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Home » Decrypting the Sustainable Development Goals for youths – what is this all about?

Decrypting the Sustainable Development Goals for youths – what is this all about?


Over the next 20 months, we will be working with a group of 20 youths across Denmark and Norway and delve into everyday sustainability in their households and immediate communities, to build a more grounded/practical meaning to this otherwise widely used term. The best place to start we believe in creating a connection between everyday lived experiences of commonly excluded communities and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which since 2015 have acted as a guiding signpost towards a more sustainable work, where “no one is left behind” and where we “do not do harm”. The catch with the Agenda 2030 – as it has come to be commonly referred to, is that it has become a high-level policy agenda, and although many have worked on localizing this agenda, the actions, and narratives – let alone the definition of what sustainability means to people in different contexts, remains a top-down application.

Questions like, does sustainability mean the same to the Director of a big conglomerate as it does for a 15-year-old in the Ghettos of Copenhagen? Probably yes. But does it look the same in everyday practice? We doubt this a lot. So, how do we connect the common meanings to everyday practice to bring the two points of departure closer to each other, towards a common agenda? The project is an attempt to define sustainability and the application of it at the grassroots level through lived experience, as an exemplification of what really happens here and how policy and decision/interventions can better be tailored to reality. In fact, as we publish this little blog, Verdens Bedste Nyheder (World’s Best News, 2022), just published a really interesting article on the educational achievements of young people in Ghetto communities in Denmark – an example of an underground movement and determination, that rarely comes to radar when policies are top-down focused. Could we utilize such momentum to strengthen the meaning, aspirations, and context-specific interventions toward everyday sustainability? Read VBN’s article here.


To reach the SDGs (Agenda 2030) within the next 9 years, we need to rethink what we mean by terminologies like “LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND” and “DO NO HARM”. The practice over the years has been concentrated on how the SDGs are relevant in the different contexts, and it is only recently that we have started mobilizing stakeholders to action – start implementing/grounding the SDGs indicators in their work (VORESMÅL, 2020), as opposed to business as usual.

According to a survey of how well the Danish people know about/understand the SDGs conducted by Advice for DANIDA (2019), at least 75% answered that they have heard about SDGs. However, only 11% attest to knowing the SDGs well, while the majority 63% answer that they have heard about them but do not really understand them well. 25% do not know about the SDGs. And, when one digs under the hood, while resourced people – those with high education, and engage themselves in the cultural lives of their communities more often attest to knowing the SDGs well (20%), this, falls to only 4% of the groups with either lower education or that live on the margins/sidelines of society.

Similar conclusions are made about all Nordic countries (2030-Netværk, 2019), in a comparative review on how well Denmark works with the SDGs both within the EU and among the UN member countries. One of the groups our partnership works with is young people in what is gazetted as “Ghetto” areas in Denmark, or high-density migrant, and often low-resourced spaces in both Denmark and Norway, as well as rural sparsely populated areas in northern Norway. When we ask about SDGs, it is common to hear words like “that is all companies greenwashing”, or “how do the SDGs apply to my every day?”, and of course, narratives of differences in social-economic treatment and discriminatory policies vs. the national calls for “no one left behind!”. Others mention that the SDGs are too complicated – too many (almost across the spectra).

But is it not exactly these challenges that the SDGs intend to eliminate? And specifically, how do we get young people from marginalized communities on board localizing the SDGs, and creating usable frameworks of interpretation and participation, for the benefit of having “no one left behind”? By our project suggesting a low-cost pilot into developing supportive methods to answer the many puzzling questions around the SDGs and sustainability in general, we will be some of the pioneers in delineating a specifically central community, and intentionally developing tools for working towards their closer inclusion/championing of the SDGs and generally sustainability, and thereby contributing to several of the targets themselves. Moreover, the results and products of this project will be in a form that is both locally and widely easy to utilize, multiply and replicate.


Our project sets out to contribute to a strengthened understanding and methodologies for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals or Agenda 2030, through especially answering to the following objectives.

  • Contribute to developing knowledge about sustainability and a green future for all.
  • Contribute to including commonly sidelined young Europeans in the lives of their societies.
  • Contribute to developing context-aware tools for community mobilization towards sustainability.
  • Contribute to the bridging narratives towards common agendas and interpretations.
  • Contribute to developing of social and entrepreneurial skills of young people.

Targeting twenty 18–30-year-old young people from marginalized communities in Denmark and Norway, the project contains three parts:

  1. Conducting a survey into local narratives of sustainability and the SDGs in marginalized communities and how these relate or compare with the mainstream SDGs agenda 2030. This will be documented in a report publicly available for everyone to refer to.
  2. Recruit 20 youth (10 in Denmark, 10 in Norway) as SDGs ambassadors in their communities, and develop/run training, mentoring, and tools development process with them on how they can work with the SDGs and relatedly localize them in their context. Each country will also develop at least 3 action projects, so the young people have hands-on experience with running SDGs projects.
  3. Collecting feedback from the participants, mentors, & local communities and together with inputs from the report in point 1 above document these into a strategy for engaging marginalized young people and their communities in localizing the SDGs & issues around sustainability.

The results we expect to deliver by the end of the project:

We want to develop a context-aware model for mobilizing marginalized youths and communities to work towards achieving of the SDGs and sustainability in general, which they often feel is a high-end framework for the “untroubled” communities and feels cryptic/complicated. This will increase the chances of reaching agenda 2030 by creating possible conditions for involving all, and “leaving no one behind”- no matter the resource base or background. It will also give empowerment to the target communities to be part/central in their own development. The project has the following concrete results/contributions:

  1. Twenty (20) youth SDG ambassadors mobilized and empowered and are championing actions in local communities (10 in Denmark and 10 in Norway).
  2. An analytical report of local vs. mainstream narratives on the SDGs and sustainability in general – to assess if there exist gaps and to identify areas for bridging.
  3. Six (6) local actions (small scale group projects) based on SDGs implemented across the two countries.
  4. A mentoring program tested and adjusted for how to empower marginalized youth to act around the SDGs and sustainability as a whole.
  5. All the above will calumniate into – “A methodology for mobilizing marginalized youths and communities into action towards sustainability”.

Project partners

Civil Connections Community Foundation – Denmark:

Creatorium – Norway:

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