Speech to Norec's Youth Summit

The Minister of International Development spoke to Norec's international Youth Summit at Hurdalssjøen 4 March.

Good morning, everyone!

It is a great pleasure to be here at the Youth Summit in Hurdal and to be able to meet in person some of those who actually implement Norwegian development policy on the ground.

It is very impressive to see so many of you here – I have been told there are 113 representatives from civil society organisations around the world at the Summit. Each one of you is part of an international partnership that uses mutual exchange projects as a way of developing your organisations and providing opportunities for young people in your communities.

Let me start by saying a few words about Norwegian development policy. As Minister of International Development, I have been given a road map for my work, namely the 2030 Agenda, or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 2030 Agenda brings the countries of the world together in an unprecedented manner to combat poverty in all its forms. At the heart of the Agenda is the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’. That is a promise that goes to the core of our common humanity.

I would like to elaborate a little on the concept of leaving no one behind. There are around one billion disabled people in the world. Some 800 million of them live in poor countries. One third of disabled children do not get any education at all.

Furthermore, many people think that slavery is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Around 40 million people live in conditions that can only be described as slavery. According to conservative estimates, around 100 million children are victims of forced labour. In addition, millions of girls are victims of what is sometimes referred to as gendercide – systematic gender-selective killing of, and violence against, girls and women.

I became Minister of International Development only six weeks ago, when the Christian Democratic Party joined the Norwegian Government. Improving conditions for the most vulnerable groups is the top priority of our development policy. If we do not succeed in leaving no one behind, we will not reach the Sustainable Development Goals. We will also fail to uphold a fundamental principle of human rights: that all human beings are of equal value, regardless of abilities.

In many ways, the 2030 Agenda has come at a good time. Life expectancy is up and infant mortality rates are down. The number of pupils in primary and secondary education has never been higher. Armed conflicts are at an all-time low.

Never before have so many infants and children been vaccinated. The number of people living in extreme poverty has never been lower.

The 17 goals are all important, and they are all interlinked. But if I had to pick one, it would be number 17, ‘Partnerships for the goals’.

The 2030 Agenda is a joint global effort. It is not about rich countries telling developing countries what to do. It is about partnerships.

Development is a national responsibility. The task of those of us that are donor countries is to assist and work in partnership with national governments, the international community, the private sector and civil society. The basic idea is that we are all in this together. The Norec exchange model ties in perfectly with this way of thinking.

With 18 years of experience of reciprocal partnerships, Norec has compiled data showing that long-term cooperation is key to developing trust and understanding, which are both crucial elements in a learning partnership.

A partnership produces its best results after four or more years of exchange. We need time to get to know one another in order to bring about change.

Your model of using international partnerships to reach a specific goal is the kind of model we need to emulate in the development sector in order to reach the SDGs. 

This morning I spoke to Jan Olav Baarøy, Norec’s Director General. I learnt that the Norwegian Red Cross Youth developed its sexual health programme in the early 2000s, based on input from exchange participants from Jamaica. Norwegian Red Cross Youth then used this programme to raise awareness among their target group, Norwegian youth, who are world champions in unprotected sex. (Let me assure you that they will receive no medals for this achievement).

I also learnt that the organisation Music Crossroads Mozambique has used the same idea as its Norwegian partner, and held a Loud Girls Rock Camp, where music is used as a tool to increase female participation in the cultural sphere. The organisation is already seeing increased female leadership in cultural projects.

I heard that Informal Sector Service Center, Nepal’s leading human rights organisation, uses exchange as a way of improving job opportunities for young human rights defenders, as it gives them valuable international work experience.

These results show that exchange programmes help to address central development issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and youth unemployment.

The exchange model lets organisations design their own agendas for mutual learning while addressing important social issues. This is what SDG 17 on having partnerships for the global goals is all about.

Since 2001, Norec has paid special attention to youth. Only young people between the ages of 18 and 35 can participate in Norec exchange projects.

Young people today are underrepresented in decision-making bodies and underemployed, although they make up the majority of the world’s population. This is a democratic challenge. How can governments around the world claim to represent their citizens without listening to the voices of young people?

The African continent is a case in point. It has the youngest population of any continent. Every year, 12 million African youths try to enter the labour market. But only three million new jobs are created annually. It is vital that this gap is closed.

If we do not succeed, we will not only fail to reach the SDG targets, we risk seeing many countries slide further into vulnerability. Extremists feed on unemployment.

I have four children. If a militia leader offered them three meals a day and a Kalashnikov to join him, they would of course not take him seriously. Why not? Because in Norway there are far better options than becoming a child soldier.

But the reality for many young people is that they do not know where their next meal is coming from, they do not have access to education, and even if they do, there will be no decent jobs available when they finish school. With no prospects and no future, three meals a day and a Kalashnikov might not seem like such a bad deal.

Personally, I have been a politician since I was  30. Before entering politics, I was active in my church, which challenged me by giving me opportunities and responsibilities. This experience helped me become a representative for other young people later. My church provided an environment for practising youth leadership.

Norec has been at the forefront of youth leadership since 2001. Youth leadership is about addressing the actual needs of young people, by giving them real opportunities and appropriate challenges, and ensuring that they are mentored by experienced people.

These tools give young people the confidence and experience they need to represent their peers and their communities, and in due course make their way into all arenas of decision-making.

All of you sitting here today are aware of the enormous benefits of investing in young people. You also appreciate the value of long-term collaboration. You have come here this week to share experiences, fine-tune your programmes, and set your goals for the future. I wish you every success in this important and valuable endeavour. You are making the world a better place.

Thank you.