In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution "Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development." (1) This new development agenda propagates an all-of-society engagement and partnership as a main driver for transformation. It is a collective action plan that unites State and non-State actors, whereby adequate opportunity and space is given to all major groups in society. While youth is considered as a vulnerable group that warrants specific attention (para. 23), young people are also viewed as important actors who should be educated and enabled to reach their full potential (para. 25; SDG 4, targets 4.4 and 4.6). Specific attention is given to the promotion of youth employment for inclusive and sustainable economic growth (para. 27; SDG 8, targets 8.6 and 8b) and to developing the capacity of youth to effectively contribute to climate change-related planning and management (SDG 13, target 13.b).
Young people have the potential to be effective agents of change. But unless the need is acknowledged to provide an enabling environment for youth to thrive in, this remains an empty catchphrase. The transition of youth from a target group to full partner lacks traction in many fields of the development domain. Engaging youth in the water sector is particularly challenging due to its complex nature.
In the international water community, bottom-up youth engagement comes through a variety of civil society networks. While many youth initiatives may exist around the world, structured and meaningful involvement of youth is generally hampered due to various reasons that range from the lack of widespread support to the absence of proper platforms that sustain youth participation.
In the last few years, youth have been targeted by many leading international organizations in the water sector. In fact, youth engagement has become a fashionable trend. Most organizations have their marketed youth strategies promoting an image of youth inclusion and engagement. However, these good intentions rarely reflect the reality on the ground. In practice, youth engagement sometimes simply means inviting youth representatives to participate in events. Furthermore, many initiatives led by water institutions aimed at engaging youth take place in an ad hoc manner and lack consistency.
At present, the potential of youth has been only marginally realized. Knowledge and data on how to effectively engage stakeholders, including...