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Your Voice Matters Series: A Focus On Youth And The SDGs

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


Here at ACIC, we value the voices of youth, and we work directly with youth and youth-serving organizations in Atlantic Canada. When Canada signed onto the Agenda 2030, and in turn agreed to share responsibility for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we wondered how these goals could be used to engage youth with international development. Though the SDGs benefit everyone, youth will have both the most potential impact and receive the most benefit from the goals in the long term.

When it comes to engaging youth on the SDGs, the main themes we want to stress are global citizenship and participation. Previous research has shown that youth in Canada are actively participating in measures of citizenship in our country; they belong to advocacy or interest groups, and they volunteer their time. Youth have also been effective at holding government accountable for the SDGs since their implementation in 2015, and they know how to influence others to get engaged. This shows that they’re willing and ready to be global citizens and participate in sustainable development.

Several researchers in the last few years have investigated how best to engage youth audiences with international development. In a 2015 study by the Bond network, they highlighted the importance of social media engagement, as services like Instagram and Twitter are primary sources of information for youth on an everyday basis. As we all know, social media plays an important role in the lives of young people, allowing them to stay connected with their networks, and in a broader sense, with the world. Through maintaining both an active social presence and energized social media campaigns, organizations can do well by engaging youth through these platforms.

Just last year, a research team led by Evelina Baczewska noticed that youth involved in social change use online as well as ‘real world’ outreach to engage with their networks. This connects to the Bond report’s findings regarding social media, but also establishes that engagement with youth is just as important within the offline sphere. This is especially true when it comes to creating local networks in communities that provide youth with opportunities to participate in decision-making. When looked to for input, youth will become far more engaged at a local level.

And local engagement can lead to global thinking, especially in diverse spaces with people from all over the world. In a study of universities and colleges from 2015, a group discovered that post-secondary institutions are often the hotspots that house opportunities for youth to engage in sustainable development. The field of youth education is a special area of focus for sustainable development practitioners, as education can act as a “motor for change.” Educational institutions provide youth with the resources to learn about sustainable development, as well as the space to engage and connect with other like-minded youth who share their passions.

All three of these studies show that youth engagement is an important area of sustainable development, and that there are proven methods for success. They not only describe effective strategies, but also demonstrate the ways in which youth become involved. Whether through social media or real-world networks, the evidence is there: we and organizations like us can develop strategies to engage youth and encourage them to participate in global, sustainable change.

Our own, recent work is a testament to our commitment to youth involvement in sustainable development. Through the Spring of 2019, we held roundtable discussions and interviews with youth and youth-serving professionals across Atlantic Canada. These led to the publication of our report Your Voice Matters, which was created with the goal of recommending actionable answers to the question: how to best engage/interest youth in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development?

Over a two-month period, we spoke with 70 youth and 43 youth-serving professionals. In this blog series, we‘ll share what we discovered from talking to youth, and the people who work with them, about being engaged—and engaging others—with ideas and action around sustainable development.


Works Cited:

Anand, C.K., Bisaillon, V., Webster, A., & Amor, B. (2015). Integration of sustainable development in higher education: A regional initiative in Quebec (Canada). Journal of Cleaner Production 108. 916-923.

Baczewska, E., Cachon, M.F., Daniel, Y., & Selimos, E.D. (2018). Mapping the terrain of strategic politics among social change-orientated youth. Journal of Youth Studies 21(3). 288-303.

Bond. (2015). Engaging generation z: Motivating youth people to engage positively with international development. Retrieved from

Sustainable Development Goals Unit. (2019). Discussion guide: Canada’s implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development: Working towards developing a national strategy. Retrieved from

United Nations. (2005). UN decade of education for sustainable development, 2005-2014: The DESD at a glance. Retrieved from


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