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Youth participants from around the world interacted with policymakers and decision makers on young people’s challenges, potential, and needs during the 2019 Youth Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Curbing unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy were among the most pressing challenges identified. Youth participants and ministers of youth highlighted successful initiatives and national strategies that address them. The 2019 ECOSOC Youth Forum took place from 8-9 April 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, with the theme, ‘Empowered, Included, and Equal.’ The event was structured in both plenary and breakout sessions on regional priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Aurum project manager Farai Mubaiwa was selected to attend and speak on the work she is doing with the Aurum Unlock’d joint venture. We sat down with her to ask a few questions.

Question: What were some of the highlights of the youth forum?

While being at the United Nations Headquarters in New York was indeed a highlight, the biggest highlight of the youth forum was the engagement and networking with other young leaders from different parts of the world. It was incredible meeting young people who are also passionate about creating positive change in their communities and wider countries. Most notable was how we are each actioning change to address different topics which affect humanity – from health, to climate change to education. This forum highlighted the power that youth have to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Question: Tell us about your presentation and how it was received by other participants?

I had the honour of speaking in a panel alongside the President of the General Assembly, Her Excellency Maria Fernanda Espinosa, and 4 other prominent youth leaders advocating for inclusion in their countries – Rosario del Pilar Diaz Garavito (Founder and CEO, The Millennials Movement, and Regional Caucus Coordinator of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth Latin American Countries), Ana Pirtskhalava (Representative of the International Union of Socialist Youth), Mridul Upadhyay (Asia Coordinator of United Network of Young Peacebuilders and Co-Founder of Youth for Peace International) and Yazan Gneim (Member of the Youth Leadership Programme for Palestine).

I was tasked with speaking on economic exclusion, and I used this opportunity to share the work of the Aurum UnlockD project. The project is a powerful example of how youth economic exclusion can be combatted through innovative collaborations that not only economically empower youth through internships and work experience, but that also educate youth about healthcare and create HIV ambassadors.

Not only was the speech well-received by the attendees, especially my fellow African delegates, it was even retweeted by the UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. Afterwards, I engaged with delegates and youth ministers interested in knowing more about the project. Most exciting is that the Ministry of Youth and Sport in Malaysia has requested a meeting as the government is interested in duplicating this project within the Malaysian context. Moreover, there are potential links with the Commonwealth Youth Health Network and the Major Group for Children and Youth as a result of the speech and its focus on youth and health.

Question: How do you see the role of youth in achieving global sustainable development goals and bringing about change?

Youth play a vital role in achieving the SDGs and bringing about change within their communities for three reasons – Youth Populations, Digital Activism and Youth Energy:

First, Africa has the largest youth population in the world with over 226 million youth between 15-24. This large youth population can be an economic asset if youth are empowered through skills, education, and strong social infrastructure. The critical mass of youth is capable of bringing about change in communities when youth are aligned on issues that they would like to change.

Second, nowadays youth have the ability to leverage technology to bring about change. Digital activism has enhanced traditional activism We have seen this through the use of social media and its link to revolutions in countries like Egypt where in 2011, social media was used to mobilise protesters to overthrow Former President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Social media was leveraged to educate, raise awareness and force change. Digital activism has also been used to hold politicians accountable, influence policy and raise awareness about critical societal issues including the Sustainable Development Goals.

Last, with the ease of access to information through the internet, youth are more informed of societal issues and the necessary changes needed, and have the energy to bring about this change. My favourite aspect of conferences and forums is meeting youth as young at 15 who are already running organisations, working with politicians, and uplifting their communities on small- and large-scale initiatives. Our energy and passion for social change is critical in this world. Thus youth have an important role to play working alongside other members of society.

Question: What’s next for Aurum Unlock’d after the youth forum?

The Youth Forum provided a large platform to showcase the tangible impact that the Aurum UnlockD project is making on both the youth and the health implementers who collectively strive to strengthen South Africa’s healthcare industry. 

There were many potential networks, partnerships and funding opportunities that emerged after the Youth Forum.

​Networks were formed with Youth Ministers and Youth Delegates from strategic countries where Aurum has country offices – US, Mozambique, Ghana, and SA. Moreover, in an effort to increase Aurum’s presence and awareness in other countries links where also made youth delegates from Nigeria, Netherlands, and Germany involved in healthcare in their countries. There is also potential linkage with the African Union Youth Envoy to involve The Aurum Institute in healthcare specific projects.

There is a potential funding opportunity for the Aurum UnlockD project with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). The project appeals to the NYDA since it addresses the bottom level of youth unemployment which is youth without a matric who have been excluded from the formal economy. A proposal is currently underway.

From Global perspective, Aurum will now be involved in the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (a platform for youth to advocate and engage on global health issues through partnerships, key institutions and through working with the Commonwealth Secretariat), The UN Major Group for Children and Youth SDG 3 (a UN initiative serving as the official voice of youth and contributing to policy negotiations) and Junior Chamber International (A group of youth around the world are interested in partnering with Aurum).