The SDG Centre Youth Perspective section highlights cool, insightful articles written by young people from the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum and the Global Leaders of the United Nations on many different aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hailing from Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore they offer a glimpse into what life is like for our next generation in these regions and possible solutions to help make sure nobody is left behind.

“ The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow ” – Nelson Mandela

Why does Asia matter when we talk about the SDG’s?

Simply because global development is largely centered on the continent. Not only is Asia home to the world’s 8 largest cities[1] , it is also where 9 out of the 12 fastest growing megacities, those with more than 10 million people, are located. What we see happening in Asia is the exponential growth in its urban population. Accompanying this movement of large masses of people from rural to urban areas are urban problems that directly relate to the SDG’s, ranging from but not limited to issues of education, gender inequality, and environmental protection. On a related note, such development of efforts towards SDGs will be discussed at scale during the Responsible Business Forum held in Singapore from the 22nd to the 24th of November 2016 at Marina Bay Sands.

Notwithstanding the fact that the affluent nations of the North also suffer from the above problems, seeing as to how these problems are more acute in Asia, and by extension, the Global South, their participation in the global discourse of sustainable development is an imperative. Sustainable development reflects a fundamental shift in the way that we think about the economy. We begin to take into account social and environmental considerations and what this does is to change our practices. One of this change in practice is the growing significance of partnerships.

Types of Partnerships: Its Benefits and Shortfalls

Partnerships are “needed to mobilize, redirect and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources to deliver on sustainable development objectives”[2], and they can manifest in many different forms. Here, we focus on two types: public-private and multi-stakeholder partnerships and both have many success stories to boast of. We can explore public-private partnerships through the example of green finance, where public funds are used to leverage private capital to low-carbon industries. The Thailand government’s financing of green projects through the Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund is a good example. Established in 2002, the fund offered credit lines—initially at no interest—to local banks so that they could provide loans for energy efficiency projects. By 2010, the fund had financed projects worth a total investment of $453 million, resulting in energy cost savings of $154 million each year[3]

For the case of multi-stakeholder partnerships, we turn our attention to impact investments, which refers to “investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention of generating social and environmental impact alongside a financial return”[4]. Impact investing involves partnerships between governments, social enterprises and individual investors. To illustrate this partnership, we can look into the example of India’s Husk Power Systems (HPS), which transforms rice husks into electricity. Owing to grants, subsidies, funding and prize awards from various social investors, governments and TNC’s, HPS was able to provide electricity to 200, 000 people off-the-grid villages across India by 2013[5].

The examples of Thailand’s green finance and India’s HPS both underscore the importance of partnerships (regardless of the form it takes) in ensuring the success of sustainable development projects. However, a lot can be said about the manner in which these partnerships function. Often times, grassroots participation is lacking. Especially in the case of public-private partnerships, there is heavy involvement of the government in steering the direction of projects. While the role of the government in providing funds cannot be underplayed, the promise of sustainable development is in the fundamental shift in the global economy. Changes to practices have not caught up enough with this paradigm shift and it is in this area where youths can play an instrumental role. As a generation that grew up being familiar with the Internet of Things, they can leverage on technology to bolster grassroots participation in sustainable development. Indeed, there are many inspiring stories of youth leaders who have gone on to do just that. The question that we have to ask ourselves now is this: How can we help these youth-led movements to gain traction in the global economy?