Students today are action-oriented, hyperconnected, and better informed than any other generation. Wrap an overarching objective around these key elements to collaborate, and students begin to see that we can build a better world and that they are part of the solution. Consider this article your quick reference to introduce or integrate the UN Global Goals and watch student champions thrive.

Decade of Action

Imagine a world with gender equality, no poverty, and zero hunger. These are just three of the 17 UN Global Goals. At the UN General Assembly in 2015, 195 world leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030 (also known as the Sustainable Development Goals). With only 10 years to go, the Decade of Action is bringing greater awareness to the ambitious global effort to deliver on the 2030 promise. InnerView is a youth platform aimed at helping students attain these goals. The challenges identified in the UN Global Goals require effort and collaboration from people of all backgrounds with bright minds and big hearts. Students are well prepared with the key credentials of talent, curiosity, and passion for contributing in meaningful ways.

Local Leaders, Global Impact

Where does one start? This is answered by simply considering what your students care about and what they want to see improved. However, it’s important to ask them—assume nothing. We have found students in every community already supporting these issues; they just haven’t bridged the connection to the UN Global Goals. Community service activities and programs that support the needs of others deliver immediate relief and directly correlate to at least one of the 17 UN Global Goals. In the sidebar “Every Day to Epic: UN Global Goals” below, we’ve bulleted low-lift, high-impact individual and group actions. You’ll also find a shoutout for specific activities from students across the United States. Each example comes from InnerView student service resumes, which help tell the story of personal impact for use in college, scholarship, and job applications. Students can learn about personal patterns of participation and skill development, discover new opportunities, and quantify their impact for specific cause areas and UN Global Goals.

“Through positive experiences, peer leadership, community engagement, and access to ways to get involved, we can introduce more individuals to service opportunities aligned with their passions,” says Rachel Bowen Pittman, executive director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. “We believe this program uniquely connects an entire network of change-makers, including volunteers, service leaders, development programs, nonprofits, schools, and committed businesses to elevate and expand the social impact of volunteer efforts and connection to the UN Global Goals.”

Achieving the UN Global Goals requires innovation and new ways of working together. Our current students will launch their careers in this Decade of Action. However, students don’t have to wait to have a degree or enter the workforce to work on real issues. Innovators and leaders need fresh ideas, including the youth perspective and talent. We are often asked for student speakers, writers, and projects and special experiences to help shape future programs. The specific jobs of the future may not yet exist, but experiences with peers, advocates, nonprofits, and social impact organizations working on challenging issues help to develop 21st-century skills.

Community Connection

A desire for connectedness and being part of something bigger is human nature. When we are able to do this, it strengthens our sense of purpose. Connecting personal and collective impact from different groups and grade levels throughout the school year helps everyone understand how each action supports the overall goal. New ideas and collaboration arise as a result of individuals engaging in projects and issues.

In our work with students across the country, we have found great success working with a broad network of students, clubs, and nonprofits, in addition to offering many paths to discover ways to help. Each student can participate in the areas they are most interested in and at the level they are able and comfortable with. Positive experiences drive more engagement.

From Curious to Committed

From student experiences across the country, InnerView has developed a framework that we monitor, update, and publish for those working with youth. The InnerView Engagement Continuum depicts the value exchange across the volunteer experience: What is that person seeking and what can you ask that person to do as part of a program, event, or initiative? This framework can help youth leadership teams and committees recruit peers for projects and membership.

  • CURIOUS—38 percent of student volunteers
    • Seeking good social connection through personal experience
    • Contribution across a school year: two activities totaling 10 hours
  • EXPLORING—29 percent of student volunteers
    • Desire to align interest or passion with a cause-centric activity
    • Contribution across a school year: five activities totaling 23 hours
  • CASUAL—22 percent of student volunteers
    • Declared interest with focused activities and event support; appreciates fulfilling specific needs
    • Contribution across a school year: eight activities totaling 39 hours
  • COMMITTED—9 percent of student volunteers
    • Intentional effort; seeking progress and impact from action and events; developing leaders
    • Contribution across a school year: 16 activities totaling 69 hours
  • LEADER—2 percent of student volunteers
    • Passionate, proven leaders; developing professional credentials, experiences, and networks
    • Contribution across a school year: 28 activities totaling 176 hours

It’s important to meet individuals where they are. Simple and social activities such as food packaging with a club deliver value for Goal 2: Zero Hunger. With a fun, hands-on experience, an understanding of how the effort impacts others, a little appreciation, and a connection to the collective impact from the day, individuals are highly likely to do more for the cause.

Not everyone is ready or interested in leading an initiative. However, for those who are, innovators are seeking youth leaders. When stakeholders noticed the spirited and purposeful food-centric efforts from Shreyaa and Esha Venkat (pictured on the next page), the students from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, VA, were asked to join a community Food Waste Warrior program as citizen scientists with World Wildlife Fund and InnerView. Working with local principals, these dynamic young women—and 20 others selected across the United States—will lead classroom presentations and cafeteria food waste audits with elementary school students.

Hundreds of groups and schools have begun to introduce these concepts and the Global Goals to engage students authentically. The impact, leadership, and contagious energy of student champions inspire peers to action as they demonstrate the path to create a better tomorrow.

Kristine Sturgeon is the founder and CEO of InnerView.

Sidebar: Every Day to Epic—Global Goals

Goal 1—No Poverty

End poverty in all of its forms everywhere:

  • Assemble hygiene kits for the homeless. Donate clothes.
  • Host a clothing/toiletries drive. Volunteer at a shelter.

Goal 2—Zero Hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and nutrition, promote sustainable agriculture:

  • Donate food. Organize a food collection.
  • Pack meals at a food bank. Volunteer at a community garden.

Goal 3—Good Health and Well-Being

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages:

  • Send inspiring cards to isolated individuals.
  • Volunteer at hospitals and nursing homes. Coach youth sports.

Goal 4—Quality Education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning:

  • Virtual tutoring. Make and donate flashcards for elementary students.
  • Organize a book drive.

Goal 5—Gender Equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls:

  • Create virtual skills videos. Plan Girl Scout activities.
  • Volunteer at a women’s shelter. Participate in a women’s march.

Goal 6—Clean Water and Sanitation

Ensure availability and management of water and sanitation for all:

  • Deliver drinking water to those in need.
  • Clean up rivers, lakes, and streams.

Goal 7—Affordable and Clean Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for all:

  • Attend a clean energy online seminar.
  • Participate in a lights-out event. Perform an energy audit at home.

Goal 8—Decent Work and Economic Growth

Promote economic growth and full and productive employment for all:

  • Support local small businesses.
  • Volunteer at a refugee shelter.

Goal 9—Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Build infrastructure, promote industrialization, foster innovation:

  • Help seniors improve their tech literacy.
  • Join innovation competitions and research programs.

Goal 10—Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries:

  • Become an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Improve accessibility for differently abled individuals.

Goal 11—Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities and settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable:

  • Record and share skills: music, playing chess, arts & crafts
  • Clean up the neighborhood. Plant a community garden.

Goal 12—Responsible Consumption and Production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns:

  • Take part in recycling projects. Complete a food-waste audit.
  • Plan a composting project. Volunteer at a thrift store.

Goal 13—Climate Action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts:

  • Participate in a citizen scientist project.
  • Join a climate march or other advocacy efforts.

Goal 14—Life Below Water

Conserve and use the oceans and marine resources for sustainable development:

  • Host a virtual watch party of an ocean health film.
  • Clean up beaches and waterways, and educate on plastic impact.

Goal 15—Life on Land

Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss:

  • Make pet toys for a local animal shelter.
  • Promote education and removal of invasive species.

Goal 16—Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies; provide access to justice for all; and build effective, accountable institutions:

  • Promote voter registration.
  • Support police and military members. Volunteer for veterans’ programs.

Goal 17—Partnerships for the Goals

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnerships for sustainable development:

  • Join webinars and education series on the Global Goals.
  • Participate in day-of-service programs.