The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network is Empowering Youth as Change Agents

In Education, Employment, Empowerment, Features 14, Stakeholders 14, Youth by Mary Kurek

In 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) launched its official youth initiative (SDSN Youth) to empower youth globally to create sustainable development solutions.  SDSN Youth educates young people about the challenges of sustainable development and creates opportunities for them to use their creativity and knowledge to pioneer innovative solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, SDSN Youth creates platforms for young people to connect, collaborate, and integrate their ideas and perspectives into national and regional pathways for implementation of the SDGs.

Q & A with the UNSDSN Youth Program Team:


Q:  What is the mission of the youth program under the Network and what programs are you implementing to achieve the mission?
A:  The mission of SDSN Youth is simple – to empower young leaders globally to create sustainable development solutions. We do this by recruiting young leaders from various communities around the world and training them to become effective agents of change in academia, business, civil society, and local government sectors. We then track the journey of these leaders and learn from their experiences, creating strong feedback loops to improve our training programs and ensure more effective outcomes on the ground. We are currently using this model across four programs, which focus on:
Q:  How do you plan to measure your impact?
A:  We measure our impact using both qualitative and quantitative methods. In other words, we have a set of clear and concise indicators, which predominantly capture the scope and scale of our major programs – for example, ‘X number of individuals from X number of countries completed our X training program’, or ‘X number of individuals in X number of communities successfully implemented X task’. However, these indicators alone do not capture the real impact of any particular program, which is why we complement our measurement system using qualitative methods, including individual success stories. We hope that capturing enough individual success stories, we can evaluate the true result and impact of our programs.

Success Stories:

Liter of Light…was featured as one of the 50 solutions in the 2017 flagship Solutions Report. Liter of Light redesigns solar lighting for the developing world. Their simple, two-step technology creates local jobs, teaches green skills, and empowers energy-poor communities. Through producing easily repairable solar lights with locally available parts, Liter of Light increases communities’ self-reliance by integrating a livelihood model with the capacity to quickly assemble lights rather than diverting most production costs on logistics from overseas. Being featured in the YSR gave the project a platform they wouldn’t have had otherwise and led to other opportunities such as participating in events. Thanks to this added visibility, Liter of Light has seen substantial interest from crucial stakeholders which has enabled them to change their operating model (from one based on cooperatives to one engaging young people in their communities), scale up their efforts, and create an even bigger impact.

Lensational…also featured in the 2017 Solutions Report – is a global social enterprise committed to sharing women’s stories through the transformative power of photography and videography. Since launching in 2013, they have worked with over 600 marginalized women in the developing world, allowing them to share their unheard stories, gain confidence, and develop a base of strength. A large portion of Lensational’s booming success can be attributed to the initial platform gained by the YSR. Since then, the founder, Bonnie Chiu, has been featured by major private sector stakeholders such as Lavazza and Canon. This has significantly helped her secure funding, build capacity, scale her efforts, and communicate her story as well as Lensational’s impact.

Who are your partners?  (ie:  universities, NGOs, corporations?)  Do you utilize volunteers, and, if so, in what way?
A:  We work with a range of partners, including universities, think-tanks, foundations, NGOs, businesses and government agencies – you can see a list of some of our partners here. We operate under the premise that, in order for youth skills and innovations to contribute to sustainable development, stakeholders from across all sectors of society and the economy need to address the specific challenges which hold young people back, whether it is lack of access to financial services for young entrepreneurs or lack of youth inclusion in policy-making, so working with partners in these areas is extremely important for us. As for volunteers, most of our project teams indeed involve a massive number of young volunteers (ages 18-30) who give their time on the side of their studies or professional careers – they are involved in everything from project design and implementation to social media advocacy and event organization.


Q:  What is the philosophy around developing youth as “global citizens?”

A:  Half of the world population is under the age of 30; the largest population of young people the world has ever seen. These individuals will become major consumers and will account for the majority of the global workforce. The philosophy of global citizenship can serve a valuable framework for leading more sustainable lifestyles and prioritizing sustainable development issues in professional settings, including business, academia, government, and civil society.


Q: What goals are ahead for the rest of this year and early 2020 for the program?
A:  For the past three years, we have been pilot-testing our major programs – monitoring results, learning lessons, and applying this knowledge to the design of our programs. Now, we are at a stage where we are beginning to scale our work, in an effort to reach a larger and more diverse global audience, therefore increasing both the scope and depth of our impact. We are also seriously investing in strengthening the reach and depth of our 20+ regional/national networks, which have played a critical part in building the movement in their communities and bringing the programs to life. 

The Introducer Magazine is pleased to have a partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and extend our thanks to the SDSN team:  Lauren Barredo (Head of Partnerships), Sam Loni (Partnerships Manager), and Dario Piselli (Project Leader, Solutions Initiatives, Youth Program) for their contributions to this edition.

Networking Interests:
  • Experts in innovation systems and social entrepreneurship
  • Philanthropists & foundations working on youth empowerment
  • Communication and marketing experts and firms