Role of youth in making the sustainable development goals a reality in Mongolia

Feb 22, 2017

By Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary General and

UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

University of Humanities, Ulaanbaatar,Mongolia

Wednesday, 22nd February 2017

I am delighted to be here at the University of Humanities, to talk  about a subject that, I believe, is at the heart of development: the role of youth in shaping the future.

In 2015, Mongolia and the rest of world came together at the UN to define a common vision of progress for humankind.

We agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs. They are the most ambitious global agenda ever seen: to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet by 2030.

By the time many of us retire, you will still continue making choices, decisions that will either make it easier or harder to achieve these goals.

Today’s generation of youth is the largest the world has ever known. One in every three people alive today is under the age of thirty, and around ninety per cent of young people are living in developing countries, mainly Asia and Africa. 

Mongolia is no different. With more than one million people aged 15–34 years, you represent the biggest demographic group, accounting for over a third of the population and a significant share of working age people.

Even by 2040, when the country’s population is expected to reach 4 million, almost 30 percent will still be young.

Young Mongolians are more informed, more tech-savvy and more connected than any generation before. But what kind of future can today’s young people look forward to?

This is where the SDGs come in. These 17 goals (such as no poverty, zero hunger, affordable and clean energy) define the global priorities for people and the planet for the next 14 years. At the heart of the SDGs are the three pillars of development – economic, social and environmental.

The focus is on eliminating poverty and reducing inequality, to have everyone benefit from development, and leave no one behind, without harming the planet further.  

As you may know, before the SDGs we had the MDGs - 8 Millennium Development Goals, which Mongolia made impressive progress towards:

More than 500,000 Mongolians were lifted out of the poverty; there was also a significant reduction in maternal and infant mortality. But some MDGs were not fully achieved: despite the progress made, one in five Mongolians still lives below the poverty line, despite Mongolia’s mineral wealth. MDG targets for clean water and sanitation remain a challenge, especially in the countryside and ger districts; and the MDG target for gender equality in decision-making was not met.

So how do we bring change and prosperity to Mongolia?

Any change, starts with an individual action and is shaped by our daily behavior. This includes choices about the way we live, behave, produce, consume and invest. Our decisions today can contribute to having enough clean water, better air, healthier lifestyle so that ultimately we all live longer and productive life.

Everyone can make a difference by for example:

  • Saving electricity by turning off lights and appliances when not in use;
  • Buying from companies with sustainable practices;
  • Recycling paper and plastic to keep landfills from growing;
  • Using green appliances and energy-saving light bulbs;
  • Buying only what you need and freezing leftovers, to avoid food waste

Such actions may be small on their own: but when hundreds or thousands or millions of you do them, they become huge. Beyond your own choices --  think also about your role in your country’s present and tomorrow. You are Mongolia’s future entrepreneurs, social workers, scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers and leaders. And maybe that is what some of you already are….some of these professions are not anymore defined by age – even a 15 year old can become an entrepreneur – something unheard of 30 years ago.

You determine what kind of investments are made, what kind of jobs are created, what type of goods we produce, and what knowledge we will pass on to others. You represent the chance to diversify the country’s economy towards a more sustainable path, harnessing new technology, the Internet, new services and new ways of working and communicating with others. With youth comes energy, innovation, and optimism – if there are supportive environments and opportunities.

Stories of young people from Mongolia are inspiring others around the world towards positive change in their own communities.

A documentary about the teenage eagle huntress, Aisholpan who won't be held back by gender-centered tradition is a hit across the world. Young Mongolian artists and sports men and women are an inspiration for their peers in Mongolia and abroad.

Through your daily responsible actions, your engagement in the SDG agenda, and by becoming an advocate among friends, family and neighbours, you are already contributing to the SDGs in Mongolia.

At the United Nations, we are indeed very pleased to see Mongolia’s 2030 Vision (approved by Parliament last year) firmly anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This makes Mongolia one of the global early adopters of the SDGs.

Like the SDGs - Mongolia’s vision is broad and ambitious. Implementing it, goes beyond government and requires effort from everyone.  It requires bringing in the private sector, civil society and communities as well as political parties and government.

The SDV transcends short-term objectives: it calls for keeping the horizon in sight. It places future generations at the heart of any decision. That is why, young people of Mongolia must participate; to influence the present and shape their own future.  

We at UNDP are with you on this journey.

For more than 50 years, we have designed and carried out thousands of economic, social and environmental interventions that have improved the lives of millions of people worldwide.

As we innovate, we are moving beyond business as usual, and carving out new partnerships.

For instance, in China, using big data and mobile phones, UNDP partnered with Baidu to link end-users and legally certified e-waste disposal companies for safe recycling.

The new version of the app is currently available in 22 Chinese cities, and has led to the safe disposal of over 5,900 electronic items on average per month. 
In Nepal, UNDP partnered with Microsoft to develop a smart phone application that monitors reconstruction efforts in real time, and ensures that poor families in the cash-for-work programme are paid accurately and on time.

The app helped to effectively manage projects on the ground that involved demolishing and removing debris from over 3,500 buildings; managing 4,000 local workers, that in turn benefited thousands of people inn the community.

In Mongolia, local communities vulnerable to climate and disaster risks now have access to an Early Warning System with timely dissemination of warning messages on extreme weather hazards thanks to UNDP. In 2016 alone, ~4,600 sets of hazard warnings reached almost a million people throughout the country. A smart phone application – Anxar! developed with UNDP support is widely used by the general public to acquire skills for risk reduction and response.

This is the kind of agility – and receptiveness to ‘new ideas and technology’ that youth can infuse into organizations, large (such as the UN) and small.
The UN stands ready to work with the young people of Mongolia to realize the SDGs, and your own development vision.

I want to thank the University of Humanities for lending their premises to host this event and to all of you for your enthusiasm for the SDGs – for Mongolia and for the world.

If there is a message I would like you take with you it is: daily action, continuous commitment, and voice your ideas whenever you can. So leave with the passion to make a difference, however you can, wherever you go, whatever path you choose.

Thank you.

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