Youth Must Be Heard

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Far right to left) UNDP Country Manager for Solomon Islands, Azusa Kubota, and Solomon Islands Hon. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare having a preview of ideas presented by youths on "Think Global and Act Local" (Photo: UNDP/Sandra Barrows)

Across the Solomon Islands, youth say they feel disadvantaged, disempowered, and many suffer from low esteem. While they have the passion and the ideas to make a difference, they at times feel blocked by lack of opportunities and unfavorable stereotypes about youth.

To foster positive change in the country it is critical to listen to the voices of youth. Youth want to be heard, and they want to be part of the solution, not the problem. 

Young women and men can and do play active roles as agents of change. The recently adopted Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security marks the formal recognition of the positive role young women and men play for the maintenance of international peace and security, especially in fragile contexts.

There are more young people between the ages of 10 and 24 today than at any other time in human history. Solomon Islands reflects that pattern.  A recent study estimates that seven out of 10 Solomon Islanders are younger than 29 years old. 

If the country wants to boost its economy, bring about positive change and meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – aimed at bringing prosperity to all people by 2030 and protecting the planet – we must tap into this key demographic. 

At a national peace dialogue held this June, the key message from youth was that if the country is to attain sustained peace and good governance it must start from home, from communities. 

In the recent UN peacebuilding survey across the country, the public identified youth as the most likely to cause dispute (64% of survey participants), followed by adult men (52% of survey participants). At the same time, youth were identified as one of the most likely groups to be victims of disputes (52% of survey participants).

The frustration felt by youth was reflected in many consultations and dialogues. Solomon Islands youth face similar challenges to their counterparts across the region, such as: lack of access to quality and affordable education and health services, unemployment, and various types of discrimination. 

So how do we change this trajectory? 

We believe that the upcoming Youth Innovation Forum is a start. It aims to give youth a platform to be empowered, to be part of the solution. Youth led its design. 

The forum is a culmination of a series of interactive sessions with marginalized youth; youth who might not have come forward on their own or whose ideas would remain unexpressed. Most of them had never been challenged to apply innovation – and we are not talking technology here. We are talking about challenging opinions and long held ideas, we are encouraging thinking outside of the box, to be problem solvers. 

Youth have identified problems in their own communities, problems that hinder peacebuilding. But they have also come up with solutions to these problems, using their experiences, knowledge and fresh ideas. 

One of the most powerful statements I heard from a youth participant was that through this journey he realized that he has the power to make a difference. Instead of waiting for others to do things for youth, or blaming others for their failure to assist youth, youth themselves can act, and they are ready to act. 

Our peacebuilding project has been bringing youth from far corners of the Weather Coast and North Malaita to participate in peacebuilding and life skills training. This Solomon Islands’ first ever Youth Innovation Summit is another step on that journey. 

The Summit will bring together youth from all over of Honiara and its boundary communities, as well as rural communities where the peacebuilding project has been working. Youth asked for role models and mentors in their life. It will pair them with volunteer mentors, youth advocates and inspirational speakers so that they can engage with them, learn from each other, and take forward their own ideas. 

We know that the Summit itself will not solve all the challenges that youth face today. But it is an important step to illustrate their achievements, and to inspire innovative solutions to longstanding issues.  

The goal is to empower youth, to allow youth from different backgrounds to work together, to build partnerships to bring about the change they seek. It is only with youth that we will meet our goal of “leaving no one behind.”

*The youth innovation summit took place from 16-18 October in the National Auditorium in Honiara. 

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