Resident Coordinator's speech: Malaysia SDG Youth Summit
11 June 2022
International Youth Centre
Yang Berbahagia Dato' Seri Ahmad Faizal bin Dato' Azumu, Minister of Youth and Sports
Yang Berbahagia Dato Sri Rohani, Chairperson of the APPGM-SDG
YBhg Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Co-chair of the Malaysia CSO-SDG Alliance
Ms Zoel Ng, Malaysia Youth SDG Summit Director
Youth participants from all around Malaysia
It is a genuine honour to be asked to address this second youth summit on behalf of the United Nations in Malaysia.
As last year, I am overwhelmed by the level of engagement and participation today. Young Malaysians’ enthusiasm for the SDGs and for delivering a better future for all, is truly humbling.
This augurs well for the topic of today’s summit - SDG localization - as youth have a pivotal role to play in strengthening people’s and communities’ ownership and agency in delivering the SDGs.
In my remarks I want to major on how young people can further help to deliver the SDGs within Malaysia as a whole, starting from within their local communities.
Young people are crucial in delivering lasting positive change. As a vanguard of the future, framing and shaping the issues and priorities that matter, with fresh and inherently progressive perspectives, but also as agents of change themselves, by making tangible contributions through volunteerism and community participation, and in the conduct of their everyday lives.
These dimensions are vital if we are to deliver the SDGs, which require transformational change, new mindsets, new approaches --
The challenge is how to harnesses and sustain these contributions over time.
Recovery from Covid-19 must be our current priority. Building back better means delivering a socially inclusive Malaysia that provides opportunities for all and leaves no one behind; and one which is environmentally sustainable, protecting people from the impacts of climate change and curbing degradation of the natural world.
These are issues that lie at the heart of youth concerns and match their capacities to contribute.
But I also want to emphasize the direct impacts of the pandemic on youth.
While the last two years have been difficult for all communities throughout Malaysia, the impacts on the young people have been especially hard.
We have seen major interruptions to education and training, which have the potential to drive long lasting deficits in human development.
Young workers, particularly those engaged in the informal sector suffered disproportionally.
Equally, the policy response to the pandemic led directly to the curtailment of social, cultural and sporting life, and this has led to the isolation and alienation of many young people.
As life is finally returning to normal, it is vital that we address the damage that has been caused and work together to enable opportunities.
So how can youth themselves contribute as we go forward – in localizing action and solutions achieving real changes in real lives? And here I draw on the various roles set out at last year’s UN International Youth Day and clearly put to practice during your first Summit.
Firstly, as critical thinkers, youth play a special role in challenging social norms and in evolving the national political discourse.
Crucially, new opportunities for young people’s participation and influence are emerging in Malaysia.
Most notably, we have seen the enactment of the Undi-18 law, which will reduce the voting age to 18. This has the potential to give youth a louder voice and to re-invigorate national politics.
In turn, the Government and politicians generally, have shown a renewed interest in addressing youth concerns - the Prime Minister’s launch of the National Youth Economic Empowerment Plan is one good example of this.
There has never been a more opportune time of young people to become engaged in the public space.
I underline also that there is much scope for local youth to join the regional and global policy discourse on sustainable development, and we saw strong Malaysian contributions to the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum 2022 and a remarkable presence in the Climate Conference in Glasgow (COP26).
As change-makers and leaders, young people can significantly direct contributions to Malaysia’s future development.
As volunteers and activists within CSOs and NGOs and community groups, you deliver issue-based campaigns, and welfare and environmental projects on the ground.
This is a key element of the whole of society approach needed to achieve the SDGs, and one which is receiving increased attention.
And here I specifically reference the recently launched Youth SDG Agents Initiative sponsored by the National CSO-SDG Alliance and working with a group of national NGOs .
I am sure we will hear more about this pathway during today’s sessions.
I note also that Malaysia has long-standing entry points for youth action, not least through National Youth Policy, and I commend the presence and engagement of the Youth and Sports Minister today and beyond.
Finally, as innovators and communicators, youth are exceptionally well placed to harness technologies and new ways for working, and to influence and convey messages that inspire and mobilize.
This is particularly so in tech-savvy Malaysia. We have all seen the power that social media, and popular culture can have on behaviours and on market preferences.
These have the ability to affect lasting change, particularly in the environmental sphere, for example, by promoting greener and cleaner and more responsible consumption and production.
This again, is a prime example of the power of youth-based grassroots action to deliver substantial change.
Before I close, I want to re-iterate the absolute commitment of the United Nations, here in Malaysia, and globally, to engage and consult with youth, and to support their efforts to help achieve the SDGs.
The UN and its agencies have designated youth as a cross-cutting theme within its plans and strategies.
For example, through a UNDP-UNICEF partnership, the Youth Environment Living Labs (YELL) aim to build capacity for youth to lead on sustainability, addressing climate and environmental issues in the local community.
The project has so far engaged with over 200 entities around three main areas: education, policy environment, and empowerment and advocacy.
The next phase of this initiative will pilot the living lab concept in Malaysia’s education and local community institutions, sensitizing and promoting a better understanding of sustainability and civic values.
While we advocate optimism and positive thinking, we recognize too, the barriers and impediments that young people face in making their voices heard and organizing effectively.
Today is a precious opportunity for us to say that we commit to ensuring that young people are consulted within all our programmes, and to supporting opportunities for learning and innovating, and platforms through which your voice can be heard.
I will close there. I thank you for your attention and I look forward to listening and learning and engaging in the day’s discussions.