SPOTLIGHT: YSDN, the Nigerian organisation bridging the gap between youths and SDGs

 SPOTLIGHT: YSDN, the Nigerian organisation bridging the gap between youths and SDGs

We might not live in a perfect world, but we can contribute towards making it better, if not for the present, at least for our future and for generations unborn.

Youth symbolizes strength, and the Youth Sustainable Development Network (YSDN), led by Damilola Hamid Balogun, is leveraging that advantage to bring about significant changes in the world via Sustainable Development Goals. We can describe the YSDN initiative as “By youths, for all.”

In this interview, Barr. Omatseye Carpe, the Operations Manager of Youth Sustainable Development Network (YSDN), discusses the vision of YSDN, its impact, challenges, success stories, and future goals.

Can you give us an overview of the Youth Sustainable Development Network and its primary mission?

The name Youth Sustainable Development Network explains what the organization is all about: bridging the gap between youths and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was founded on the understanding that there are 17 goals addressing global issues that affect everyone and require immediate action. Often, in this region, we are not aware of what these global issues are or how they affect us individually or collectively. It is well-known that youths are the driving force of any nation, and if anything is to be done concerning these issues, youths must be involved. That is why YSDN is focused on youth development, youth participation and youth inclusion in the achievement of the SDGs.

What are some specific programmes or initiatives YSDN has implemented to create an enabling environment for young people to contribute to the SDGs?

To achieve our goals, we have several avenues that we use and currently employ. We have conferences, programmes, and projects. Reaching out to youths is not easy, but we’ve used different methods and partnered with various organizations worldwide.

We have our annual conference, which over the years has impacted about 10,000 youths. The conference theme changes every year, focusing on youth inclusion in the SDGs, and addressing issues such as climate change, energy, hunger, and poverty. Our conference this year is coming up in Morocco. Everything is set, and we are hoping for a successful event.

There is also a project currently underway called EcoLearn. It seeks to bring the SDGs to public schools in a non-conventional way. We are working on this in partnership with other youth-led organisations, the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, the Public Service Staff Department Centre in Magodo, and the Netherlands consulate in Lagos. The project kicked off last month.

Realizing that many similar projects exist, we decided to target teachers instead of students for a more lasting change. Teachers remain in the system longer, and shaping them helps shape future generations. The first half of the project was implemented successfully.

We’ve also conducted climate workshops, conferences for secondary schools, and teaching workshops. The idea of taking the initiative to public schools stems from our previous projects in private schools, which showed interest, unlike public schools. We are grateful for the partnerships that enabled the implementation of this project.

Currently, there’s a project being implemented in Epe, Lagos State, called CoolCycle. It’s a sustainable project handled by YSDN and KAMIM Technology, funded by a $50,000 grant won last year. The first part of the project has been implemented, and the project is to be launched in July. Recently, we also announced another project for $250,000, focusing on green and sustainable energy.

In addition to awareness campaigns, workshops, and training, we advise and consult companies on the best ways to implement sustainable products in Nigeria.

How does YSDN engage and empower young people to participate in sustainable development?

In training or workshops, we engage youths by allowing them to come up with ideas. We use a design thinking methodology in everything we do. We have sessions where youths are educated on issues and tasked with coming up with workable solutions for our immediate environment and proposing solutions for the Nigerian government or on a global scale. We also engage them through other means. For example, we have a case study challenge where participants study global issues and propose sustainable solutions. We usually offer monetary compensation. I remember a $5,000 grant attached to a case study challenge won by a farmer in Epe, who used the grant to solarize his entire farm, converting from fossil fuels to clean energy.

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What are some of the biggest challenges YSDN faces in promoting sustainable development among youth?

The challenges we face are common in any organisation, especially those based in Nigeria. One peculiar challenge is that we are youths, and respect for young people here is not as high as it might be elsewhere.

Another challenge is implementing our projects on a large scale and getting the right attitude from youths. We try to create more awareness, not because people are unaware of these issues, but because there are many pressing issues in Nigeria and SDGs do not seem to be the biggest problem for Nigerians, who live in the poverty capital of the world. Discussing the environment with someone who is starving or looking for their next meal is challenging. The Nigerian economy is tough; it is the third or fourth hardest country to develop.

However, we are happy that our focus is not solely on Nigeria. We think globally, which has eased some challenges and expanded our reach to different countries. Every week, we receive at least ten requests from youths wanting to join or learn more about what we do. We are growing, and more attention is on us now, so we no longer face the same challenge of convincing youths to participate.

How do you measure the impact of your programmes on the communities you serve?

Cool Cycle

YSDN, founded in 2019, is barely six years old, yet we have made significant impacts. Since our inception, our impact spans 45 countries, empowering over 10,000 youths, cutting emissions by 258.11 tCO2, engaging in 100 speaking events, forging 20 key partnerships, attending international conferences in 17 countries, and executing three impactful sustainable projects. All these goes to show that nothing is impossible.

How is YSDN funded, and what are some of the main sources of financial support for your projects?

Like any large organization, we face challenges with funding. Fortunately, we are registered as a GTE, allowing us to offer services and get paid for them. We are therefore not solely dependent on donations.

We offer services such as consultations on ESG structures in companies. This generates revenue that we reinvest into the organization. Most of our projects are not funded by YSDN; we leverage partnerships, which is crucial for us.

For example, the EcoLearn project is funded by the Netherlands consulate, and the case study challenge winner was funded by another partner. We bridge the gap between grassroots actors and larger, more funded organizations. There is a significant gap between those at the top and the bottom. Grassroots activists often lack exposure and means to secure funding which shows that there is a knowledge and exposure gap that needs to be addressed in terms of generating funds. However, we, being grassroots actors with exposure, can form partnerships and are able to get the partnerships that we need.

How do you envision the role of youth in the global sustainable development agenda over the next decade?

First, we have to look at the problems. Currently, there is a lot of “youth washing” going on. Many organizations, companies, and even the government want to appear as if they are empowering youths without actually doing so and this needs to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the role youths play in sustainable development is crucial. Even the United Nations emphasizes the importance of youth in achieving the SDGs. The youth of today, who are active and engaged in sustainable development, will drive us closer to these goals, however, it depends on the actions we take now.

This is why the Youth Sustainable Development Network focuses on awareness and engagement. If we aim for agenda 2030, or even 2050, involving youths is essential. Youths are the driving force of any economy or nation. With more youths involved and willing to participate, we will be much closer to our goals in the next 10 years.

What advice would you give to young people who want to make a difference in sustainable development?

The advice I would give is to prioritize partnerships. No one can create change alone. The achievement of sustainable development goals relies on partnerships—between nations, organizations, and individuals. Surround yourself with like-minded people. If you have ideas you want to bring to life, find others who share your vision. The founder of YSDN, Damilola Balogun, was intentional about bringing people on board whose goals aligned with his vision for YSDN, he was and is very intentional about that is why we’ve recorded this level of progress.

Also, you need a lot of knowledge, so read and research more about sustainability. With the right team, structure, and plan, you can create the impact you want to see.

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