Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Youth Action and Leadership for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

May 08, 2018 5 min read

Editor’s Note: Educators around the country and indeed, the world, are teaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to engage students in taking action on global issues. Ligaya Beebe, Emma James, and Jennifer Russell of iEARN-USA share ideas on how to help youth get started.

By guest bloggers: Ligaya Beebe, Emma James, and Jennifer Russell

The United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or “Global Goals,” are a call to action for countries and citizens to work collectively to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. A key component of the SDGs is that they are a global partnership, and as such, achieving them is a worldwide effort.

Making a Global Impact Through the SDGs

The Global Goals emphasize that everyone has the potential to make a positive impact, regardless of where one lives in the world. From students in the U.S. calling for legislative action, to youth in Bangladesh rising up to end gender discrimination, there is a role that every individual can assume in the effort to achieve the SDGs. As 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30, it is especially important that we, as educators and community members, engage youth to develop their knowledge and skills to contribute to this global partnership.

Schools and teachers have risen to the challenge to teach youth about the Global Goals. For the world to achieve the SDGs by 2030, not only do we need to teach students about them, we must also guide youth to engage with and take action on the SDGs as part of their education. As Dana Mortenson, CEO and Co-Founder of World Savvy, said in an appearance on PBS Newshour, “Young people don’t only have the potential to lead in the future—they already have that ability right now.”

Helping Youth Take Action

How can schools and communities support youth to be leaders and take action to achieve the SDGs? Check out the following pathways and resources to get started:

Bring the SDGs into the Classroom

Before youth can take action and make meaningful change, they need to have a solid understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals. A great starting resource for introducing students to the Global Goals is The World’s Largest Lesson. This lesson plan and resource repository helps educators teach young people about the SDGs and the role that children and young people everywhere have to play to become the generation that changes the world.

Start by hanging an SDG poster in your classroom and watching a few videos, followed by a more in-depth exploration of each of the 17 Global Goals. The SDG Tracker presents progress toward these goals around the world. In addition, Teach SDGs connects global educators around the world with other interested global educators, resources, and projects to not only teach about SDGs but also inspire a call to action.

Participate in a Global Project

One of the most effective ways to inspire lifelong passion for and commitment to the Global Goals is by participating in a global project. Through hands-on learning, students can become familiar with the SDGs. Collaborative project-based learning allows students to communicate and learn with their peers around the world while addressing a challenging problem and connecting their learning to the community.

For example, the iEARN Water is Life project brings schools together to collaborate in active research, reflection, planning, and community action to help achieve Global Goals 14 and 6, which pertain to the sustainability and health of the world’s water. Classes identify a water-related challenge in their community, share their research, and give each other feedback on their action plans. The project culminates with students showcasing their work in their local community through the Community Action Day. Check out the Teacher’s Guide to Global Collaboration for ongoing project opportunities from global education organizations to connect your class with the world.

Share Leadership and Training Programs

Connect your students with enrichment and exchange programs to grow their global leadership skills. There are many great programs for youth that include leadership training on how to collaborate on and address the SDGs—including many sponsored opportunities from the State Department’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs for both U.S. and international students.

For example, the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program brings students from countries with significant Muslim populations to the United States for an exchange year. Students are encouraged to adopt the mindset of service and volunteering, and they return home taking this spirit of community service with them.

YES alumni around the world receive training and support to work collaboratively in fulfilling the SDGs. For example, YES alumni in Bangladesh are working toward gender equality through a grant-winning project, 3.5 Billion Reasons. Youth in Mali encourage young students to learn foreign languages, and in Liberia, youth are hard at work raising environmental awareness. All the projects are created by youth—they identify serious unmet needs in their community and develop strategies that are aligned with the SDGs.

Promote Networking Opportunities for Youth

Youth are looking for opportunities they can engage in on their own to follow their interests, take action, and make a difference. There are many youth-organized groups and initiatives that you can share with your students.

For example, TakingITGlobal provides youth with a digital platform to network with one another and take collaborative action on global issues. In July 2018, iEARN youth are organizing a Youth Summit in Winchester, Virginia, for more than 100 youth who will present their own sessions, lead their own workshops, and collaborate on solving the SDGs.

Another opportunity that emphasizes the importance of youth led initiatives is Global Youth Service Day (GYSD). GYSD celebrates the contributions youth from all corners of the world make toward bettering their own community and ultimately achieving the SDGs. GYSD celebrates and encourages youth to identify an issue within their own community and develop a service project that can align with the SDGs. GYSD takes place every April, and youth can search through previous GYSD projects, register their own plans, share impact stories, and take a global pledge. As this is a global day of service, it cultivates a community of active and motivated globally minded youth, who together through their own projects, are making the world a more just and sustainable place.

Keep the conversation going! Connect with iEARN-USA and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photo credit: iEARN-USA.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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