Why young people are key to achieving the SDGs

Young people today face considerable challenges in creating a bright future for themselves.

In high-income economies, young people’s prospects have plummeted, and there are significant concerns for their positon in the labour market and the future of their financial security. The situation is worse for young people in low-income countries, where many workers are involved in informal employment – something the ILO describes as sporadic, poorly paid and falling outside the protection of law.

Many of the global challenges to development are especially salient for children and youth. September marks the one-year anniversary of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, where world leaders established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. The goals established that young people are a driving force for development – but only if they are provided with the skills and opportunities needed to reach their potential, support development and contribute to peace and security.

One way of doing this would be by implementing an economic citizenship strategy for children and youth. It would help national policy-makers and leading youth-serving organizations achieve many of the SDGs and sub-targets in the drive to create a viable economic and social system for the future.

What is economic citizenship?

An emerging concept in the field of development, economic citizenship refers to “economic and civic engagement to promote sustainable livelihoods, sustainable economic and financial well-being, a reduction in poverty and rights for self and others”. Ashoka, the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, defines economic citizenship as existing in “an environment where every citizen has the opportunity and the capacity to exercise his or her economic, social and cultural rights”.

Economic citizenship consists of four components: financial inclusion, financial education and social and livelihoods education.

Financial inclusion is access to safe, appropriate and affordable financial services. Financial education includes instruction and/or materials designed to increase financial knowledge and skills. Social education is the provision of knowledge and skills that improve an individual’s understanding and awareness of their rights and the rights of others. It also involves the development of life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Livelihoods education builds one’s ability to secure a sustainable livelihood through skills assessment and a balance between developing entrepreneurial and employability skills.

Economic citizenship has the potential to improve economic and social well-being, increase economic and social engagement, enhance understanding of and respect for basic rights, reduce income and asset poverty, and lead to sustainable livelihoods for children and youth.

The link between the SDGs and economic citizenship

There are seven specific SDGs that demonstrate the clear link between economic citizenship for children and youth and the attainability of the SDGs.

SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Granting access to quality, affordable and convenient financial services can contribute to eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day) and reducing the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty (SDG 1.1 and 1.2). Financial inclusion should be supported by and integrated with financial, social and livelihood education to help children and youth accumulate savings and develop responsible financial behaviours, qualities that are useful to reducing the impact of economic shocks (SDG 1.5).

SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages

Economic condition, income, working position, education and culture are all distal determinants of health and well-being, while social education provides more understanding of rights, empathy and respect. The combination of financial inclusion and social education is also useful to ensure universal access to information and education regarding sexual health (SDG 3.7).

SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education

Financial and livelihoods education can increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and soft skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship (SDG 4.3, 4.4, 4.6). Social and financial education can help ensure all young people, both male and female, achieve literacy and numeracy (SDG 4.6).

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls

Providing financial access and developing financial capabilities for young women and girls builds social and economic empowerment, allowing them to take advantage of greater economic opportunities alongside their male counterparts.

SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth

The current employment situation is very critical, especially for youth, as they represent the category with the highest unemployment rate in the labour market. A lack of relevant skills and the absence of access to appropriate financial services for entrepreneurs are two common barriers to youth employment. Through livelihoods education, youth can enhance their employability, obtain sustainable livelihoods and stimulate entrepreneurial activity (SDG 8.3, 8.5, 8.6).

SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

In order to create safe, resilient and sustainable settlements and cities, it is essential to include children and youth in urban development strategies. Engaging youth through financial inclusion, financial education and livelihood education makes the goal of creating sustainable and safe cities more achievable (SDG 11.3).

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies

Financial education should not be limited to simply teaching children and youth how to manage finances, but also be grounded in ethical and ecologically responsible behaviour. Social education plays an important role in steering children away from financial behaviours and attitudes that may negatively affect not only personal well-being, but also that of the wider community.

Leave no one behind

Economic citizenship is a crucial factor in the fight to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities globally.

Each of the core components represented in the conceptual model for economic citizenship support various aspects of poverty eradication efforts individually, but in combination they offer a viable force to affect systemic change and break enduring cycles of poverty.

Achieving the 2030 agenda relies not only on setting goals, but also on a responsive approach to the voice and needs of youth. By equipping young people with skills, knowledge and confidence in their abilities, there is a real chance that global leaders can harness the potential of young people to reach the SDGs over the next 14 years. Together we can work towards creating a generation of empowered youth and support long-term sustainable development.


Written by Jeroo Billimoria, Founder, Child and Youth Finance International

Jeroo Billimoria is a pioneering social entrepreneur and the founder of several award-winning international NGOs. Her innovative approach to managing social ventures and bringing them to global scale has earned her fellowships with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, the Skoll Foundation and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Billimoria founded Child and Youth Finance International in 2011.