THE BLOG
02/15/2016 01:38 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2017

The Role of Youth in the Implementation of the SDGs

by Dejan Bojanić

We are in the second month of reaching the 2030 sustainable development agenda; 178 to go. In September 2015, 193 governments agreed on a plan to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality. The governments came together in the United Nations to adopt the sustainable development agenda with 17 goals to transform our world into one of prosper, just, and well-being.

The first time I told my mates in Serbia about the new 17 goals, their reactions were not unpredictable. From a developing country, Serbia developed into an upper middle income country. For generations born in the new millennium, this meant that when it comes to global development looked through the prism of the Millennium Development Goals, Serbia was in a limbo -- the country was neither of a high standard nor in a vulnerable position to receive assistance. The unfair distribution of power and the consequential divide were harmful in many ways. One of which was that it made young people react to the Sustainable Development Agenda as yet another development plan, which is happening "somewhere out there", far on another continent, and something that is irrelevant for us.

On the first reading of the new 17 goals we were all proven wrong. The new agenda is transformative; the new agenda is universal! It brings together social, economic, and environmental sustainable development highly relevant for all countries around the world. The new agenda, in a way, makes every country a developing one. For young people in Serbia, sustainable development agenda is a roadmap for changing the way we live, the ways we value each other, the ways we learn, consume and grow.

On the second reading of the 17 goals, another thought comes to mind. Despite the transformative nature of the agenda as a whole, the goals still don't have a strong enough reference to or focus on youth, youth participation, and investment in youth or rights of young people. Young people have the right to ask -- if we are not in it, is the development agenda really for us? It's a fact that the primary responsibility for implementing the agenda rests with governments. Yet, we are talking about a large stake for the present and the future of our society; we are talking about bringing about changes, re-allocating funds and putting energy into a development which young people in Serbia as young citizens of the world have the right to participate in.

Young people are active drivers of change in local communities. Young people have a role in engaging people at the grassroots level and a role in communicating the goals to a wider society. Before anyone thinks of it -- no, communicating the goals through social media is not youth participation. It's not what our main role is in checking off the to-do list called sustainable development agenda. Here's what our role is:

Young people and youth-led organizations need to have the space and recognition to participate in translation of the agenda into local, national and regional policy, in implementation, in monitoring and review, in holding governments accountable. Young people need structured mechanism for participation through decision-making, ideally in co-decision manner, and especially in areas that have a clear impact on young people. With right political commitment and adequate fund allocation, young people can fulfill their roles -- and that way make the most effective transformation of the world into a better place for all.

Harmful stereotypes of today's young people as careless slackers who only have interests in frivolous matters are common. We hear how we matter only in the future, when we become adults, or how even then we'll end up worse off than our parents. And yes, many young people don't know all 169 targets of the sustainable development agenda -- but do a lot of adults know them too? Young people participate in different and new ways. We are not a homogenous social group and we cherish a variety of interests, one of them is bringing about a positive change. When space in politics is not an option, we work for social development through activism, social movements and creative expressions. These are some of the ways in which young people, in partnership with other social groups, commit to reach the sustainable development goals and their targets.

On every other reading of the 17 goals, young people see a hope and a chance to unite diverse groups of young people to fight for the same goals. Every generation has an achievement through which they contribute to social development and well-being. With an enabling environment, the sustainable development agenda could be the achievement of children and young people in our generation.

About the author: Dejan Bojanić is from Serbia who has worked with the United Nations as one of 15 young educationalists to advocate UN Secretary General's "Global Education First Initiative" campaign. He's a European Youth Forum board member, representing young people through policy making in the EU and the UN.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation leading up to the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations, a unique platform created to foster dialogue and generate partnerships between youth, private sector, civil society and the United Nations. The winter session will focus on the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.