9 ways young people are building the social and solidarity economy

The social and solidarity economy can help the global progress toward meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The social and solidarity economy can help global progress toward meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Image: REUTERS

Kenneth Kwok
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Global Citizen Capital
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  • The social and solidarity economy is an ethical and values-based approach to economic development.
  • In April 2023, the UN recognised the importance of this sector in the pursuit of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Here are nine ways young people the world over are building the social and sustainable economy — for the good of us all.

In April 2023, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution promoting the social and solidarity economy for long-term sustainable development through the advancement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals.

It was a landmark moment for those working in the social and solidarity economy, which is an ethical and values-based approach to economic development that prioritizes the welfare of people and the planet. That was the first time the social economy has been given due recognition in a UN resolution and is a key topic at the Schwab Foundation and Global Alliance Annual Summit 2023.

Following this resolution, youth globally have, starting with grassroots movements, formed or contributed to new projects and partnerships, on both the national and international scale, to ensure their voices are heard in this area.

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These young peoples' mission is straightforward: they aim to transform the social and solidarity economy into a blueprint for their generation’s collective growth.

Here are nine ways youth are turning this vision into a reality.

Trust: To form the foundation

Rebuilding trust in public institutions is a key priority and foundation for positive action. CAP-2030, which stands for Children in All Policies, is a global movement building coalitions for action for children in all sectors in key focus countries, with leadership from governments, ministries, academics, civil society and other stakeholders. In partnership with UNICEF, The Lancet and University College London (UCL), they have formed a global Youth Advisory Board for youth to provide input and guidance on all areas of the organization’s work, including climate change, data for decision-making, racism and discrimination and harmful commercial marketing.

Research: To understand the problems

To foster the spirit of intergenerational research, Catalyst 2030, the SDG Strategy Hub, the World Resources Institute and other organizations have joined hands to support the founding of Catalysing Research Institute, where youth can contribute to and collaborate with each other in the areas of computer science, environmental science, social science, political science and more.

Assemble: To develop strong communities

Multistakeholder participation is instrumental to creating real-world impact, and youth are steadily increasing their footprint, especially in the areas of learning and development. To this end, LearningPlanet, an alliance created by Learning Planet Institute and UNESCO, has collected over 300 organizations across more than 160 countries to redesign the future of education. To amplify youth voice and agency, they have developed the Youth Fellows programme, with over 250 young people globally taking action in key areas advancing for people and for the planet. Their flagship conference, the LearningPlanet Festival, is co-organized by youth, who are also in charge of designing 50% of the programming.

Normalise: To strengthen ESG principles

One key aspect of the social and solidarity economy is seeking a balance between sustainability and profitability. This is where youth find the adoption and implementation of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) frameworks into future economic blueprints to be essential. For the purpose of helping youth, including teenagers, upskill on ESG matters, global organizations including Junior Achievement, Data Values Project, ACT NOW and more have lent their support to the ESG School and its activities across various UN agencies. ESG knowledge and tools should be made accessible and available to all youth, and this organization is working towards this goal through workshops, conferences and competitions.

Solidify: To provide holistic resources

One of the biggest barriers to youth engagement in real-world matters is the lack of access to mentorship and other resources. In response to this, the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) and its Division for Prosperity, ITS Foundation and KIDsforSDGs have co-curated the Youth Ambassadors programme, a 10-week sponsored learning and development journey for youth to design their start-up ideas, with over 50 hours of content and 20 open-sourced resources made available to participants. Specific support is provided in areas pertaining to the social and solidarity economy such as the provision of education and research, social services and environmental protection.

Formulate: To design actionable blueprints

Following the co-creation process of new ideas and concepts for strengthening the future of social and solidarity economy, youth can formulate their own blueprints. This act of owning their purpose is another sure step towards long-term impact. To support it, the Joint SDG Fund nominates youth to contribute to its 230 joint programmes across more than 1,000 partnerships, supporting the next generation with learn-on-the-job experience. Moreover, the Fund’s Youth Corner has built a global platform for discussion and created the conditions for active engagement with young people for designing blueprints for sustainable development.

Orient: To prepare for scalability

Youth are ambitious and brave. They understand that solutions need to be scalable to make real world difference. The World Economic Forum’s Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, which convenes public and private sector leaders to unlock the social economy, has significantly strengthened the youth agenda by empowering its community of over 100 members to launch new initiatives focused on intergenerational social and economic development. As one of the world’s most dynamic and resilient social innovation ecosystems, the Alliance plays an instrumental role in supporting young social entrepreneurs to scale their impact.

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Reflect: To strive for relevance

Successful long-term development requires active conversations and debate, to ensure the blueprints remain aligned with changes in global affairs. Echoing this need, the youth-led Forum of the Future has secured the support of five global organizations including UNEP and UN ECOSOC to organize thematic sub-forums in the areas of economics, sciences, internationalism, sustainability, law and more.

Mobilize: To drive collective action

The final step is to let youth see and feel the contributions their work has made. Through Global Goals Week, backed by the UN Foundation and UNDP and its community of over 150 partners, youth can find their representation across this annual week of action, awareness and accountability for the SDGs. Trust can be restored when youth are placed at the core of policy formulation and decision-making.

The future of the social and solidarity economy requires active youth engagement. As more young people are elevated into positions of power over the next decade, it will support the driving of the UN member states to implement the resolution. Together, on an intergenerational basis, we can tackle the root causes of global risks and transform the world.

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