At the First Global Forum on Youth Policies, held in 2014, the UN co-conveners – the Youth Envoy, UNDP and UNESCO – committed to ten global actions to strengthen youth policies. Taking stock of the achievements, more than three years later, is not a pretty sight. Despite that impressive backlog of unfulfilled commitments, the 2018 Ecosoc Youth Forum concluded with a—slapstick—commitment session. And we here at youthpolicy.org haven’t exactly covered ourselves with glory trying to live up to our own commitments made in 2014. What is the story behind this almost comical relationship of the youth sector to its own commitments?

What is the story behind this almost comical relationship of the youth sector to its own commitments?

Commitments at the ECOSOC Youth Forum

At the end of January 2018, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) hosted its seventh Youth Forum, an informal advisory body that has been convened annually since 2012. Originally a one-day event addressed primarily to young people (see the 2012 background note), it quickly transformed into a 2-day gathering of youth sector stakeholders, including youth ministers, youth delegates, civil society representatives and others (see the 2014 background note to see the change).

This year’s ECOSOC Youth Forum ended with a commitment session to behold. Announced as a session with “stakeholders’ pledges of commitment to building resilient and sustainable communities”, it featured Wang Yuan, also known as Roy Wang, who is not only UNICEF’s Special Advocate for Education, but also a young Chinese superstar who had his own hashtags during the Forum – and something substantive to say about his commitment to support education in rural areas (watch his intervention).

The other superstar of the commitment session was Taťána Kuchařová, who was Miss World in 2006, and was announced in the Forum’s programme that way, too. Taťána has a foundation that works for and with the elderly – nothing problematic, of course, on the contrary, but at a Youth Forum? The audience was left wondering why the current ECOSOC President, the Czech ambassador, brought her to the Forum. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

The rest of the session was filled with various advocates, activists and representatives talking about the work they already do – but not really making any commitments to do something else or new. It was a very weird note to end the Forum on, but it encapsulated the dire state of commitments in the youth sector perfectly.

Commitments at the First Global Forum on Youth Policies

Back in 2014, we were at least still sincere about making actual commitments. Not just any commitment, of course, but likely the largest commitment that has been made in the youth sector, very certainly in recent years and probably beyond that: the Baku Commitment to Youth Policies. Tired of the average conference declaration that called on everyone else to do things, the UN co-conveners of the First Global Forum on Youth Policies – the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – decided to commit themselves to ten global actions in support of youth policies (and as the technical support team for the Forum we had a very definite hand in that).

These ten commitments were to:


  1. further promote and support the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth;
  2. promote synergies between youth policies and broader development policies and frameworks, particularly in the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and means of implementation thereof;
  3. establish a Global Initiative on Youth Policies to support the development and implementation of youth policies through technical assistance, sharing of expertise and knowledge, and advocacy;
  4. regularly convene an International Stakeholders Meeting on Youth Policies, bringing together the main regional and global actors to enhance global partnerships and coordination on youth policies, hosted by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth;
  5. strengthen regional and cross-regional collaboration and partnerships in the field of public policies on youth;
  6. design and implement processes and foster partnerships that enable inclusive, and multi-stakeholder involvement in youth policies;
  7. strengthen the promotion and application of governance mechanisms that encourage transversal and cross-sectoral coordination and work, as well as efficient and effective national-to-local implementation;
  8. further develop tools, indicators, methodologies and practical research, including the identification of successful practices, that would allow to build and maintain a solid knowledge and evidence-base for effective, inclusive and gender-responsive youth policies;
  9. further promote and support youth civic engagement and meaningful participation in decision-making and political processes and institutions, including by promoting youth involvement through informal networks, platforms and channels; and by making specific efforts to promote young women’s participation;
  10. enable greater youth involvement in strong, sound and inclusive youth policy monitoring and evaluation systems.

Ten commitments, ten high-flying dreams, symbolised by ten hot-air balloons taking off into the sky.

So what has happened, at global level and facilitated through those agencies that made the commitment, in the past 3+ years since these commitments were made?

Let’s briefly look at them, one by one:

  • Promoting and supporting the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth »

Has happened very little: everybody knew in 2014 and knows in 2018 that the World Programme is severly outdated and the only reason we are still drawing on it is because it seems impossible to find political consensus for a new one, so this – increasingly ancient – one lingers;

  • Promoting synergies between youth policies and broader development policies and frameworks »

Has happened to some extent: the ECOSOC Youth Forum in particular has been the space where these synergies have been discussed, though it’s far from clear how sustainable development goals and public policies for youth can complement each other cleverly;

  • Establishing a Global Initiative on Youth Policies to support the development and implementation of youth policies »

Has been tried, but the attempt collapsed – rumour has it that it was shipwrecked by skirmish over influence and power between various UN agencies;

  • Convening an International Stakeholders Meeting on Youth Policies, bringing together the main regional and global actors »

The stakeholders meeting was convened once just prior to the Global Forum in 2014, but not again since then;

  • Strengthening regional and cross-regional collaboration and partnerships in the field of public policies on youth »

Has not happened at all;

  • Designing and implementing processes and fostering partnerships that enable inclusive, and multi-stakeholder involvement in youth policies »

Has not happened at all;

  • Strengthening the promotion and application of transversal and cross-sectoral governance mechanisms »

Has not happened at all;

  • Developing tools, indicators, methodologies and research for a knowledge and evidence-base for youth policies »

Has happend very little, and mostly anecdotally;

  • Supporting youth civic engagement and meaningful participation in decision-making and political processes and institutions »

Has happened somewhat, but way too little, in particular when it comes to informal networks and young women’s participation;

  • Enabling greater youth involvement in strong, sound and inclusive youth policy monitoring and evaluation systems »

Has not happened at all.

Even if you disagree with our assessment regarding one or the other commitment (fair enough), or wanted to point out that institutional and non-institutional actors other than the co-conveners of the Forum made some progress on some of these aspects (we would wholeheartedly agree), or want to be cheerful and say that just because something has not happened yet it still may (we may cautiously agree):

The overall picture regarding the achievement on the commitments made in Baku is, more than three years after the Forum, pretty abysmal.

Our own commitments

And finally, we haven’t been much better in following through on our own commitments. We promised in 2014 that we would:

  • Open up youthpolicy.org to become a home for the wider youth policy community, inviting for guest contributions and opinions more frequently »

Hasn’t happened at all;

  • Publish a call for regional youth policy correspondents to help us in continuing our reporting on youth sector developments competently and timely »

Hasn’t happened at all;

  • Host an interactive, dynamic online community space for youth policy experts and practitioners to connect, discuss, share, learn and develop »

Hasn’t happened at all;

  • Support the development of regional think-tanks, the creation of national research institutions, and the training of young researchers and policy experts »

Has happened a little, but too little;

  • Organise a summer school on youth policy in 2015, in particular to support and strengthen the new and emerging regional networks and think tanks »

We tried (well, in 2016) – and failed;

  • Advocate for a better youth policy architecture, including better financing and stronger support systems within the global and regional youth sector »

Has happened a little, but too little;

  • Encourage–and where possible seek funding for and create—youth journalism networks to ensure wider independent coverage and critique of the youth sector »

Hasn’t happened at all;

  • Contribute to the next Global Forum on Youth Policies, seeking to create more, and more diverse, spaces for exchange and engagement during and next to the event »

We just started pushing for the next Forum to happen – originally it was planned to happen every two years, though.

So, is it all empty words then?

All empty words?

Of course, other things have happened in the meantime.

The UN focused on Resolution 2250 and the peace and security agenda, while we provided a lot of technical assistance to countries around the world in developing national youth policies – to stick, for now at least, to the global stakeholders of the Forum (since covering the progress, or lack of progress, of our entire sector would be an entire series of articles).

But just because we were all busy with other things, and mostly good things, does not mean that the needs, on which these commitments – the Forum’s as well as ours – were based, have disappeared; on the contrary.

If anything, advancing, progressing and supporting public policies for young people is more urgent than it was in 2014.

But this is where we stand at the beginning of 2018: with a lot of unfulfilled commitments in hand. We are not sure where we will go from here ourselves, but at least we are back at doing something that we have neglected for more than a year now: we are back at writing.

On that note: until very soon.


Team Credits

Written by Andreas Karsten, after many days and nights of discussions and reflections with Alex Farrow, Cristina Bacalso, and many colleagues and friends in and beyond the sector.

Photo Credits

The featured image is by Shawn Campbell on Flickr; the hot air balloons by Ian Dooley, and the question mark by Emily Morter, both on Unsplash.

Written by Andreas Karsten

Andreas works as a researcher and journalist in and beyond the youth sector on rights-based public policies, youth-sensitive budgeting, human rights, equality, empowerment, participation, citizenship, sustainability, learning, change and common sense.