How old will you be in 2030? This was the question I asked young women leaders numerous times during my week providing coverage of the United Nations General Assembly. This is the question that puts into perspective the plans set out by the United Nations to improve and create a more healthy, equal world. Come 2030, current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, will be 86. Two top UN Secretary General successor frontrunners, Helen Clark and Susanna Malcorra, will be 80 and 76, respectively.

In 2030, I will be 41. The young leaders I interviewed will be anywhere from 29-35 years old. Although we did not lead in creating them, these goals will be our goals to realize and bring to fruition. Thankfully, as US Youth Observer to the UN Nicol remarked during the UN General Assmebly week, “In the 20 least developed countries in the world, young people are the majority. There is power in our numbers.” There is a plethora of untapped potential in the places that need the most transformation.

Because of that, the biggest challenge ahead will be making sure these goals are taken out of the “high-level” meeting rooms along 1st Avenue in New York City and into the hands and voices of young female leaders who engage with businesses and grassroots efforts. The Sustainable Development Goals will only happen if we involve young people and they will never become a reality unless we specifically involve young women.

Not everyone will have the privilege to sit and formulate policy solutions, nor will everyone even want to work in that field. Young women will live the years leading to 2030 working in the various sectors of technology, business, education, and health. We must encourage young women in their passions and need to advocate for opportunities for young women to lead in the places where their influence already exists, not only pushing the policy changes that many places desperately need.

Change does not occur in a vacuum and the sustainable development goals will never become realities in the vacuums of purely political spheres or predominantly male leadership.

Giorgio Jackson, a youth activist from Chile, describes young people as a “horizontal generation,” pointing out our connectedness and grassroots influence. Typical systems have yet to include us properly, so we must work outward rather than upward.

Going forward from the 71st United Nations General Assembly, we must work to remind young women of things that already come naturally to the human experience, especially the experience of many young people today with this same “horizontal” approach. If we give people the comprehensive support they need, they will be able to do what is natural, sustainable, and marketable. Pape Gaye, of Senegal and CEO of Intra Health, believes, “we need to appeal to people to solve their own problems rather than just helping them and encouraging people to do this through private business is a way to do it.” Young leader Yemurai Nyoni agrees, saying, “what is sustainable is focusing on young entrepreneurs.” Creativity and ingenuity will always be intertwined with any definition of progress – whether to solve issues in our own communities or to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN.

Without young women engaged, without their input, without their ingenuity I am convinced the Sustainable Development Goals will not happen by 2030. What are goals without young people to achieve them? These are our goals; we cannot count on those in moving into 70s and 80s to make them happen for us.

How old will you be in 2030? What difference will you make?


Photo: Zayira Ray / Girls Globe.

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