As we kick off 2020, beginning a 10-year countdown to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I am filled with a sense of urgency and renewed optimism. While we have enormous challenges ahead, we are witnessing young people across the globe raising their voices and leading change key to achieving the global goals. Social justice and equity, climate change, and gender equality are just a few issues inspiring record numbers of young leaders

At the International Youth Foundation, we are proud to stand by, for, and with these incredible young people. As we celebrate our 30th anniversary and drive our Transformation 2022 strategic plan forward, we are counting on having a diverse range of young people at the table. Three foundational principles are critical as we begin this new decade of transforming lives, together:

  1. Listen to young people, and trust them to be the leaders the world needs. Let’s be clear: there’s work to be done in the next 10 years, but there’s also reason to be hopeful. After all, the last decade taught us how much young people can accomplish when they turn their passion into action. In Tanzania, for example, young women and men in the Youth Speak initiative met with heads of government, corporations, and organizations to share their perspectives about how best to engage young people in decision-making processes. In Louisiana, young people like Bhavani Tivakaran and other participants in IYF’s LEAPS program apprise adult leaders in their community about which issues youth care about most and then offer critical insights for solutions. “Young people have a good balance of idealism and realism,” Bhavani says, “and we know what we want from society.” We must listen to young people, equip them to succeed, harness their enthusiasm, and trust them to help create a future for us all. They are certainly up to the challenges ahead. 
  2. Adopt a “We” (not a “Me”) mindset to promote economic opportunity. While youth are an essential part of the roadmap for success, so are corporations. Corporations are stepping up with resources and commitments that go beyond profits and quarterly earnings, but we all know much more needs to be done to create sustainable change. In the last year, we saw examples of what this new “We” mindset looks like in practice. For example, in August of 2019, 181 CEOs signed a statement from Business Roundtable calling for corporations to become more socially responsible. This new standard rests on the belief that everyone deserves the same opportunities and underscores the role corporations can and must play in ensuring economic forces are equitable. The importance of private sector involvement in development efforts—and in achieving the SDGs by 2030—was emphasized throughout 2019 nowhere more clearly than in USAID’s new framework, which calls for private sector engagement to help developing nations on their journeys to “self-reliance.”  When corporations use their scale to provide young people with economic opportunities, we all benefit.  
  3. Embrace locally led development as essential for progress. At IYF, we’re proud of our corporate partnerships—indeed, our recent alliance with McDonald’s to create the Youth Opportunity initiative illustrates what can be accomplished when scale is used for good. However, equally essential are local, community-based partners who provide deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities close to their communities. Organizations like IYF learn a lot from them. And, we can leverage our expertise and experience to help build the capacities of our local partners, ensuring these partnerships are mutually beneficial. Most importantly, when international development organizations, community-based actors, and corporations work in unison towards a common goal, those who benefit most are young people and the communities they call home. As we push towards the 2030 target for the SDGs, an all-hands-on-deck approach will win the day.  

As we begin 2020 and our 30th year, I know I speak for everyone at IYF when I say we are excited to begin a new decade of transforming lives, together. I hope you’ll join us!