Photo credit: United Nations
By Andrew Horne, MIPP
As I am currently interning with UN-Habitat, my blog for this month will focus on how UN-Habitat addresses the concerns of global youth in an increasingly young world. In the last several decades, there has been an explosion in the global population of youth, with these changing demographics impacting UN-Habitat’s mission. The youth population (those aged 15-24) is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030. Additionally, the demographic trends of cities are expected to follow suit as young people flock to urban regions, with more than 50% of urban dwellers expected to be 35 or younger by 2030.
UN-Habitat works to improve the living conditions of these urban youth, especially for those living in slums and unplanned settlements. This takes place through inclusion in governance and the social and economic life of cities. UN-Habitat mainstreams youth empowerment across all its programmes, ensuring that every programme and topic engages with youth in some capacity. One key component of UN-Habitat’s commitment to youth is the ‘Urban Youth Research Network’, which conducts and facilitates research through a network of urban youth experts. By generating data on the challenges that youth encounter, the network aids policymakers in creating effective plans. Issues faced by youth can include access to basic services like education, housing, sanitation, unemployment, and exclusion from decision-making. In the absence of relevant data, youth challenges are often left unaddressed. By bridging this gap and providing relevant information and data on the status of urban youth throughout the world, the Urban Youth Research Network, and UN-Habitat, help contribute to more effective urban policies.
There are, however, some additional ways in which UN-Habitat has adapted to the changing demographics in urban areas. I will look briefly at a few of UN-Habitat’s current programmes and policies centered around youth. Firstly, the UN-Habitat ‘Urban Youth Fund’ exists to support urban youth in developing countries, advancing the objectives of the SDGs. The fund provides grants to organizations located in developing counties, as well as additional capacity building support. Funding can benefit organizations focused on topics such as job creation, good governance, and adequate shelter. The fund conducts research on best-practices in youth-led development, helping provide youth perspectives with a platform capable of influencing official government policies. Since its creation, the Urban Youth Fund has operated in 172 cities, located in 66 countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 550 social enterprises and 85,000 youth have received funding, training, and support from the fund, with over 50% of these youth being women.
Secondly, to ensure that youth voices are heard in guiding UN-Habitat policies, the ‘Youth Advisory Board’ was established in 2008. The board is elected every two years and is composed of fourteen individuals. Two individuals (one man and one woman) come from each of the world’s six regions, with an additional two representatives from informal settlements. The board provides advice to UN-habitat on a number of topics, such as how to engage young people, and how to strengthen youth advocacy and participation.
Finally, my team has been working on the ‘Youth 2030 Strategy’ at UN-Habitat. Officially announced by UN Secretary General António Guterres in 2018, the Youth 2030 Strategy seeks to increase efforts to meet young people’s needs. The strategy itself was co-authored by UN-Habitat, and sees UN-Habitat commit to meaningfully engage young people through its programmes on sustainable urbanization, especially for those in informal settlements. My team regularly focuses on youth-related challenges in cities and informal settlements, so the Youth 2030 Strategy is a very important aspect of the work the team does.
Looking back on the experiences I’ve had during my internship, I feel immensely lucky to have been a UN intern. Very few people get the opportunity to work for the UN, so I have cherished the experiences and opportunities that have come over the last several months. The work was often challenging, but UN-Habitat has been a rewarding organization to work for. I am sure that the knowledge and experiences I have from my time with the UN will serve me well in the future, and I am excited to see what the future will bring!