Youth 2030: Reflections on the 2019 United Nations ECOSOC Youth Forum – Pelumi Olugbenga

Written by Pelumi Olugbenga

The world keeps changing. Global problems seem to be increasing but so is the endless possibilities for solving these problems.  As it stands, the hopes of mankind lie in the phenomenal potentials of we young people – many of whom have continuously gone beyond the call of duty to make remarkable differences to communities and regions across the world.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, took place between 8-9 April 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Forum is the largest and most institutionalized platform for the participation of young people in the works of the United Nations.  It provides a platform for young leaders from around the world to engage in a dialogue among themselves and with United Nations Member States and to share ideas for advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

 Pelumi Olugbenga

The Forum serves as a unique space for young people to share their vision and elaborate their substantive contributions to United Nations upcoming meetings, including the 2019 ECOSOC Substantive Session, the 2019 high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF) and the high-level events taking place on the margins of the opening of the General Assembly, as well as the Climate Summit, the High-level Meeting on Financing for Development and the SDG Summit.

I arrived at JFK International Airport in the early hours of Saturday, 6th of April, 2019. I had consciously worked to surmount the effect of change in timezone/jet lag on board my 15-hour flight from Nairobi to New York – consequently; it became easy for me to settle down and attend the capacity building program that was held for ECOSOC Youth Forum delegates in the UNFPA building on Sunday, 7th of April,2019. This was an engagement organized to hone the leadership and advocacy skills of participants before the commencement of the Forum itself.

The Forum officially commenced on Monday with an opening session that was led by the President of ECOSOC: Her Excellency, Mrs. Inga Rhonda King who underscored the pivotal role of young people in the implementation of the 2030 goals.

At this same event, there were similar opening statements from the President of the General Assembly – H.E, Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth –  Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Founder and Executive Director, Island Promoting Resilience through Involvement, Development and Education (PRIDE) – Ms. Yolanda Joab: who in particular delivered one of the most inspiring addresses I’ve ever listened to.

The opening session was followed by regional breakout sessions and thematic dialogue on different Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). All of these were quite exhilarating – particularly seeing many familiar faces I had met at previous global youth conferences. At some point, I told Mary-Jeane: a Cambridge University grad student I met at the 2017 World Bank Group Youth Summit that it appears almost the same group of young people keep attending these global conferences.

She chuckled and pointed out how competitive it is to get on many of these programs and the challenge of securing funding for the ones without full or substantial financial commitments from the organizers. I firmly agreed with a broad smile.

I was at the United Nations Headquarters last year(April,2018) for the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Peace Sustainability – an experience that added lots of familiarity to the terrain. This equally gave me the opportunity to reunite with an amazing mentor  – whom I call Sister Morenike – she works at the UN Headquarters and she ensured myself and Emeka had a somewhat in-depth view of the UN building during one of our breaks.

I also had an incredible feeling of home when I met a 2010 LASU Graduate – Mr. Faith Badmus at the Forum. We had to quickly globalize some “aluta” songs as a sign of the LASU brotherhood we share.

Mr. Faith Badmus and Pelumi Olugbenga

The second day of the Forum was very eventful. There was an interactive dialogue with the Secretary-General of the United Nations – His Excellency, Mr. Antonio Gutteres who emphasized the importance of the UN Youth Strategy and called on all member states to integrate the input of young people in regional and national policymaking.

During lunch, I joined a group of Nigerian participants on a visit to the Nigerian House in New York. We arrived at the Nigerian House in the hopes of meeting with some members of the Nigerian diplomatic mission to the United States.  Our hopes saw the light of the day. We were warmly received by the Nigerian Consul General – His Excellency, Benard Okoyen.

Nigerian Consul General, His Excellency, Benard Okoyen and Pelumi Olugbenga 

The atmosphere was a strong blend of Nigerian spirit with an American flavour – while some of us blasted pidgin English with so much relish – Elijah and Emeka ensured diversity with their sweet but natural American English. We equally met different amazing Nigerian leaders; everyone spotlighted issues that affect the Nigerian youth from our sprawling higher institutions of learning to the crowded streets of Lagos and Kano.

A personal highlight was when Mrs. Dayo Benjamins-Laniyi: whom we met at the Nigerian House; informed the group that she will be inviting me to an event in Abuja shortly to deliver a keynote speech on behalf of the Nigerian youth delegation at the 2019 UN ECOSOC Youth Forum. It will be another platform to work with different groups of Nigerian civic leaders with a view to amplifying the concerns of young people in our communities to national policymakers.

At the Nigerian House in New York

Towards the end of the Forum, after the remarks of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I proceeded to the front row in an audacious believe in the power of hope:   “Nah so I go meet Oga Secretary-General, I shake hands with baba but as I talk say make I snap selfie with oga sir Nah him liver go fail my camera{probably some Ondo people}; I sha manage to take the picture below with am”.

The Secretary General of UN, Mr Antonio Gutteres and Pelumi Olugbenga

(The above sentence was written in Nigerian pidgin English and it means: I briefly met with the U.N Secretary-General; His Excellency, Mr. Antonio Gutteres, I had a handshake with him and I took a selfie of us albeit my front camera did not get the right quality).

(Secretary General of UN while giving his remarks)

Moving forward, young people remain the beacon of hope for our world. From the peace we seek to entrench in the middle east to the development we desire to deepen in Africa: the 1.9billion youths on earth are the ones tasked with providing answers to the most improbable questions facing mankind.

We as young people also have a solemn obligation to deepen unity and prosperity across the different continents. This year’s ECOSOC youth forum was an eye-opener. I saw young people: regardless of creed or colour work together to inspire a demand for a true sense of inclusion at the Forum; as they rejected an overflow and preferred to be truly empowered, included and equal right inside the Trusteeship Council.

As we all return to our communities, organizations and institutions, we as young people must not forget the task ahead of all of us. We must remain committed to sharing our experiences with our team members, colleagues and mentees. We must also continuously engage our national/regional policymakers and remain unyielding in our resolve to be the change that would make a defining difference to our community and generation at large.

May God bless our world.
Pelumi Olugbenga who was a delegate at the 2019 UN ECOSOC YOUTH FORUM is a fresh graduate of the Lagos State University(LASU) in Nigeria and a Hesselbein Alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh, United States. Pelumi is the Founder of the Save The Future Project as well as the Country Manager of the Nigerian-American Coalition. Pelumi has attended different global trainings and conferences and he is interested in International Development.




He can be reached on

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