 agenda.

Question: The Millennium Development Goals failed to make explicit how progress would be tracked and who would be responsible for monitoring progress. How has the panel addressed monitoring and accountability in its report? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

JP: In the report, the panel articulates a number of roles that must be filled in the post-2015 agenda. The United Nations will continue to serve as the ultimate supervisory authority, but national and local organizations will be expected to play an essential role in developing appropriate national plans and monitoring their progress. The panel also calls on the private sector, civil-society groups, and scientists and academics to hold governments accountable for reaching goals and targets.

Question: Why did the High-Level Panel not include specific targets and measures when it comes to climate-change accountability and responsibility in implementing existing agreements? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

JP: Much like the Millennium Development Goals, the panel notes in the report that the post-2015 agenda should feature a limited number of clear, compelling goals and targets that are easy to measure. The report also notes that not every problem can be addressed through goals and targets and that established goals are not legally binding contracts. Ambitious and verifiable commitments will need to be addressed through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, process.

But climate change is by no means absent in the panel’s report. One of the report’s central themes is the need to put sustainable development at the core of the post-2015 agenda and to act immediately to curb climate change and reverse the effects of environmental degradation. Illustrative goal seven calls for doubling the share of energy coming from renewable sources around the world, and illustrative goal nine focuses on sustainable management of natural resources. Between the recommendations in the panel’s report and the ongoing process of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, I am confident that climate issues will have a prominent place in the post-2015 agenda.

Question: How is the protection of girls and women against violence being addressed? What specific measures have been proposed to support victims of gender-based violence? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

TK: There is a standalone goal, which is goal number two, on the empowerment of girls and women and achieving gender equality. With regards to violence against women, the panel addresses it at length and in an inclusive way. For example, target 2a of goal two talks about preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and target 2d calls for the elimination of discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life and an end to child marriage, among other things. We’re hoping that this goal and set of targets will put an end into violence and discrimination against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality and justice and for the better development of our world.

Question: Does the report address the agenda of sharing knowledge and information in the digital economy? Has there been an emphasis on investments in innovation and technology in developing countries? How would investments in technology and innovation benefit youth? – Question compiled from HLP consultation and outreach efforts

JP: The report calls for knowledge sharing under illustrative goal 12, when we advocate for the “collaboration on and access to science, technology, innovation, and development data.” Open data will ensure greater accountability and provide more accurate details about a country’s progress in eradicating poverty. Increasing access to science and technology will streamline development processes and ensure the diffusion of essential technological innovations and life-saving medicines.

In addition, the panel and the development community have frequently pushed for continued investment in technology for the developing world. Technology is becoming increasingly essential in daily life, but developing countries are lagging behind the developed world in investment and adaptation, which only increases the barriers to development and hinders self-sufficiency. Investing in technology in developing countries will enhance their ability to manage agricultural production, improve disaster resilience, reduce carbon emissions, improve health services, and increase access to information and financial services. These investments could also create jobs for young people within the formal economy, pulling them out of the margins of society.

Question: Goal 11—“Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies” and its associated national targets—focuses on negative peace; that is, the absence of war and direct violence. While it is important to strengthen rule of law, it is equally necessary to address peace more holistically. I am curious to know the panel’s thoughts on the role of youth in promoting human rights and peace education in the post-2015 development agenda and why a more holistic concept of peace was not adopted in the HLP report. – Laura McManus, United Network of Young Peacebuilders

JP: Tackling “negative peace” is an incredibly difficult task that will be imperative to ensure the necessary conditions for what might be described as “holistic” peace can take root. We also aimed for targets with clear, quantifiable characteristics, including homicide rates, incidence of organized crime, and accessibility of justice institutions. Youth will be an important force in pushing for the inclusion of a peace goal in the post-2015 agenda. Young people are the group most vulnerable to and affected by war and instability, and their voices will resonate most strongly.

TK: The youth are our future, and to change anything in our world going forward we must start with this generation of youth, as they’re the new agents of change. So basically the youth should engage, empower, promote peace and human rights and lead our world forward not only in human rights and peace but also in every aspect of the post-2015 global agenda. In peacebuilding and promoting human rights, the youth are no longer a silent majority, but now they should be an active stakeholder. In my country, Yemen, after the Arab Spring and the political transition, for example, the youth are an equal stakeholder and, in fact, are one of the most active groups in the country’s most important national dialogue post the Arab Spring. Youth are bringing to the table great contributions to the peace and state building and are shaping the future to be more peaceful, equal, and prosperous for all.

With that said, governments must also give you special attention and ensure the right to legal protection for young people to freely express their opinion and organize in order to shape our world for the better. The report made it clear with its greater emphasis on the youth, and I think now the world is listening more carefully to the voices of the youth. As I said, governments must do their part to make sure that youth are included at of level of participating and policymaking, and the youth must do their part to engage and advocate.

Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011—the first Yemeni, first Arab woman, and second Muslim woman to win the prize, as well as the youngest Nobel Peace laureate to date. She is a human rights activist, journalist, and politician. John Podesta is the Chair of the Center for American Progress. Both served on the U.N. High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

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