From 4-5 November 2020, the 3rd African Youth SDGs Summit brought together several thousand young people, business and civil society leaders, and representatives from the United Nations to amplify the role of Africa’s young people in the Sustainable Development Goals. Led by Youth Advocates Ghana (YAG) alongside UNFPA Ghana Country Office, IAYG, the Ghanaian Ministry of Planning, United Nations Ghana, and other key organizing partners, the Summit was held through a hybrid format. In addition to participants joining virtually from around the world (Convenor Emmanuel Ametepey estimates 2,800 through direct and 15,000 through indirect channels), 278 participants joined in person at the Alisa Hotel in Accra, Ghana according to public health guidelines.
The Summit’s theme was “securing the 2030 commitment beyond the post-COVID-19 era.” While the event was originally slated for July 2020, it was postponed in the spring as the 2019-2020 COVID-19 pandemic transformed planning possibilities almost overnight. The event, in turn, was postponed to November, and the newly chosen theme tackled one of the greatest challenges posed by the pandemic: that in addition to defeating the virus in the short run, youth, communities and governments must also focus on the longer-term challenge of catalyzing sustainable development. As Emmanuel Ametepey, the Summit convenor and Executive Director of Youth Advocates Ghana (YAG), stated in his opening address, “while everything about the world seems to have changed, I know that our attendees’ passion, confidence, and focus on sustainable development has not.”
To this end, the session topics, designed by IAYG, featured important issues like “Africa’s Twenty-First Century City: Smarter, Stronger, and Safer Urbanization” and “Silicon Africa,” an innovative panel on entrepreneurship, the gig economy, and high-tech opportunities for young people. The event began on the 4th of November with a musical and cultural display. The first plenary session, “Building sustainable public health systems after COVID-19,” tackled the ‘elephant in the room’, as the event description noted. The opening ceremony began at 12:10 local time with welcome remarks from Sylvester Tetteh, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Youth Authority, as well as addresses from Charles Abani, the UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana, Caroline Makasa, the Acting Director General for the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa, and distinguished Summit patrons. Summit attendees heard from leaders advocating for the SDGs around the world. Professor Senait Fisseha, Chief Advisor to the Director-General of the WHO and Director for Global Programs at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, reminded attendees that “COVID-19 has laid bare the vast inequalities in our health systems, while showing us how interconnected our world is. We must work in partnership with one another across borders, health areas, and ideologies.” And Diane Keita, the Deputy Executive Director, Programme at UNFPA, focused on the role of youth in that ‘partnership,’ addressing the audience that “investment in young people to harness the demographic dividend remains crucial.”
Later events included side events hosted by Care International Ghana, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, UNFPA Ghana, and IAYG. On Thursday, the opening plenary focused on the African Continental Free Trade Programme, and later events highlighted issues of gender equality. Even the lunch was productive, accentuated by UNFPA Ghana’s condomize campaign. The hybrid event presented a unique situation; 1,267 registrations had been made, so many attendees were watching through Facebook live-streams or joining events on Zoom. It was a truly global affair. While Convenor Emmanuel Ametepey, the secretariat, and partners at Zimbabwe Youth SDGs were executing the in-person event, IAYG Deputy Director for Communications and Public Affairs Kyle Singson, whose team coordinated the public communications & social media strategy leading up to the Summit, was helping to share highlights from the event for viewers worldwide from the Philippines.
In his opening address, Emmanuel Ametepey highlighted two exciting additions to this year’s Summit. First, he shared that “Youth Advocates Ghana, in collaboration with Melton Foundation, TechFarmHub, GrassrootHub and the Unleash have launched the SDGs Innovation Challenge.” With the goal to identify and scale up nearly 10,000 solutions by 2030, the Innovation Challenge kicked off a week before the Summit with more than two dozen participants and keynote speaker Nelson Amo, the CEO of Innohub. Top solutions were presented at the Summit. Second, recognizing that the role of youth in development “is a pan-African cause,” Mr. Ametepey shared that a new location for the 4th Summit would be unveiled. At the end of the Summit, participants celebrated the selection of Addis Ababa, the home of the African Union, as the host city for the 4th Summit next year.
The organizing partners of the event made great efforts to support the Summit’s success. Summit partners, including representatives from Nestlé West and Central Africa, Arigatou International, the Melton Foundation, and other organizations, helped advise its organization as the secretariat moved to organize in record time. “I am enormously grateful to Kyle, Samay, Tiffany, and Rishi for their work on the Summit,” said IAYG President Phillip Meng. “From writing press releases to designing the website to listing registrations, it was a real honor for us to help make the event and its important mission possible.”
Even then, the event did not occur without hiccups. Technical issues with virtual-format side events led to several event cancellations and the Summit secretariat is committed to offering remedies and learning from the errors.
But even when challenges were presented, the dedication of the young people shone through. Perhaps Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Youth Envoy, said it best. “Young people have the will, creativity, and activism to help create more sustainable, inclusive, just and equitable institutions and societies.” Here in Accra, and around the world, young people and their champions were working to do just that. And next year, in Addis Ababa, we look forward to continuing the story.