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Driving Meaningful Youth Participation

2024 ECOSOC Youth Forum Overview

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum serves as a space for young people to share stories of lived experience and advance youth solutions to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

This year, the forum took place from April 16–18 and was guided by the theme “Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda and eradicating poverty in times of multiple crises: the effective delivery of sustainable, resilient and innovative solutions”. The final day of the forum focused on sharing youth recommendations and innovative ideas in preparation for the Summit of the Future, to be held in September 2024.

Young people aged 15–24 are encountering significant educational, social, and economic challenges resulting from rising costs of living, conflicts, and an escalating climate emergency. Youth voices are often ignored, but their altruism and optimism represent immense potential to address today’s pressing challenges. 

To harness young people’s passion and innovation, decision makers need to provide youth with avenues for meaningful engagement. The representation of young people at the UN is growing, as seen with the UN Secretary-General’s, the UN Youth Office, and the UN Youth 2030 Strategy. Although this reflects a positive trend, youth still face many barriers to meaningful participation and are not present during negotiations. It is important that the UN showcases youth as powerful agents for change to encourage greater youth inclusion at national and local policy and decision making levels. 

The ECOSOC Youth Forum has four key objectives (source: concept note):

  1. Provide a platform for young people to meaningfully engage in dialogue with UN Member States and UN entities.
  2. Share knowledge, skills, and lessons learned from engagement of young people in policy making and implementation.
  3. Present ideas and solutions to advance the SDGs based on national, regional, and global experiences.
  4. Activate youth engagement for the SDGs and upcoming major events: the High Level Political Forum and the Summit of the Future. 

Attending this conference brought to my attention the vast inequalities faced by young people around the world. The biggest barrier for youth is that they do not have equal access to elections, with very few countries allowing people under the age of 18 to vote. Even once they are 18, it’s very difficult to actually enter government and be involved in decision making as the average age of politicians is quite high. It is also very dangerous for youth in many countries to stand up for what they believe in. One speaker shared his experience of being exiled after criticising the government for their lack of civil society participation. Even in the US, where citizens have a right to freedom of speech, youth face dangerous backlash from police when protesting on university campuses. 

Ultimately, my involvement in the conference made me reflect on the barriers young people face within my own country, Australia. It is very unclear how youth can meaningfully participate, and there is a feeling of being ignored even when youth do share their opinion. There needs to be greater infrastructure for meaningful youth participation, paired with respect and a willingness to listen from people in positions of leadership. 

Below is a summary of each of the sessions held across the three-day forum. These summaries provide an overview of the key themes discussed throughout the conference. 

Tuesday April 16: 

Session 1: Youth for Solutions and Innovations

The opening session recognised the critical role youth play in providing innovative solutions and new perspectives. Speakers discussed solutions to support youth in overcoming the significant challenges they face and addressed the need to build youth resilience to future shocks. Key areas where youth voices need to be amplified include poverty, decent work, economic security, social inclusion and cohesion, climate action, enhancing youth resilience, and building peace.

Session 2: Progressing from Poverty to Prosperity

Young people frequently inherit poverty and have limited earning and learning opportunities to break this intergenerational poverty cycle. This session highlighted the urgent need for targeted interventions to address the root causes of multidimensional poverty and the importance of empowering young people as catalysts for change. It gave youth an opportunity to share innovative approaches to poverty eradication and emphasised the need to foster multi-stakeholder collaborations. Advocates called for increased investment in youth programs, prioritising spending on social protection, investments in the green economy, education, healthcare, and better infrastructure to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.


Session 3: Engaging Youth in Building Peaceful and Inclusive Societies 

This session focused on the pivotal role young people play in promoting peace, justice, human rights, and inclusive development. Evidence underscores persistent challenges for youth engagement, which limit youth participation in civic spaces. Growing mistrust between youth and governments also represents a significant risk to youth participation. This session stressed the importance of creating a safe and empowering environment for young people to voice their concerns, contribute to decision-making, and promote peaceful elections. Three key strategies to promote meaningful engagement for building peaceful societies are: 

  1. Rebuild trust in institutions by increasing transparency of political and economic spheres. 
  2. Protect young people who are engaged in peacebuilding activities. 
  3. Identify how youth can meaningfully participate in peacebuilding efforts globally and incorporate this into the New Agenda for Peace and Peacebuilding Architecture Review. 

Ultimately, it is vital that decision-makers respect, protect, and listen to youth. 

Session 4: Urban Youth Leading Climate Action, Community Resilience Initiative and Sustaining Peace

It is important to integrate youth perspectives into urban planning to address challenges posed by rapid urbanisation, climate change, and armed conflicts. This session focused on sharing strategies and interventions that have effectively empowered youth to contribute to sustainable peace and development in their communities.

Wednesday April 17: 

Session 1: Regional Breakout Session 

This session was an opportunity for youth and member states to share experiences and solutions within focused regional blocks. This exchange of information among people with cultural similarities created a space to share for more tailored solutions and resulted in greater audience engagement. Of note, panellists in the Asia Pacific breakout room stressed the importance of promoting youth entrepreneurship to drive the future of their economies. 


Session 2: Financing our Future:  Road to a Robust Climate Finance System for Present and Future Generations

Youth are suffering from the consequences of climate change and will be most impacted by the crisis in the long run. This session fostered an intergenerational dialogue to understand youth priorities for climate financing. Specifically, discussions were centred on how we can meaningfully include youth in climate financing discourse at the decision-making level. 


Session 3: Feeding the Future: Youth Sustainable Food Systems For All

Globally, there are 1.2 billion of young people aged between 15 and 24, and 88 percent live in low- and low-middle income economies. This session focused on sharing scalable solutions related to SDG 2 – Zero Hunger. Youth-led initiatives are crucial to food security and promoting sustainable and resilient agrifood systems. 



Thursday April 18:

Session 1: Summit of The Future: Multilateral Solutions For A Better Tomorrow – Global Dialogue On Youth 

The Summit of the Future is being held in September 2024. World leaders will come together to forge a new international consensus on how to safeguard the future. This session highlighted the importance of youth engagement at the United Nations and motivated young people to participate in Summit of the Future processes at the global, national, and local levels.

Session 2: Youth and the Future of Work

The future of work is changing rapidly. Governments need to stay ahead of the curve and upskill youth. This session focused on innovative approaches to shaping an inclusive future of work for young people. Speakers stressed the importance of nurturing youth talent, promoting job development strategies, and supporting young people as they transition into decent jobs. 


Session 3: AI For an Equitable Future:  A Youth-led Dialogue on AI’s Potential to Bridge the Gender Digital Divide and Empower Young People

In the age of AI, equal access to digital resources is imperative. This session delved into several discussions surrounding the intersection of youth and AI, with a focus on closing the digital gender divide. Panellists spoke about policies and strategies to ensure that AI tools are inclusive and create safer digital spaces. The session closed with an assessment of how AI can be leveraged to directly address the root causes of poverty. 


Session 4: Insights and Recommendations: The Voices of Youth in the Lead Up to the Summit of the Future

This concluding session of the forum addressed the main demands from young people for the Summit of the Future. The discussion was focused on ‘how do we ensure meaningful engagement of young people not only in deciding but also in implementing the outcomes of the Summit of the Future?’. It finished with a call to action to prioritise youth-led and youth-inclusive consultations to inform the Summit of the Future. 


Overall, the ECOSOC forum is an opportunity for young people to gather and exchange experience and solutions. It inspires young people to be agents of change and highlights the value of meaningful youth participation throughout all levels of the decision-making process.

Author: Lauren Grant, Youth Representative