On August 11, 2017, the eve of the International Youth Day, young people from different corners of the world convened at the World Bank in Washington for the International Young Leaders Assembly (IYLA) 2017 Global Summit.  IYLA is a partnership-driven leadership development program that empowers young leaders to positively impact their communities, nations, and the world.  The delegates who mainly comprised of student leaders and young professionals from various continents of the world were very diverse in background yet all had three things in common – “A Dream to make the world a better place, the Determination to take action and the Dare to make it true.”

It was intriguing listening to various speakers share a range of issues that affect our day to day lives. The highlight for me was the group discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how young people can take ownership of these goals. However, the absurd reality is that the “one in five people in developing regions who still live on less than $1.25 a day” know nothing about the SDGs.  Similarly the young people in more developed regions are yet to make sense of the 17 goals and their attendant targets in a context beyond their own surroundings. So how can young people take ownership of goals they know nothing about? Do the SDGs mean anything to me? Do you find them relevant to you? Can we work together, empower each other to achieve the 2030 SGDs agenda when we do not really understand these goals?

The beauty of the SGDs is that unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which only seemed to target those countries that are deemed to be “developing”, the SDGs call for synergy among all regions of the world and in all sectors because no one is immune to the issues that the goals address. Because as John Donne succinctly pointed out in his famous No man is an Island poem, we are all involved in mankind.

The interactive session helped a great deal in dissecting these goals for the young people in the room. While I acknowledge that there are many youth forums where conversations about the SDGs are taking place, a lot more needs to be done for a young man in Katanga, a slum in Kampala to understand these goals the same way as the young man in West Virginia.

Whether building sustainable cities and communities means having an efficient metro system or access to safe housing; or good health and well-being means no woman dying in childbirth or mental health awareness for instance, the problems that affect everyone around the globe are interconnected and each of us can play our part in addressing these issues as we know them.

And while we are quick to note the inequalities between the “north and south”, there is a lot of inequalities within our own countries that are within our power to address, if only we become more creative, innovative and proactive. We can craft models of how the SDGs relate to us in our context. As David Caprara, Vice President, Global Peace Foundation rightly said, “young people are endowed with opportunity to create new models for the development goals.”

Still, the elephant in the room remains how we can translate these goals to our own situations and use the means within our reach to make these goals a reality? We are all part of the solution. Will you take action? But first, what do the SDGs mean to you?

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