Your Voice Matters Series: Defining Sustainable Development and Relevant Goals

*This blog post was developed based off the ACIC study, Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. The whole report can be found here.*

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From the roundtables and interviews we conducted in the Atlantic region, ACIC was able to get a better idea of how youth and those that work with youth understand sustainable development and the SDGs.

When asked about the definition of sustainable development, participants related it to long-term thinking. The Goals are meant to better the world for the generations to come, and the conditions for achieving them can and will change over time. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be considered a living document, where the conditions for success will change and evolve.

As well, participants suggested that sustainable development needed to be understood as value-based and inclusive. This is part of the global shift from a solely “bottom line” approach to development, where economic growth is the only measure of success. Rather, many of the participants suggested that morals, values and spirituality should be part of the foundation of sustainable development towards the Goals.

A lot of the discussions from this study focused on developing inclusivity and creating a sense of in-it-togetherness. Youth kept coming back to the importance of equity and shared responsibility when asked about achieving the Goals—in order for the SDGs to be realized, everyone needs to band together to take action. This includes, importantly, ensuring that there are spaces in participatory action for traditionally under-represented or marginalized voices.

An important part of the sessions was determining how individuals felt about the SDGs. Participants in the study thought that the use of colourful graphics helped to make the Goals clear and engaging. While many were uncertain about the goals being achieved by 2030, they appreciated the aspirational nature of the Agenda and what it represents. The phrasing of the goals, such as “No Poverty” and “No Hunger,” gives the Agenda an ambitiously high aim.

Participants also identified goals that they felt were important to their communities and to the wider country. For youth, Climate Action was the most relevant, followed by Gender Equality and Quality Education. Meanwhile, professionals rated Quality Education as the most relevant, with Gender Equality, Climate Action and Good Health and Wellbeing following. These disparities show a generational difference in the priorities youth and adults have when it comes to the Goals.

It’s also crucial to mention that Indigenous youth and professionals rated Life on Land very highly. Participants explained that this goal was most closely related to the preservation of Indigenous culture and its connection to the land. This demonstrates that differences in cultural upbringing and location can also affect which SDGs people prioritize. As well, it shows how the goals can be interpreted differently to reflect the results that different groups want to see in their own communities.

From our 1-on-1 interviews and roundtable discussions with youth and youth-serving professionals, we learned how the SDGs are viewed and understood by a few different age groups and demographics in the Atlantic provinces. For youth, sustainable development comes down to doing something for everyone’s common good, and doing so knowing that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Our work also provided us with valuable input into which SDGs are most relevant to Atlantic Canadian youth, which informs which goals we’ll use for public engagement geared towards young people.

Want to read more about insights into engaging Atlantic Canadian youth with the Sustainable Development Goals? Read the report here.