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This week I had the opportunity to engage with and interview a young and upcoming youth leader Kaviri Ali Harrison around his commitment to the SDGs and his recent visit to the United Nations (UN)/ #UNGA71

Marion: You’re an inspirational young leader, could you tell us more about yourself and the phenomenal work that you do?

Kaviri: My name is Kaviri Ali and I am a Women Deliver Young Leader and a World Contraception Day Ambassador 2016. I am a dynamic youth activist and Leader with over four years of experience being at the forefront of many issues that promote pro-poor values, gender equality, good governance and social justice in Uganda.

I am a Co-founder at the Youth Equality Center (YEC): a youth led non-profit community enhancement organization that empowers young people especially girls with skills in building self-esteem, communication, technology, entrepreneurship, life skills and also imparts knowledge on leadership, sex education and gender issues. I also work with the Uganda Youth Network (UYONET), a leading umbrella youth CSO network mainstreaming young peoples’ engagement in development and governance processes. In this organization, I am the Gender focal point person as well as a Programmes Assistant on Youth Advocacy and Engagement.

I run an online blog at http://kaviriali.wordpress.com/ where I blog on all aspects relating to youth and women’s empowerment.  I hold a Bachelors Degree of Community Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo University and I am currently pursuing a Masters of Arts Degree in Local Governance and Human Rights from Uganda Martyrs University.

Coming from a very humble background and raised by a single grandmother in Buminza village, Kibuku District in Eastern Uganda, I had a dream to pursue education but lacked funds to actualize this. I used all means to raise tuition including working on people’s gardens to raise tuition. Many people I called on for support could not help until my uncle came to my rescue. His support enabled me to realise my aspirations and join Kyambogo University for a Bachelor’s degree in Community Based Rehabilitation. This is when I embraced the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE)’s six-week long mentorship training on gender and governance in 2009, ending up being named Mr. FOWODE; a title conferred upon a man selected by a panel from FOWODE (Forum for Women in Democracy) whom they feel understands and supports women’s causes in their quest to be the best that they can be.

The training awakened my consciousness on gender issues, governance and democracy. For me it was a passion and conviction, emanating from my childhood experiences in my home village of Kibuku that motivated me to apply for the training. It was a society that had no respect for a woman; women were battered, had no decision making powers and were not allowed to raise their hand in public to speak. Only men did. It is not that I was opposed to men talking. Rather, I strongly believed that women, just like men, have got the right to express their opinions openly without fear or favor. These injustices against women inspired me to advocate for the rights of women.

With other alumni of the training at FOWODE, I began advocacy and leadership development initiatives for young people, sexual rights and reproductive health for girls in schools. In 2012, I was voted president of the Young Leaders Alumni Association (FYLAA), a FOWODE initiative for young people to advance the cause of women in leadership and development. In this position, I offered leadership and strategic guidance on the Association’s goals of social justice and gender equality.

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Marion: This year you visited the United Nations, could you take us through your experience?

Kaviri: I was invited to attend meetings with Women Deliver, a global non-profit working to advance the health and rights of girls and women, in New York, from 18 – 25 September 2016. The meetings were held in conjunction with the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the main deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the United Nations.

During my UN visit specifically, I participated in side events organized by different civil society organizations including Women Deliver, Plan International,  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. In a side meeting to the High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants, Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank and Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees recognized that forced displacement is emerging as an important development challenge, and called for actions to resolve fundamental problems ‘upstream’. The World Bank announced a financing facility of over 300 million dollars to assist countries to create opportunities for people who would otherwise migrate to new countries.

There was also a high-level breakfast co-hosted by H.E. Kristian Jensen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth on behalf of the Interagency Working Group on Youth and SDGs. The event enabled an interactive exchange of ideas between young leaders and world leaders who are spearheading progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participants included members of the UN Young Leaders Class of 2016, Youth Delegates to the UN and youth representatives from civil society and Heads of State and Government, Ministers, senior representatives of civil society, academia, the private sector and the UN System. At the meeting there also series of presentations that were showcased to highlight some of the concrete, community-based projects led by youth activists in support of the 2030 Agenda, such as the Road to Nairobi bus tour towards the High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC). The outcome of the meeting was a jointly developed advocacy framework that participants agreed to individually champion in their advocacy processes throughout the year and will also be open to the endorsements of organizations and networks working on adolescents and youth issues.

On the morning of 21 September, I attended the session called, ‘Deliver for Good: Powering Progress for All’ organized by Women Deliver and their partners. The session focused on ideas which improve the lives of girls and women. Inspired by the Deliver for Good campaign which applies a gender lens to the SDGs. The meeting heard a spectrum of voices, from experts in women’s land rights to leaders in nutrition. Nana Tuona Kuo of Every Women, Every Child. Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver called on participants to Sign on to the commitment to deliver for girls and women as it presents the case that investing in girls and women is both a moral and economic imperative. She said everyone has a part to play in achieving the SDGs and that they cannot do it alone. She said, “That’s why the Deliver for Good campaign is so important. A new campaign which places a gender lens on the SDGs, Deliver for Good brings together a diverse set of partners to propel the movement for girls and women and power progress for all. Multi-sector partnerships help us shatter siloes and develop innovative, effective solutions to achieve the SDGs.”

Overall, this year’s UNGA was a big moment for children and adolescents with twenty-three new commitments, corresponding to over $2 billion in pledges announced on Thursday 20 September. The pledges include commitments made to Save the Children for their work on global health and nutrition in both development and humanitarian settings. These new pledges, will be monitored and reported upon every year as part of the broader Sustainable Development Goals follow-up and review processes.

From my own experience, this year’s UNGA session has provided opportunities for young people to meaningfully engage in the Assembly. There were deliberate efforts made include young people in most sessions that I took interest to participate in. The discussions also focused on pressing issues of young people and young people in those sessions were involved not only as participants but also as speakers. Diverse representation was encouraged which recognized different communities amongst youth cohort.  The language used was accessible enabling us to understand and critique the technical content.

Marion: How will you build on/ how do you plan to implement the SDGs post your visit to the UN?

Kaviri: I am in the process of speaking to young people about SDGs. I have also begun to work with colleagues to document progress on the SDGs from a perspective which young people can relate to. I strongly believe that we must have our own statistics as young people and we must tell our own stories, or else we will continue to be invisible in an agenda central to our future.

Documenting our own stories as young people will help us keep the issues on the table and also help us to keep track of our successes and lessons so we can re-organise, re-engage and make progress. In addition, my participation at the UN has re-energized me to continue driving accountability processes on the SDGs in my country. I am part of youth-led accountability initiatives for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where we aim to empower fellow young people with knowledge, skills and networks, and meaningful opportunities to gather and generate data on SDGs. This will strategically position us as leaders by exercising accountability on the post-2015 framework. I commit myself to developing and using innovative and interactive tools to encourage more sustainable youth participation at the district, national and international levels.

Furthermore, I hope with immediate effect to follow up with the government delegations and development partners who attended UNGA to ensure they turn their commitments into action especially on the issue of increased access to youth-friendly health services.

Marion: In your view what are the barriers we face around achievement of the SDGs?

Kaviri: The lack of information and education on SDGs will hinder progress and achievement of SDGs. Many people especially young people still lack access to comprehensive information about SDGs. Young people attribute this lack of information to low literacy rates or low levels of education and awareness about SDGs. It is only the elite youth actively involved in CSOs that are fully engaged with SDG policy processes, leaving out those who are traditionally marginalized i.e. rural areas.

In addition, there is the gap between government commitments and delivery on those commitments that continues for some of us. Whereas governments have tried to create an enabling policy environment, most policies and strategies, integrating SDGs in our national development frameworks, have largely remained on paper and have not been backed by financial commitments and actual implementation strategies. Young people must focus part of our engagement with the SDGs to address this.

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Marion: It has been great to hear about your experiences, the work that you do (I’m now inspired to pledge support for Deliver for Good) and the role you are playing in achieving the SDGs, all the best and thank you for your time! 

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