16 Jun 14

Restless Development’s Chief Executive Nik Hartley spoke at the United Nations as the opening address, alongside Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council, and the President of the UN General Assembly at the beginning of June 2014.
This is a summary of his speech.

“Why does ‘poverty’, ‘starvation’ and ‘disease’ permanently get coupled, by the media and politicians, with ‘incapable’ and ‘inadequate’?”,Jim Cogan, the founder of Restless Development asked himself in 1985. The restless teacher from London had a very different vision, which was moving against the general flow of global development, of western aid for foreign poor. Driven by the idea that any young person from any country or background can lead change and development in their own country if equipped with the right tools and knowledge he set up an agency. And like all good agencies he set it up to offer ideas, expertise and networks to enable youth-led development.

A lot has changed since 1985, but we still tend to start most plans and discussions, with, ‘have’ and ‘have not’, referring to rights, access to health services and livelihoods. As an example, in Tanzania nearly 50% of the country is under the age of 15. With a fertility rate of 5 children per mother and economic growth of 6.5% a year 800,000 new young people are coming onto the job market each year. And this trend will keep going, as the fast majority of the population will be under 30 in 2030. Even if these young people took every new job created, that is still half a million new young people every year without a single prospect.

But are they really without a single prospect? Or, are they already finding a thousand solutions to a thousand problems with their own plans, their own systems? Beyond the development-speak that makes us comfortable, there are millions, hundreds of millions, of young people who are resilient, leaders, making their communities work, their favelas productive, their wars survivable, already…

Nik speaking at the UN

Through the youth-led work Restless Development does on the ground we can see the power of young people every day. 18 months ago young people from every corner of the world, worked together on how to present a youth lens to the High Level Panel on the post 2015 development goals. Better still they worked on a collective vision. Something that transcended their varied backgrounds and interests – jobs, violence against women, rural poverty, disability, religious rights and many more. ‘Jobs’ yes. ‘Health’ yes. But as one young person summed up to the Panel: “Bluntly, you can choose which eight or ten, but how are they being run, managed, communicated and monitored? If the answer does not include a significant part for young people the goals will not work”

Listening to the young people speak the Big Idea formed. If the post-MDG process could bring such diverse young people together to a collective vision of governance; if data and the so-called data revolution was going to be a driver of new goals; imagine if, like in this auditorium, young people could be brought together country by country to collect data and be charged with monitoring the ongoing success of development in their nations and regions and the world.
The Big Idea is not about data, or even about young people engaging with data. Or even young people engaging in data to monitor development goals. The Big Idea is a bolder assertion: To mobilise young people en masse to engage with and monitor development goals, now, in every country and to work closely with governments to hit poverty targets.

There are already powerful youth, brilliant youth groups, and leading local youth sector agencies in every country in the world. If they want to make a noise they can. If they want to make change happen, they will. If they want to overthrow systems, they have. In the High Level Panel meetings with youth and the Mo Ibrahim forum alone, we brought together 59 youth organisations, who together got behind this collective vision for mobilising young people to lead accountability; between them they have a leading presence in… nearly every country on the globe.
And our only role has to be to give that a collective vision, called the “global sustainable development goals”, and then to give them the platform to lead us the rest of the way.

Key decision makers appeared to acknowledge Nik’s speech and the role of youth in the decision making process. Martin Sajdik, President of the Economic and Social Council stated: “Youth are not only the future of tomorrow — youth are leaders, entrepreneurs, students, workers, caregivers and problem solvers of today. Enabling one quarter of the world’s population to participate in the international decision-making process for the future is essential.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "Let us acknowledge and celebrate what youth can do to build a safer, more just world. Let us strengthen our efforts to include young people in policies, programmes and decision-making processes that benefit their futures and ours."

To find out more about the Big Idea click here

For more information on the ECOSOC Youth Forum click here.