Since 2015, America Solidaria has been collaborating with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) to create CONCAUSA, a program to empower, connect, and mobilize adolescents from the Americas, creating a network of youth leading service projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals. Through an online application process, youth who demonstrate their leadership potential and project quality are selected to participate in educational workshops in their own countries and/or in an international summit with youth from across the Americas where they present their projects to peers and United Nations representatives.
CONCAUSA calls on young people from the Americas, 14 - 17 years old, to have an active role in fulfilling the SDGs in relation to their own communities, take ownership of this process within their own spheres of influence, and take action for achieving social change. The program’s main objectives are:
1. Engaging youth in the Sustainable Development Goals and encouraging them to see themselves as protagonists of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
2. Strengthening project management skills among young people, both for the development of innovative and collaborative solutions, and to mobilize the future leaders of the hemisphere.
3. Empowering adolescents to spread models of sustainable social change in their communities.
4. Creating a network of thousands of youth agents of transformation who are aware of their rights and promote them in their communities.
CONCAUSA, which is governed jointly by the organizing entities as well as youth participants themselves through a youth advisory board, takes a “glocal” approach based in building an international network of youth leaders who have come to sustainable development leadership through action in service to their local communities. Many are young people from historically and geographically marginalized rural, isolated, indigenous, or impoverished communities outside of the traditional reach of international consultations and programs. Teams from remote places such as San Mateo del Mar, Mexico or La Paloma, Uruguay have traveled outside their home countries for the first time to share their experiences, gaining a more regional perspective through peer-to-peer sharing with other young leaders. This program brings together youth social leaders from different economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds to hone their skills in community-led development.
Unlike other existing youth movements or networks, CONCAUSA does not simply amplify youth voices or provide spaces for consultation; rather, it promotes the development of terrain-based experience, knowledge, and action from an early age. The program accompanies emerging young leaders, providing them with resources and training to take their projects to the next level.
By training trainers (high school teachers) in incorporating the SDGs in their teaching and learning strategies and helping young people attain knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals and project management skills for addressing them, CONCAUSA has a multiplier and lasting effect on action for the SDGs to achieve a more sustainable future for all.
CONCAUSA has grown importantly over the course of the last three and a half years. In its first year, we received 230 project applications; in the last round, we received 780 applications.
Since the initiative began we have been able to mobilize a total of 4,141 youth applicants working actively on social change projects. The process of application can be formative for those who were not thinking of their project within the framework of the SDGs because it educates them on each of the seventeen goals and requires them to associate their project with at least one. Of those applicants, 162 have gone through the formative experience of the international youth summit. Two years later, nearly 80% of surveyed participants in the youth summit have continued pursuing their projects. Over half of the summit participants have subsequently joined other initiatives or opportunities to advance the 2030 Agenda, ranging from local volunteer work to student movements and youth councils. We have also created a youth governance structure for CONCAUSA with a consultative committee focused on innovation and strategic development for the program, youth spokespeople, and an international network directed entirely by former participants. We measure impact over time by tracking projects and administering follow-up surveys to participants assessing their individual growth, project management knowledge, commitment to sustainable development, and networks. Of the teams who participated in the summit in the first two years, 67% stated they improved their strategic planning; 32% improved their approach to storytelling about their project and 44% gained confidence in themselves. They describe developing leadership, teamwork, and a broader perspective on Latin America.
In addition to the growth experienced by the youth participants, CONCAUSA impacts hundreds of community members served by their 49 projects in topics like recycling, permaculture, nutrition, peacebuilding, and cultural preservation, most of which are going into their third year of project operation. This program supports youth leaders in providing innovative sustainable solutions for their own communities. This network of youth leaders has been expanding, allowing marginalized and isolated youth to share practices across cultural and geographic borders. CONCAUSA has a lasting empowering effect on young people, and through their social projects, improves the quality of life for their communities. Participants are taking their projects to the next level. For example, Mexican participant Francisco Zamora won an award for best practices for his project at the 2018 event “Young people towards 2030: Innovation for transformation” in Acapulco.