09/22/2016 03:25 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 03:25 EDT

Canadian Youth Must Show Up And Speak Out For The SDGs

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By: Mathura Mahendren

"I'm frustrated with Canada."

I was attending a workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and this declaration from our facilitator left me thinking, "What did we do now?"

In fact, it was what we didn't do.

As a part of the SDG consultation process, the United Nations had initiated a global vote to allow people from around the world to have a direct say in shaping a better world. From a total of 9,729,442 votes from around the world, Canadians had contributed a meagre 19,733. (For comparison, Mexico had 1,978,311 votes, Rwanda had 59,861, and Sri Lanka had 665,515.)

He was particularly frustrated as the UN had gone to unprecedented lengths to make it "the most inclusive global development process the world has ever known," and we as a country of young people with ridiculously easy access to participation were unresponsive. I'm not saying that the UN is perfect. I'm saying that the world's leaders are realizing the need to consider all of our voices and they're reaching out. Now it's up to us to show up and respond.

As Canadian youth, it's no longer enough to piggyback onto our prime minister's global reputation when it's convenient and disengage when it isn't. Yes, we love that he's a self-declared feminist, but why is it that equality between men and women ranks third on the list of priorities for young Canadian women and 11th on the list for their male counterparts?

This is truly our problem, our world and our consequences.

And what happens when governments change? How do we ensure that political will for sustainable change is maintained if and when leadership changes? I fumbled with this question for a while before realizing the obvious answer. We are the constant. We choose our leadership. We create demand and drive markets. We choose what we speak up for. And as youth, we are the ones that will have to live with the consequences of our actions (or inaction) the longest. This is truly our problem, our world and our consequences.

That said, as a young person myself, I recognize the fears that hold us back from engaging entirely. Responding to global challenges can be overwhelming, especially when they seem to be increasing in severity and frequency by the day. Climate change, Zika, systemic poverty, humanitarian crises -- where does one start in tackling these behemoths? Start with what you know. Pick a battle and share your game plan and lessons learned with like-minded peers -- there's no time to be making the same mistakes in silos.

With so many sources of information, we fear saying the wrong thing and the rejection that may come with. Start the conversation with a community you trust. Yes, that can be mom and dad.

We convince ourselves that we don't know enough to have an opinion. Google it. There is no dearth of information, and this isn't an excuse.

We convince ourselves that our contribution is insignificant. What does one tweet, vote or response to a survey really do? For one, it gets aggregated into data systems like WorldWeWant2030 and is used to inform pivotal policy decisions. In a world of data, ALL data points matter.

And most notorious of all, we don't want to be that person that pokes a hole in everyone else's blissful ignorance. Think of yourself as the neighbour who comes knocking at 3 a.m. when they notice a side of your house burning. Yes, you're annoyed by the rude awakening but when you realize the magnitude of the real problem and its consequences, you couldn't be more grateful.

This week marks the one year anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals, and we can't afford to close our eyes and make a wish. The genie and the jury are out, yet the responsibility remains: 15 years to tackle challenges that have been decades in the making. It's a weighty call, I'll admit, but never before have we had as many opportunities and as much need to show up and respond as a generation. So I'm going to go knock on that door, and I'm inviting you to come with me. Yes, it's 3 a.m., but I'll be damned if I didn't try.

Mathura Mahendren is a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) program at McMaster University. A young professional specializing in global health and development, she has worked with the World Health Organization, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, Global Strategy Lab and Grand Challenges Canada.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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