17 ways young people are changing the world

UN Development Programme
7 min readAug 8, 2016


Photo: Alina Escobar, UNDP Guatemala

Right now, 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are studying, working and finding their purpose. They are the largest youth population the world has ever seen, and they are growing up at a time when the world is at a critical crossroad.

2016 marks the first year of action to meet the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Young people are willing and able to contribute to this global agenda to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030.

Here are some ways that young people worldwide are working to change the world.

Goal 1: No poverty

In, Burundi, knowledge is power to end poverty, one village at a time.

Photo: Aude Rossignol, UNDP
Photo: Aude Rossignol, UNDP

In partnership with UNDP, Bibliothèque sans frontières (Libraries Without Borders) young staff travel across Burundi, spreading IDEA boxes, libraries containing e-books and paperbacks, educational toys and games, internet-ready mobile devices and other materials. Remote villages turn to these mobile libraries for knowledge, news, culture and to find common ground as they rebuild their societies after armed conflict and civil war.

Goal 2: Zero hunger

The road to zero hunger rests on the shoulders of a new generation of young people like Mercy and Shetuuka. They are sibling farmers working to reduce hunger and create jobs in Namibia through environmentally friendly farming. Using drip irrigation, their efforts yield 100,000 Namibian dollars each month in sweet potatoes, onions, butternuts, cabbages, watermelons, tomatoes and green peppers, 30 percent more than the average yield for three hectares (about three football fields) of farmland.

Photo: UNDP Namibia

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Although the practice is illegal in many countries, each year, 3 million girls under the age of 15 undergo female genital mutilation, the practice of removing all or part of the genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Photo: UNDP Egypt

Many of the girls who survive female genital mutilation will grow up to face lifelong health issues such as severe bleeding and problems urinating, cysts, infections, as well as future complications in childbirth.

In Egypt, a group of tiny activists has been traveling village to village, determined to end this practice in their country.

Goal 4: Quality education

One-third of girls in Afghanistan will never get a chance to go to school. Third grader Bahara from Gozo Omerz School in rural Panjshir was that one in three until a bridge helped to change her life.

Photo: UNDP Afghanistan

One of UNDP’s 600 transportation projects to promote economic development in rural Afghanistan, the bridge led to more boys and girls enrolling in primary school, including little Bahara, by addressing safety concerns on the village’s main road.

Goal 5: Gender equality

Worldwide, women are still under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In India, with the world’s largest youth population, things are beginning to change.

Photo: UNDP India

More than 40 percent of Indians are under the age of 20, and young women are breaking the glass ceiling by pursuing more technical areas of work like engineering. Women now make up 30 percent of computer programmers in India, and they’re gaining ground in other STEM professions.

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

About 783 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly 11 percent of the world’s population. Getting clean water for survival and for sanitation is even more challenging in the midst of war.

Photo: UNDP Syria

In Syria, where war has forced 45 percent of the population to flee their homes, young people with UNDP’s Cash for Work projects and youth volunteers are a lifeline for the 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance who remain inside Syria.

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

As countries work to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets as part of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, many are turning to greener energy solutions.

Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

When Max and Dariya were 14, their science project on smart energy won third place in a school competition in Astana, Kyrgyzstan. Now in ninth grade, the teenagers’ science project is a working part of their school’s affordable and clean energy plan.

Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

The school has already saved 30 percent in heating and electricity bills and avoided 103.8 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the first year of adopting Max and Dariya’s project.

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

Education and skills training are vital to prepare the next generation for the workforce and for adulthood. In Côte d’Ivoire, with UNDP, these young people, former soldiers, are learning the skill sets they need to build industry and infrastructure in their nation.

Photo: UN Photo

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

In Rwanda and other countries, government services are going digital.

Photo: UNDP Rwanda

Young developers created a mobile application with us that citizens can use to access and track progress on government services like business license renewals, community nuisance reports, broken pipelines and other issues.

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

Afro-Colombian communities living on the Pacific coast have historically experienced high levels of poverty and inequality. This is reflected in the high unemployment rates, especially among young people and women.

Photo: UNDP Colombia

Since 2010, through UNDP’s “Growing Together” programme in Colombia, over 2,300 young people have completed leadership, business management and job training. Youth from the programme have set up 57 businesses, while others are contributing to local businesses in need of skilled workers.

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

By 2050, 66 percent of the world will live in cities, up from 54 percent today. Creating jobs for the world’s 73 million unemployed youth is critical to meet the demands of urban growth.

Photo: UNDP Kosovo*

After taking part in a UNDP self-employment programme, Mirjeta returned to Kosovo* to not only establish a textile market, but also to set an example for improving working conditions in the manufacturing industry.

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

Peter from Zambia is one of the millions of young people working with his community to ensure villages use and consume natural resources responsibly for long term sustainability.

By day, he’s a school teacher. In his free time, Peter teaches local farmers about sustainable farming and food processing methods.

Goal 13: Climate action

Coastal communities worldwide are at risk from flooding, rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change.

These young people in Papua New Guinea are among hundreds of young environmentalists who volunteer to plant mangroves. The mangroves protect communities from storm surges, provide a habitat for a variety of wildlife and store carbon to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo: UNDP Papua New Guinea

Goal 14: Life below water

For small island nations like the Maldives, the flattest country on earth, meeting Goal 14 is a matter of survival as sea levels rise. Through coral reef restoration, mangrove planting and other efforts, these young environmentalists are diving in to save their homeland.

Photo: UNDP Maldives

Goal 15: Life on land

Despite the beautiful landscapes and resilient mountain people, life in the mountains of Nepal can be a struggle. Land degradation is making it increasingly difficult to earn a living off the land, forcing many rural youth to leave home in search of work.

Photo: UNDP Nepal

As part of their local 4H club, and to invest in their future, these young environmental activists are restoring 10 hectares (about 10 football fields) of barren land, transforming it into sustainable agro-forestry plantations filled with fruit trees, grazing grass and fuel wood.

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Decades of civil war have created a brain drain in Somalia, with many talented young people emigrating in search of safety and economic opportunity.

Lul from Mogadishu is working to reverse this trend. She and 44 other graduates are part of UNDP’s Young Graduates in Parliament project, bringing their education and skills to bear to strengthen governance and the prospects for lasting peace.

Goal 17: Partnerships

Meeting these 17 Sustainable Development Goals requires a global partnership with youth playing a central role.

UNDP Turkiye Youtube

In Turkey, 16-year-old Asrat plans to do her part by becoming a teacher. She’s taking advantage of skills training from the Hisar Antatolian Support Society. Funded through a partnership with Coca Cola, the Society offers skills trainings for young women from rural communities.

Written by: Lei Phyu, a Communications Officer at UNDP