Youth leaders met at UNESCO with a mission to save the planet

07 June 2018

The energy and ideas of more than 70 youth leaders from 60 countries were harnessed for an Education for Sustainable Development conference, “Youth Saves the Planet”, held at UNESCO Headquarters from 14 to 16 May 2018.

The event was organized by UNESCO, lead UN agency for the Education 2030 agenda, as part of the Youth Priority Action Area of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD funded by Japanese Funds-In-Trust.

The conference was the culmination of a series of eight capacity-building workshops on ESD, held from February 2017 to March 2018 in Almada (Portugal), Bangkok, Beirut, Brasilia, Dublin, Nairobi and New Delhi and to which 300 young leaders from 93 countries were selected to attend. Participants went on to conduct their own workshops in their communities reaching over 11,000 youth around the world.  

Of the 70 youth, around 50 were selected from the regional and national workshops, along with 20 young journalists (professionals and students) with potential to promote ESD. GAP Key Partners of Partner Network 4 (Youth Priority Action Area) and 14 facilitators from a range of countries also took part.

Julie Saito from UNESCO’s Section for Education for Sustainable Development explained the objectives of the event. “Firstly it is being held to agree on a network platform for young leaders to facilitate collaboration and to continue scaling up of capacity-building activities,” she said. “Secondly, to engage ESD youth leaders and young journalists to increase visibility on ESD actions through media and communication outlets; and thirdly to provide input to the draft position paper on the future direction of ESD.”

On the first day, youth representatives shared experiences and insights from the regional youth leadership training workshops as well as from local youth-led initiatives and good practices on ESD. Participants discussed progress in each region and were inspired by new ideas to improve and scale their own work.

Ms. Ghada Zribi from Tunisia suggested a platform for global youth to share, uplift, and empower each other in an interactive and participatory approach.  “The regional youth teams would now have the opportunity, network, and international society recognition to develop partnerships around the presented short and long-term frameworks.”

They then had the chance to select from four parallel capacity-building sessions on fundraising; mentorship; scaling-up activities or evaluation and monitoring. In the afternoon youth discussed projects and actions for building collaboration on their initiatives and activities in relation to their chosen Sustainable Development Goals' (SDGs) interests.

Ms Elizabeth Gandah, a Zimbabwean broadcast journalist summed up her experience. “I realized the need for communication on ESD as well as all other sustainable goal achievements. I learnt that young people are doing great things in saving the planet. I learnt how as a journalist I can play a role in ESD and how I can maximize on this platform actions towards my chosen SDGs.”

At the end of day one Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK gave an inspirational speech on her challenge as single mother from the poor family to fight for climate change and passion for ESD leadership.

The second day began with capacity-building on how to become effective communicators on ESD whether through print media or video reporting and social media. Participants learnt how to produce stories to increase the visibility of ESD through communication outlets on their experience/learning at the conference or through highlighting their own work and its link to the SDGs.

Participants also had the chance to learn about ESD practices for the SDGs being implemented by organizations in France. Five parallel sessions were organized on the following themes; a) education practices and SDGs (Teagir-Eco-Ecole); b) consumption and food production and SDGs (Main a la Pate); c) climate change and SDGs (CliMates); d) cultural dialogue and SDGs (Social Human Science Sector); and e) arts, culture, innovation, and SDGs (Greenovart, Ecoprod).

The day included discussion on the networking mechanism and platform needed to facilitate collaboration and continue scaling-up youth action for ESD. Delegates pledged to create networks and start working on community and national projects that promote the wellbeing of people and the environment. They appealed to UNESCO to continue making resources available for skills development to run such projects and to ensure that the media is used regularly as a platform to promote sustainable development.

The young journalists and leaders identified a general lack of awareness and education on sustainable development and a need to change mindsets and lifestyles as one of the key challenges the media could address.

The last day focused on discussions and draft recommendations on the Future of ESD draft position paper, which will set out a post-GAP vision and future actions for promoting ESD globally and locally.

Conference outputs included the first steps towards a collaborative network platform for ESD youth leaders who envisaged an online tool to include a website, social media such as Facebook, and team collaboration tools such as Slack.

At the closure Chief of Section of ESD at UNESCO Headquarters, Mr Alexander-Leicht thanked everyone for their contributions. “UNESCO will continue to promote education for sustainable development, and young people will remain a clear cornerstone of our work,” he said. He added that as youth were key stakeholders and partners on ESD, he was happy to learn that young leaders and journalists had agreed to continue working together as a network.