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More social justice and sustainability: young people call for change

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Student finalist in the 10th edition of The Challenge in New York City.© "la Caixa" Foundation

More social justice and sustainability: young people call for change

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EduCaixa has forged a new partnership with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network (SDSN Youth) to promote entrepreneurial talent with social impact among young people in Spain and Portugal, and to bring them into the international debate on the Sustainable Development Goals. We caught up with Brighton Kaoma, Director of SDSN Youth, after welcoming the winners of the 10th edition of The Challenge programme at the United Nations headquarters.

Today’s young people often have to contend with the label of belonging to a “snowflake” generation that doesn’t try, doesn’t move and doesn’t get involved. But EduCaixa knows that this is not true, because every year thousands of secondary school, vocational training, baccalaureate and high school students go through its The Challenge programme and, encouraged by their teachers, work hard on projects that address the world’s problems of inequality and sustainability; young people who want to learn and be empowered to contribute to society. They just need to be given the knowledge, tools and opportunities to demonstrate it. That’s what The Challenge is all about.

Last July, the 64 finalist students from the 10th edition had the opportunity to present their projects for sustainable development at the United Nations headquarters in New York. There, they met with Brighton Kaoma, the global director of SDSN Youth.

Students awarded in The Challenge by EduCaixa 2023 at a workshop at Yale University.© ”la Caixa” Foundation

Following the meeting, we spoke to Kaoma about the challenges facing the younger generation and their ability and commitment to work for a better world. He was a young activist in his home country of Zambia, and at the age of 14, used a radio show to raise awareness among millions of people in Africa about the dangers mining operations represented for the population. Today, from the United Nations, he gives voice and support to the global youth activism movement for a more just and sustainable world, so that institutions give young people and their initiatives the weight they deserve in building a just and sustainable future.

Kaoma argues that today’s young people are more aware of the world’s problems than those of the past. “They’re a generation informed about the challenges facing society, they care about injustice, equality, inclusion, sustainable and quality jobs, the environment. They care about the little things: the origin of the clothes they wear and the coffee they drink. They want to create a planet that doesn’t compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own survival needs. And that’s precisely the basis of sustainable development: ensuring that today’s consumption patterns do not jeopardise the ability of future generations to survive,” says Kaoma.

These assertions are in line with what the winners of The Challenge took to the United Nations in their Worldshaker Manifesto for a better world. Kaoma maintains they are “working hard to get this document heard at the highest level of UN member states to influence the processes of the Summit of the Future in 2024.”

Video summarizing the experience of the students in the educational trip to New York by The Challenge 2023.© ”la Caixa” Foundation
But is it enough to have concerned and aware young people?

At the UN, Brighton Kaoma works with young leaders from around the world who have launched change initiatives in their communities and countries, and who work together to create projects with global reach. How do you go from concern to action?

Brighton Kaoma: «Whatever you do, it matters. It’s the little things that build a mountain of change».

“Over the years, I’ve always believed in the power of asking yourself questions and questioning others. Wherever you are, ask questions as the young person you are. Find the right questions and ask them of leaders in business, government and civil society. Make sure you understand the laws and policies in your area. Think globally and act locally. If there’s a pollution problem in your city, develop a business solution, lobby for changes in legislation. Don’t settle for the status quo. Don’t settle for business as usual, what’s always been done. Settling is what has brought us to where we are: the climate crisis, social inequalities, colonisation and many more issues. Got an idea? Don’t wait for someone else’s approval. You’ll find like-minded people and realise that there’s a community of doers, not just talkers. Keep doing things. And don’t think your actions are small. Educate people, buy sustainable products... Whatever you do, it matters. It’s the little things that build a mountain of change.”

But Brighton Kaoma knows that just believing and acting are not enough. He knows that young people’s initiative, talent and commitment need to be supported by leaders at home and abroad. This was precisely one of the demands made by our young worldshakers at the United Nations: “It’s imperative for today’s leaders to recognise that the practices of the past will not allow us to solve the pressing challenges of today and tomorrow. It’s crucial that they realise they must pass the baton, impart the skills, and work, not against young people, but with and for them. I believe it is this recognition that will enable us to create programmes, initiatives, policies and laws that put the interests of the next generation first.”

Participants of the 10th edition of The Challenge during their visit to MIT.© ”la Caixa” Foundation
Participants of the 10th edition of The Challenge at a workshop.© ”la Caixa” Foundation
The connection with the ”la Caixa” Foundation

Precisely to enable and empower young people as active agents in society, EduCaixa created The Challenge programme 10 years ago and has developed it to find the formula that combines entrepreneurial capacity with social commitment and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The new strategy of The Challenge focuses on sustainability, social inequalities and the technological revolution as the key pillars of entrepreneurship,” explains Maria Espinet, director of EduCaixa. “The aim is not to teach them the value of entrepreneurship for its own sake, but to develop sensitivity and criteria to empathise with a social challenge or injustice that affects them and to be able to propose a change. It’s about putting their talents at the service of society, with social impact as the key axis.”

Maria Espinet: “We want to take this whole movement, this talent and this commitment that we are seeing in young people in Spain and Portugal to an international level”.

That’s why EduCaixa has forged a new alliance with the United Nations’ SDSN Youth, led by Brighton Kaoma. “We want to take this whole movement, this talent and this commitment that we are seeing in young people in Spain and Portugal to an international level,” says Maria Espinet. “We want our young people to be part of the international debates for a sustainable world and to participate in those solutions led by young people from all over the world.”

For Brighton Kaoma and SDSN Youth, “it’s a great privilege to have partnered with the ”la Caixa” Foundation to take The Challenge programme to an international level. “It’s initiatives like this that are creating the next generation of ethical innovators for sustainable development. These young leaders are developing ideas that can be turned into tangible sustainable businesses and innovations,” he says. “We just need to help them turn those ideas into reality. It’s important to give young people hope for a better future. Because without hope, change is not possible.”

So much so that, for this High Representative of the world’s youth, “The Challenge is a programme that should be scaled up and replicated in other regions, because it’s creating genuine transformation in favour of youth development and a world where people live in harmony.”

Teams awarded in The Challenge 2023 doing some sightseeing in New York.
© ”la Caixa” Foundation

On 8 January, the ”la Caixa” Foundation launched the call for applications for a new edition of The Challenge, open to teachers from Spain and Portugal with their students. The deadline for applications is 1 March.

After intensive work in the classroom, the programme will select 100 teams to participate in the Barcelona Campus from 8 to 11 May. There, they’ll receive advice from EduCoaches on how to improve their projects. Finally, the Campus jury will choose 17 teams for a training trip to Boston and New York between 25 June and 6 July. During their stay, they’ll meet with globally relevant figures and organisations and present their initiatives to other Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and members of the United Nations network.