Photo: Seventeen-year-old Mathias Bragi Ölvisson lives in the agricultural village of Fludir, South Iceland, where his family have a large farm. He has known about the SDGs since these were agreed in 2015. Credit: Elin Hannibalsdottir. - Photo: 2018

Young People Head SDG Publicity in Iceland

By Lowana Veal

REYKJAVIK (IDN) – Iceland has decided to spearhead publicity for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by setting up a 12-person council of young people aged between 13 and 18, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Over 140 young people applied for the 12 places and, according to Nilsina Larsen Einarsdottir, coordinator of the project, “all of them had many brilliant ideas, so the choice was extremely difficult.”

Einarsdottir, who works with UNICEF in Iceland as a specialist in child and youth participation, has teamed up with the PMO for the project.

Another set of young people will be recruited next year for the same purpose.

Heidur Ivarsdottir, who lives in a municipality neighbouring Reykjavik, had not heard of SDGs before applying to the Youth Council (YC). She says she has always been interested in environmental matters and human rights, and had set up an environment club at her school.

A classmate who was also applying told her about the YC and the SDGs 15 minutes before the application deadline and suggested she might be interested. She applied and was accepted (her friend was not so lucky).

“When I glanced at the descriptions of the SDGs that accompanied the application, I became passionate about changing the world – I saw an opportunity to bring my thoughts into fruition, and on a larger scale than I could have dreamt of doing as a 16-year-old individual,” says Ivarsdottir when asked why she applied to be part of the YC for publicising the UN SDGs in Iceland.

“Words cannot describe how excited I was about this demanding project, as I think it is incredibly important to discuss the goals and also unbelievably precious that young people …. are allowed to take a stance, and that our voices are heard in relation to the most important issue in the world.”

Seventeen-year-old Mathias Bragi Ölvisson lives in the agricultural village of Fludir, South Iceland, where his family have a large farm. Unlike Ivarsdottir, he has known about the SDGs for a long time because, a few days after the SDGs were agreed in 2015, lessons in sociology and natural history at the local village school he attended were combined for a day and the teachers let students work on a project connected with the SDGs.

“We were supposed to learn about the SDGs in this project work and choose one goal that we considered the most important. I chose education, because change starts by knowing what is wrong in the world and knowing how to change this wrong to right,” he says.

However, he notes that he has not had any more lessons on the subject since then, and says he is not aware of people talking about the SDGs in daily life – which has to change, in his opinion. “But I was reminded of their existence when I saw the advertisement for young people in the council,” he continues.

Asked why he decided to apply, he said: “I’m continually battling for a fairer world and sustainability… And I want to be part of making Iceland one of the leading nations in terms of education, the environment and new developments.”

Like Ivarsdottir, he says it is important to let the voices of young people be heard and that their ideas be implemented. “More often than not, we young people have no voice in important issues,” he points out.

The YC is scheduled to meet six times over the year, and has already met once, in April. Under the guidance of Einarsdottir, the group will learn about the 17 goals and then disseminate this information to their peers as well as meet with government ministers to discuss how best to achieve the goals.

Social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, will be used extensively. “The role of the YC includes informing peers about the SDGs and ways of working towards them. Of course, we will also use all sorts of methods to educate people about the SDGs, with presentations at particular places as well as other ways, such as multimedia technology,” explains Ölvisson.

“Thus the intention of the Council is introduce the SDGs to society as a whole, including rural areas, as the first step to achieving the SDGs is to know them,” he adds.

Ivarsdottir says the emphasis will initially be on environmental issues.

The United Nations Association of Iceland (UNA Iceland) has been the government’s primary partner in promoting the SDGs. Recently, the government working group on SDG implementation also launched an official campaign on SDGs in television, newspapers and on social media”, says Maria Mjöll Jonsdottir, Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 

“The working group’s baseline report will be published this year. It is often complicated to gauge the state of individual goals and sometimes additional data and information are needed,” Jonsdottir adds.

The working group is mainly made up of delegates from the PMO, the Foreign Affairs, Environment, Welfare and Finance ministries, and Statistics Iceland. Other ministries also have members in the group, and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities sends an observer.

The YC will act as advisor for the working group, which has already produced an advertisement containing news dated March 2030 in which various issues concerning the SDGs are reported.

In 2030, singer Salka Sol Eyfeld has become the Minister of Welfare and reports that gender equality has been achieved; weapons manufacturers are fighting for their lives because arms expenditure has dropped so much; Iceland is likely to be carbon-neutral within five years, before the end of 2030; and development aid will probably be stopped in the near future because incredible advances have been made in developing countries.

Along the same lines, a series of short YouTube videos have been produced on the theme of SDG news in 2030. The YC intends to work on these. “We want to make the videos currently being used more child-friendly, as we think the vocabulary is too difficult for a 10-year-old child to understand,” explains Ivarsdottir.

Vera Knutsdottir, Secretary General of UNA Iceland, says that the association’s collaboration with the government working group is continually developing. It has regularly visited groups to introduce the SDGs. “We have become specialists in the SDGs and are always looking to find new ways of bringing the information to the public,” she says.

In 2015, UNA Iceland, UNICEF and the Ministry for Education worked together to make the World’s Largest Lesson accessible in Iceland, which partly involved translation of educational materials on the SDGs. Knutsdottir says that Ölvisson probably received his lessons on the SDG as part of this initiative.

“We intend to increase our selection of educational materials on the SDGs and take part in the World’s Largest Lesson again this coming September,” she adds. [IDN-InDepthNews – 03 May 2018]

Photo: Seventeen-year-old Mathias Bragi Ölvisson lives in the agricultural village of Fludir, South Iceland, where his family have a large farm. He has known about the SDGs since these were agreed in 2015. Credit: Elin Hannibalsdottir.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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