Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending the first ever Youth Summit in London, organised by the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) in partnership with the International Citizen Service (ICS). It was a great celebration of the impact that young people are having on changing the world for the better.
The timing of the #YouthSummit was important, coming just two weeks before the Post-2015 Summit in New York when world leaders will come together to commit to the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at eradicating poverty for good. On Saturday the UK Development Minister Justine Greening announced that she will be bringing two youth representatives to this New York event as part of the UK delegation, a move that speaks volumes about the UK's new focus on young people in development.
One of the many inspirational Youth Summit delegates I met was was Felix Owino, from Nairobi in Kenya who made a speech about what education means to him. He volunteered with VSO ICS from September to December last year and during his placement his team helped to raise awareness of natural resource management, women's empowerment and the importance of education in the community. He's gone on to do great things with a local NGO including setting up literacy clubs and he said, "An educated young person is an empowered young person - more likely to get a job, to start their own business, and to have the confidence to challenge the widespread corruption that we sadly see in our society."
Over half the world's population is under 30 and I am lucky because I already see the impact young people have in development every day at work. In July I met Niall Anderson, James Patraiko and Selina Yang on a VSO trip to Cambodia. All three are British and aged between 19 and 25. Having only arrived on their ICS placements four short weeks before, James and Niall stunned me with their almost-fluent Khmer. They were already conversing with local people and staff from the partner organisation they were supporting with entrepreneurship skills. They casually told me they had done an online language course before they left.
Selina had worked in the UK government for two years, and was prompted to go on a volunteer placement when she felt a need to do something to support people at a more international level. She told me she thought it was important to be 'an international citizen in this digital era'. So she's helping to equip one community with some really practical skills like accounting, marketing and financing - and clearly learning a lot in return.
These certainly are not the picture of careless youth that we often hear about, the young people who only care about their box-fresh designer trainers and making money. They are the face of the generation that can, and hopefully will, change our world by working and volunteering on a peer to peer and local level, getting closer to the issues that matter to them than may other interventions manage to do.
They are critical peace builders too. In Pakistan, an impressive group of young people are taking the initiative in countering terrorism and conflict in their communities. In the Multan District of Pakistan, young people have been trained in the use of peace-building techniques to conquer sectarianism at the grassroots, with great success. The VSO-led Peace Forums in Pakistan project inspired young people to write songs, hold film clubs and even organise a peace memorial, in solidarity with young people of all faiths, in the aftermath of the terrible Peshawar school attack in December of last year.
We have 15 years to see if we can end poverty and inequality for good. This is not impossible but young people are vital to making it happen. As the generation with the most to gain and lose from the SDGs, they need to get more platforms like the Youth Summit and the UN Summit to have their voices heard so they can get on with helping us to change the world, one global goal at a time.