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Most of the leaders who grace the world stage today have been in charge for decades, using their experience to lead us through crises and prosperity. Yet they are increasingly out of step in a world of grassroots activism and global movements spread solely by the digital revolution – and led by a new generation.

The youth of today are leading the charge for a better world, and they will be the leaders of tomorrow. It’s time we provided them with the expertise and institutional knowledge to carry out the plan we’ve built to sustain our planet through 2030 – the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our collective best vision for the future: one that promises future generations a safe, hospitable planet, on which every person has the chance for a prosperous and peaceful life. But this is not an easy task, nor a quick one; it requires an intergenerational approach precisely because the actions we take today will affect the lives of future generations. For this reason, over the next 13 years and beyond, young people the world over will need to lead our efforts to achieve the SDGs. They will also bear the consequences of inaction, and as such have the biggest stake in the success of the SDGs.

In this, the younger generations have somewhat of a leg up on the current leading generations. They are technologically savvier, always ready to learn more, keen to activate new solutions and update their understanding to move the world forward. They are unburdened by bureaucracy or the mantra of “this is the way it’s always been done.”  But they need the knowledge, skills and tools that will make them successful.

So how do we prepare young people to thrive in this increasingly fragile, vulnerable world, and help them acquire the skills to achieve the SDGs?

Education about sustainable development is imperative. And it requires:

  • First, a deeper understanding of the critical challenges across economics, climate change, health, education, gender issues, human rights, biodiversity, agriculture, urban development and many other realms;
  • Second, the ability to identify how each Sustainable Development Goal impacts the others;
  • Third, the ability to take this overarching, global knowledge about the past, present and future of sustainable development and bring it to their own hometowns and local communities, taking global issues and translating them into regional, national and local contexts;
  • Fourth, combining theoretical knowledge with real, practical applications by acquiring practical skills of management, communication and implementation;
  • Fifth, an appreciation that sustainable development is in many ways at the frontlines of human knowledge, and that we need to continually upgrade our knowledge and our skills as we move ahead.

Universities are beginning to grapple with the complexities of teaching sustainable development, but traditional institutional structures and limited resources can make it hard for them to offer programs that combine all these aspects.

The SDG Academy was set up precisely to meet these aims by providing high-quality education on sustainable development at scale. Our free courses, available to all via an online platform, bring together global experts from across the various realms of sustainable development to design curricula that address the complex, interdependent and evolving nature of the SDGs. With more than 150,000 enrollments from 150 countries, these courses are building a global cohort of students to engage, debate and learn from both industry leaders and their peers worldwide. Our courses are also used by university partners to strengthen their own programs and courses on offer.

Our Fall 2017 semester has just launched with courses on topics ranging from human rights to the macroeconomics of sustainability to preserving sustainable terrestrial ecosystems. I invite you to enroll here: SDGAcademy.org.

Ours is not the only initiative to educate and empower young people, but we think it’s a unique way to reach our young leaders of tomorrow and prepare them for the future. With the SDG Academy, we are committed to reaching millions of young people and helping them become advocates and stewards of the SDGs.

Are you ready to join us?

– Chandrika Bahadur, President, SDSN Association