In August last year, ReGeneration 2030 organised the first Summit on the Åland Islands. A diverse group of people got together to connect with like-minded individuals and organisations and to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the people attending the Summit was Paulius Serapinas, who is Coordinator of International Affairs at the Lithuanian Youth Council. This became a defining moment for him and his work.
“I think that the purpose of the Summit was really good. There were people from universities, students, professors, people from business, from youth organisations and local youth from the Åland Islands. It was a really good experience for me, because in my work we tend to talk to people who have the same thoughts as us. But at the Summit, there were people from many different areas that have an interest in the SDGs but from different perspectives.”
Paulius was inspired by the variety of people and organisations that are working on the SDGs and what was most impressive to him was how the Summit helped him connect the theory and the talking with the action and the doing. Especially one person made a lasting impression on him.
“I met one girl from Latvia who was really active during the whole summit and was part of the zero waste movement. What was really amazing for me was that she had gotten interested in the SDGs and decided to do something as an individual. She was not even part of any organisation, but she was so engaged in working towards the SDGs as herself, in her own life.”
Before the Summit, Paulius had been introduced to the SDGs through the Nordic Council of Ministers in Vilnius and through a book. He had heard about the SDGs before but did not know much about them. When starting to learn more, what appealed to him the most was how they were related to topics and issues that we all care about. Climate, consumption, education, and many other things.
“The themes covered by the SDGs are very crucial both for Lithuania and for myself. It helped me realise how important these goals are. After that, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited us to go to the Åland Islands for the Summit. This experience was the key for us to create some new initiatives. After the Summit, we met with Helén Nilsson and other members of the Nordic Council of Ministers and we talked about our future and what we will do with SDGs in Lithuania. The Nordic Council of Ministers is the key actor pushing for the SDGs in Lithuania right now, so that was a good start, to help us start thinking.”
Helén Nilsson, who is the Director of the Nordic Council of Ministers in Lithuania, had been working within the framework of the SDGs for years back in Sweden, and made it her priority to emphasise the SDGs in her work in Lithuania as well.
“When I got to know about ReGeneration 2030 and met the people involved, it was like opening a door, it was so obvious that we should work together. As we got to know about the Summit on the Åland Islands, we were talking about how to have a big delegation from the Lithuanian Youth Council, because it was a great opportunity for them to understand the SDGs and the network in the Nordic and Baltic countries and to get excited about the work.”
When Helén first arrived in Lithuania, there was not much awareness about the SDGs and it became a central part of her work. She believes that ReGeneration 2030 was a key part for how the work and understanding of the SDGs were spreading in her team but also in their strategy to work on mainstreaming the SDGs in Lithuania.
“We really need to localise the SDGs to make the movement bigger. In our work, youth and children are always really important. Because my generation has done the ‘regeneration’ back when we were young, it was just called something different. So I have seen this before. But I have also seen that it was always treated as something parallel, we have a main event and then we have the youth event. So for me it is really important, that we have youth involved, we need to mainstream youth within these processes as well, we need to bring it all together and not forget about each other, but constantly keep youth in mind.”
Since Paulius and his colleagues have returned from the Summit and have continued their work in the Lithuanian Youth Council, they have given the SDGs a central role. It has given them a framework for creating impact in Lithuania and being part of a bigger movement.
“We haven’t started implementing concrete projects yet, but the whole Summit process and the journey to the Åland Islands was really life-changing for the Lithuanian Youth Council, because that was the first time that we really understood what the SDGs are and started doing something with them. We wrote our new strategy for the Lithuanian Youth Council and we decided to assign a bullet point to the SDGs in our own strategy.”
The difficult part is going from talking and strategising to concrete actions. Small initiatives are in the making and they are planning to implement SDG specific projects in their annual summer festival. They are still trying to find the right approach to create more awareness and get more of the youth organisations in Lithuania to take on the SDGs in their own work. Paulius knows that it will take time but he also believes that the time is right for action.
“We are now determined to achieve a goal, to be a leader in the Baltic countries in implementing the SDGs in the youth sector. After the Summit we have been partners with the Nordic Council of Ministers in Lithuania, so now we have invited them to our activities and events, to present the SDGs and the work that is being done. We still believe that there is a gap in Lithuania especially when it comes to involving youth. They don’t know about the SDGs. We want more young people to understand what is going on in the world and get engaged in international activities and to play an active role.”
Paulius’ dream is that him and all his colleagues would be experts on SDGs and have it as a core driver in all of their work. He believes that the Lithuanian Youth Council is currently the only platform for youth in Lithuania that could spread these thoughts and ideas in the whole country. There is a lot of work to do, but Paulius is optimistic.
“We need to make the SDGs more actionable and concrete so people can start to see what they can do in their everyday life and within their organisations’ activities. Sometimes we talk about things, important things, in a very theoretical way and we don’t see what we are doing right at that moment when we are talking about it. Maybe we talk about sustainability while taking notes on paper. There are so many small things that we can start to do right away. We want to support that process to help our organisations integrate SDGs more in their everyday life, through their actions, their strategies and their decisions.”
It is clear that attending the Summit gave Paulius and the Lithuanian Youth Council an incredible opportunity to meet other organisations, understanding the SDGs and getting inspired and motivated to become part of the movement. At the same time there is still a lot of work to do, and the journey will bring a lot of challenges and setbacks.
“Often we forget to talk about the whole start. Where do we even start, where do we go from where we are right now. Not only to talk about how great it will be when it has been done but how do we get started and what’s next. That is the challenge.”
Paulius seems to be full of ideas and passion and it is clear that the SDGs are important to him as a person, not just in his work. All beginnings are difficult, especially when you are trying to do something that has not been done before. But being part of a network and movement of like-minded individuals and organisations is always a really great start.
Apply to attend this year’s Summit and find out how you can join like-minded people and take actions on the SDGs this August on Åland Islands!
Author: Stinne Friis Vognæs