Youth are Rwanda’s strongest asset. They will be the generation to define the next 15 years of development in the country, as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shape national development plans until 2030. This was the underlying message at the Social Good Summit 2015, held on Monday September 28 at the University of Rwanda, Huye Campus.
Six panelists, guided by moderator George Ndirangu of CNBC Africa, discussed ways to implement the SDGs in Rwanda, focusing on the role of youth and their key role in development. Questions for the panelists were submitted through Twitter and in person during the event. Hot topics of discussion centered on youth employment and economic growth, advocacy and awareness for the goals, and finding new ways to innovate -- particularly within the academic community.
United Nations Resident Coordinator Lamin Manneh opened the event by commenting on the immense success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the importance of transitioning to the SDGs. Rwanda achieved all but one of the MDGs, but still has far to go in eliminating poverty. Mr. Manneh emphasized the role of peace and stability in achieving sustainable development. “It is vital to work towards durable peace across the world and reduce the demand for humanitarian support by investing in building more inclusive and peaceful societies. The new global agenda through Goal 16 calls for access to justice for all, for accountable, inclusive, and effective institutions at all levels, and for serious action to tackle inequalities.”
Rosemary Mbabazi, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and ICT brought to light policies which have already incorporated the principles of the SDGs. Though the 15-year plan for the SDGs officially begins on January 1 2016, the Government of Rwanda has already begun to incorporate the goals into policy and decision making. The Youth Policy about to be adopted by Cabinet is one of many examples of this, others being the recently published National Risk Atlas to assess and reduce the risks of natural disaster, and Rwanda’s nation-wide championing of gender equality and women’s empowerment. As mentioned by Ms. Mbabazi in the debate, the Government has already committed to the SDGs, and the advancement of sustainable development of Rwanda.
A high level concern for students in the audience was health, hunger, and the elimination of poverty. When asked how Rwanda can be expected to achieve goals such as No Hunger (Goal 2) when disease, such as the recent outbreak of Cassava Disease in Nyanza, and ailment is common, Director General of Rwanda Natural Resources Authority Emmanuel Nkurunziza responded “As youth in university, you have a job to provide a solution to issues of disease and hunger. It is in all our hands to progress forward.” Education is integral to overcoming the challenges of poverty and hunger. As members of the academic community in Rwanda, university students are in an optimal position to address these problems.
Entrepreneur Jessie Umutoni called upon students, especially women, to seek out opportunities and create jobs for themselves. Rather than wait for work or try and climb up a corporate ladder, Ms. Umutoni, Managing Director of the chalk-manufacturer G-mart ltd., urged the audience to identify an area Rwanda is in need of change and fill the gap. She gave the example of manufacturing. Most products found in Rwanda are produced in neighboring countries or around the world. This is an opportunity for innovation, and to boost Rwanda’s economy. Youth have a crucial stake in the Global Goals; Rwanda cannot progress without their talents and forward thinking. “You should have a dream, ambition. You are in this world for a purpose. Work hard for it.”
The purpose of the Social Good Summit is to raise awareness for the SDGs. An important point was raised by the audience: how can villagers find out about the goals? Many parts of Rwanda have limited electricity and internet access, and are disconnected from events like the Social Good Summit. In response, RBA host of ‘The Big Q’ Immy Murekatete emphasized that it is up to each person to become ambassadors and journalists of the goals and spread the word. In order to achieve the ambitious 17 goals, Rwandans must come together and each play their part.
Having accessible and open leaders to facilitate development was touched upon by Bishop Nathan Gasatura of the Anglican Diocese of Butare. Without leaders who will be open to new ideas, business, partnerships and peaceful solutions to development issues, the SDGs will not be attainable. Having the UN Resident Coordinator come to Butare for the Summit was one example given by Bishop Gasatura to show that this country’s leaders want to hear from youth. It is important to also take initiative to bring new ideas and contributions to development to Rwanda’s leaders, and continue to ask questions and be engaged.
As one of the biggest Social Good Summits outside of New York, the Rwandan Summit was a testament to the strong will that exists around the country to achieve the SDGs. Launching off from the immense success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Rwanda is heading into 2016 in an optimal position to make great strides in sustainable development, and create the world citizens dream of for tomorrow, a reality today.