Mumbai, 16 October 2014 – The role of youth as social innovators in sustainable development has been highlighted by speakers at a conference in India.

The comments were made by UN-Habitat’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Oyeyinka Oyebanji as he spoke at the opening of the Young Social Innovators Conclave earlier this month at the University of Mumbai.s Sir J.J College of Architecture in India. Organised by the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation (NSF) in collaboration with UN-Habitat, this two-day conference brought together young social entrepreneurs from across India to discuss social innovation in the context of urbanisation. 

The Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation supports youth innovation through civil society initiatives in a number of sectors, enabling youth to make positive, lasting and sustainable impact on society for a vibrant India. The foundation, together with UN-Habitat, have founded the India Youth Fund to support youth-led organisations working towards sustainable urban development in India. The Young Social Innovators conclave 2014 is an extension of the India Youth Fund programme, and an integral step in engaging youth in the broader discourse of development. 

At its launch, the auditorium at Sir J.J’s college of Architecture brimmed with over 200 youth from various parts of India. For this two-day conference, a number of young social innovators shared their ideas and projects, which are contributing to sustainable development. The conclave was broken down into rich panel discussions and workshops and more than 50 experts on different thematic topics were invited to share their experience and knowledge as they relate to social innovation in different contexts.

India has the largest child and youth population in the world, and as such it is important to consider their involvement in shaping the nation’s future. During the opening ceremony, the different speakers highlighted the importance of harnessing youth’s potential in the economic, social, political and infrastructural spheres of development.  

Mr Oyebanji underlined the role of youth in sustainable development and highlighted the need to address the lack of institutional frameworks which bridge the gap between having ideas and getting these ideas into the market to truly harness innovation. He continued to challenge the youth to think about innovative solutions to address the persisting issue of growth of slums in urban areas, but also for the different social issues youth feel they are most affected by.

The opening ceremony of the conclave also saw the opportunity to present the grantees of the India Youth Fund 2014 with their awards. The youth-led projects for 2014 covered areas of gender empowerment and ICT tools to address female health care, as well as livelihoods and young women’s safety in urban areas.

 “I congratulate the Urban Youth Fund beneficiaries on their innovative projects contributing to development in their communities. Youth led initiatives are critical to ensure sustainable development. I commend UN-Habitat and the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation for supporting this important work globally,” stated Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth.

The Young Social Innovators’ Conclave was also an opportunity to raise awareness around the Post-2015 Agenda and the Habitat III process, and to urge the youth in India to be involved in these efforts to ensure that youth’s needs and concerns are heard and accounted for.