VIENNA, Apr 16 2014 (IPS) - Sri Lanka will be hosting the World Conference on Youth in Colombo May 6-10 this year. The Conference will be a platform for expanding youth participation and strengthening the voice of youth in matters that concern them the most. This is especially so when the attention of the international community remains riveted on a new post-2015 Agenda for Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Group of 77 (G77) in Vienna, realizing the significance of the opportunity the Conference provides for bringing youth concerns to the forefront of international action, organized a Plenary Discussion Forum on 4th April 2014. It was addressed by Sri Lanka’s Youth Affairs & Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, and the Director General of UNIDO LI Yong. A Panel Discussion on “Youth Entrepreneurship including for Industrial Development” followed.

The theme of the Colombo Conference remains “Mainstreaming youth in post-2015 Development Agenda” with subjects ranging from youth participation, youth empowerment to youth entrepreneurship and youth employment. Within the broader category of youth, which the Forum addressed as crucial for sustainable development, young women in development and entrepreneurship received a special focus.

Many international confabs have addressed issues of concern to youth over the last two decades as part of their broader agendas. The outcomes of some of those processes are reflected in the Internationally Agreed Development Goals.

Many of these, however, remain unimplemented in international and national action plans for a variety of reasons, primarily for lack of resources or consistent international support.

The recent adjuncts in the trajectory towards the post-2015 Development Agenda consist in the high points of some of the international discourses: Outcome Document of the Rio+20 Conference, Lima Declaration towards Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development and the Outcome of the UN High Level Meeting on Youth.

The upcoming World Conference on Youth provides a direct but elevated staging post for thrusting youth into the centre of the evolving global agenda.

But why is the upcoming Colombo Conference different from other conferences and their outcomes, as well as their venues?

First, Colombo provides the ideal platform where all the hitherto sectorally or thematically identified perspectives in several international conferences held to date could jell into a comprehensive, actionable outcome, thus providing both consistency and coherence to approaches towards youth.

For instance, a recent regional conference addressed the challenge of youth unemployment, a concern that affects not only the region, which witnessed what is called “Arab Spring”, but extends far beyond it. The outcomes of these processes need to be woven into making a development-oriented “whole-of-youth” framework.

Second, for most regional initiatives as well as international conferences that have taken place concerning youth in the last two to three years, connecting the dots between them and the process of elaboration of post – 2015 Development Agenda is important.

Colombo presents a viable opportunity to link these diverse processes to the eventual larger process towards elaboration of a new international development agenda.

Third, as much as youth issues are an enormous challenge in other regions of the World, it is also a huge challenge for much of Asia. But the magnitude of the challenges as well as the opportunities arising from them would call for concerted partnership across the regions given the reality of economies today.

Asia, home to three most populous States with high youth population density, and some developing States with impressive social indicators can blaze a trial with its own experiences in youth development.

Fourth; Sri Lanka continues to progress with resilience and vibrancy with its economic growth averaging around 7.5% for a few years now. Several social indicators which stood well past the mid-point of MDG targets years ago have progressed towards or beyond targets set in year 2000.

These include poverty alleviation, fall in infant and maternal mortality and increase in literacy and in access to primary education and primary health. Youth unemployment remains all time low.

The policies and programmes of the Government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa have been enablers of development in sectors such as fisheries, agriculture, ports and aviation, communication and highway, transportation, industry including SMEs, vocational education and skills development.

Tourism continues to expand with a strong emphasis on the role of youth entrepreneurship and SMEs. At the core of all these lies investment made in youth development.

Fifth, Sri Lanka is making a modest but clear beginning in the efforts of the ‘Global South’ towards strengthening South-South Cooperation. Technical and vocational education for youth skills development and youth entrepreneurship remains a potent force for South-South partnership, grounded in Sri Lanka’s national experience and achievements.

The World Conference on Youth will bring on a unified platform, not just these issues and priorities, but in particular will seek to chart a pathway towards mainstreaming all aspects of youth development and their inter-linkages to other issues of the wider UN agenda, in the ongoing as well as future international efforts for expanding development.

It will no doubt channel youth needs and priorities to where it matters the most; post – 2015 Development Agenda.

By Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez  - Chair Group of 77 in Vienna

Sri Express

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