This interview first appeared in the SDG Bulletin South Africa (June 2018)


On the sidelines of the most recent Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, university students interviewed leaders on how their organisations are contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Kelegobile Ramafalo interviewed Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in South Africa.


KR: The vast majority of young people do not have the relevant employment and job skills for the future of work. Can you tell me what policies and best practices you deem necessary to address this skills gap?

NBT: To understand the challenge we need to go to the basis of it. We are now advocating for universal primary education, secondary education and even tertiary education in other places. Yet, the need for transferable skills such as an entrepreneurial mindset, creativity and being independent remains.

How can we create a way to use the creativity and minds of young people to apply it and turn them into creators, rather than job searchers? This can be achieved by building and encapsulating the essential tools into the curriculum. Particularly important is transformative leadership, whereby there is a mind shift to saying “Yes I can do it”, “Yes I will do it” and “Yes it’s possible”.

It is important for governments to ensure that their development strategies and plans are inclusive, whereby academics and research institutions can fully participate in the foundation of their strategies. Planning on primary, secondary and tertiary levels should be co-ordinated with the vision of the country in order to effectively and efficiently translate development plans into reality.


KR: How can young people effectively hold governments accountable for their commitment to the SDGs?

NBT: When considering Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The following three things are critical:

  1. People should be involved and understand what the SDGs are. But they should also understand their role and responsibilities.
  2. Governments should be responsible, clean, committed and determined to realize that the most important thing with regards to the SDGs is implementing the goals.
  3. The private sector and civil society organizations should also take responsibility for the realization of the SDGs

The essential key is planning together with young people to create the incentive for government to be efficient and effective. The government should make the public sector as competitive as the private sector and use it as a mechanism, to make sure that the public sector delivers – the stronghold of the government.

The spirit of the SDGs is being lost in the fight for development. The SDGs are not about achieving goals. The SDGs are about giving dignity to people, giving them the freedom to choose and the opportunity to liberate themselves from wants and needs. That spirit should be embedded in what we’re doing.


KR: Regarding the youth, what does success for the United Nations look like?

NBT: Firstly, right now where we are, success for me translates in terms of mind shift.  When the youth think of being independent and move away from being dependent and despondent, it is an indicator of progress. This mind shift has to do with positivity, a “can-do” attitude and the application of creativity.

Secondly, the fundamental aspects of human development have been eroded by a lack of societal and family values, and shortcuts such as instant gratification, which has in turn eroded the culture of hard work.

For us, major achievements will include re-instilling values, create the respect for what we have, be independent and have an independent mindset. It also includes ensuring that creativity is applied to everything that young people do.

Demanding, participating, interrogating and making sure that as a young person you are integrated into the whole socio-economic transformation of your own country is critical and important – if not for you, then the next generation. Be determined and committed to yourself, your family and your community.


KR: How can we use pan-Africanism to further advance the SDGs?

NBT: It is important that African countries put their resources together. We need to use the fact that Africa is big, wonderful and rich to create growth for the continent. The integration does not solely serve one country it is for the benefit of all African countries – a win-win situation. This means that African countries need to understand that one country cannot do it all.

We need to focus on establishing a value chain to facilitate the movement and sharing of resources, by creating common markets. As a continent, we need to recognize that the growth of Africa will be for Africans. This is crucial in avoiding the exploitation of our resources to be valued added elsewhere and used to serve other continents. Unless we have a multiplier effect through value addition to our countries, we cannot succeed.

There should be an exchange of experiences, free mobility and an integration of market so that Africa is for Africa. We need to focus on producing our products and creating a market big enough to prosper accordingly. Overall it is important to think of the integration of the African economy in a very serious way. Even if it is not for us, but for the next generation