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Brighton Mukupa Kaoma: Accelerating Local, Youth-Led Solutions Towards the SDGs

Brighton Mukupa Kaoma: Accelerating Local, Youth-Led Solutions Towards the SDGs

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hi there, my name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist hanging out on Planet Earth. Today I’m interviewing Brighton Mukupa Kaoma, the Global Director for the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network - Youth (UN SDSN Youth). He joins us from New York City.

Spiffy: Hi Brighton, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is the UN SDSN Youth addressing?

Brighton: Great to be here, Spiffy! The UN Sustainable Development Network was established to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise in order to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Paris agreement. UN SDSN Youth, an official youth wing of the UN SDSN, provides unparalleled opportunities to global youth through training, business incubation, global citizenship, and partnership necessary to accelerate youth solutions for sustainable development. We take young people through a tried-and-tested pathway of understanding the SDGs in relation to the challenges their communities face, while empowering them with the key competencies to co-create local solutions to the sustainable development goals. 

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Brighton: As a young black male born in Zambia who, down the road, got the most rare privilege of accessing the best education in the world through Columbia University, I'm inspired by a strong desire to leave the world better and wiser than I found it. Issues such as climate change, income inequity, anti-women's rights, anti-black racism, the reimposition of implicit imperialist values, and racism have all been perpetuated by white supremacists who believed, and still believe, in dehumanizing those who look different. I'm motivated by humanity's shared responsibility of creating social and economic determinants of prosperity for every young person irrespective of the socio-economic conditions they are born in.

Spiffy: What would you say is the impact of your work?

Brighton: UN SDSN Youth has built a network of over 4100 young people across 127 countries who are implementing local solutions to our shared global challenges. We have incubated over 1,000 ideas, innovations, and entrepreneurs through our incubation program, the youth locations program, and the local pathways programs. We are building sustainable campuses across more than 130 campuses around the world where young people are taking charge of implementing solutions that address the 17 sustainable development goals. We are building a sense of community camaraderie where young people are collaborating across borders to realize the goals set in the agenda 2030 and the Paris agreement.

Spiffy: This is your chance to share a recent milestone or initiative and its effect on your mission as well as community.

Brighton: In October 2022, we graduated 50 young social entrepreneurs from our Youth Solutions Program. Over a period of 16 weeks, we incubated 50 entrepreneurial solutions for sustainable development. From the 50 start-ups, about 12 finalists were selected through a rigorous selection process to pitch at the annual pitch competition before a panel of judges drawn from the United Nations system, the private sector, and impact investors. Over the next few months, we plan to monitor these projects and create linkages for them to access more financing and partnerships to grow their projects.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Brighton—it’s been an honor!

Brighton Mukupa Kaoma is the global director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network- Youth. In 2015, he was awarded the Queen's Young Leaders award by Queen Elizabeth II for his exemplary leadership in sustainability. His work in sustainability has been recognized by President Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Prince Harry, and many world leaders. Brighton is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, 2016 Winner of the WWF International President's award, and a Columbia University alumni. (Nominated by Luke Mairo at Voltpost. First published on the Ladderworks website on December 15, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.