this is a short outline of my intervention at the 2016 EU Development Days on behalf of JEF-Europe, coordnator of the youth path in the LADDER project

Localising the Sustainable Development Goals: Owning the global development agenda – a youth perspective
By the Young European Federalists (JEF-Europe)

As Young European Federalists, we have been coordinating the “youth path” of the LADDER project, focusing on topics like youth empowerment and youth participation in the local authorities.

It is interesting to note that our partners are from different parts of Europe: North-West (Ireland), South-East (Croatia), South (Italy and Malta); and therefore we can analyze different experiences and practices regarding local authorities. We studied and documented these different experiences through a survey submitted to our partners.

Common lines emerge, and we would like to develop this brief outline following the logic of the well known saying: “Think globally, act locally”. Let’s start from the end.

Act locally…
The local level in which people live, study and/or work is the level where people actually operate and, therefore, where changes are actually possible. All of the SDGs could be pursued at the local level, no matter its size, by implementing local programs focused on tackling those specific topics. Quoting the same SDGs, “Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more […]”.

Easy to say, but hard to implement in most places, why? Maybe because one essential component is missing or not recognized: the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Citizens should be encouraged – included – to cooperate with the local authorities in solving the problems of the area, or to pursue one or more of the SDGs, but CSOs are more effective if they are empowered, and here recognition plays a crucial role.

… But think globally!
Having active and well linked organizations and associations on the local level could not be enough, anyway. Acting locally needs strategies that could be local, regional, national and/or international, according to the subsidiarity principle. In the last cases, it’s therefore needed to develop networks to link CSOs and LAs as well. This also emerged clearly from our survey: in these globalized, interlinked times we cannot start to solve problems without developing strategies at higher levels, also at international ones. It’s the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity and what European federalists have been claiming for dozens of years: the challenges of today cannot only be circumscribed to certain territories, since these challenges develop in an international frameworks (e.g.: terrorism, pollution, also financial crisis).
Therefore, a broadened and strengthened coordination structure for CSOs and LAs would be needed at every level.

Youth and CSOs role in relation with local authorities
CSOs should be independent from LAs, but they should cooperate tightly, representing firstly the “bottom” and the second the “top” of the decision-making processes. If these two parts work well together, both “top-bottom” and “bottom-top” processes work well too; with evident advantages for the whole society. What is needed then, is a strategy by the LAs to support CSOs, e.g. by providing them with facilities where and when needed, or by promoting their activities in the local community.

Youth is an essential part of these processes, or at least should be: being naturally prone to the future, they could represent the progress; and their high level of available time and energy make them perfect for working in CSOs. Anyway, there are clear problems about youth inclusion and empowerment both at the CSOs and at the LAs level, which we also found that in our survey.

What to do to promote youth inclusion and empowerment? Promoting their personal and skills development through non-formal education methods (therefore giving those methods the right recognition); implement youth parliaments or councils at every level and actually linking them to the LAs, working on the implementation of digital tools for the participation of everyone in the social and political life of the community, aiming also at the inclusion of youth living in remote areas.

A concrete proposal
Within the LADDER project, the possibility was discussed of creating a web portal where citizens could get involved in CSOs and/or LAs according to their field of interest (i.e., the SDGs) – having at once all of the information about what is needed, where, how to help and who to cooperate with. This proposal will be evaluated within the LADDER project in the following months.