COVID-19 Op-ed

Filipino youth volunteerism in the time of Covid-19

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Kenneth Jim Joseph M. Jimeno
Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines

Just because there are lockdowns everywhere, it does not mean that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on hold and can be postponed indefinitely. The Covid-19 pandemic should serve as an impetus for working double or even triple time to attain SDGs by 2030. We cannot afford to have another crisis of this magnitude and scale. One may argue that our level of resilience is higher than what we think and we can overcome any challenge thrown back at us. This assertion might be true but do we need to hit the rock bottom before we can grow as humanity? When will developing countries not suffer from policies they did not subscribe to in the first place? Let me rephrase that question to fit our context: When will the young not bear the brunt of the adults’ decisions? If that time comes, would it be not too late for all of us?

Many young people on Social Media want to change the world for the better. They should be and rightfully so. Unfortunately, most of them will soon realize that making a difference is a long, daunting, and miserable pursuit. Reality is far from that of the university where all problems have solutions. There are many reasons to quit along the way and redirect efforts to something more pragmatic or something that can put food on the table. Those who remain are the “veterans of idealism” who keep the fire burning within them despite failures and rejection (Schmidt, 2012). In the process, they have become tactical communicators who carefully choose their words. They rather not speak of their idealism but talk about what they are proud of, their results.

Realism is not necessarily a bad thing as it taught me how to put my ideas into perspective and assess what is wishful thinking. Even so, I still volunteer in my free time because I want to nurture the child in me. Creativity is not exclusive to the artists, but vital skill for everyone that enables us to think critically, communicate well, develop ideas, and challenge ourselves. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum; collaboration is the key.

Amid “community quarantine” imposed by the government to flatten the curve, the Filipino youth has been active in addressing food security, supporting healthcare, supporting healthcare workers, promoting civil accountability, among others. The projects have been adapted to a new normal by collaborating with others and utilizing technologies such as email and videoconference. For my part, I spearheaded Project Sugo (Global Shapers Manila, n.d.) together with my colleagues at the foreign ministry. It aimed to provide one-month mentorship to eligible youth who demonstrate an aptitude for diplomacy work. Twenty-two promising youth graduated from the program and committed to using the learning to promote the Philippine interests in their work. Modeled after the United States public diplomacy, Project Sugo seeks to build a community of key influencers whose views can have a ripple effect throughout society.

The youth can mobilize resources as part of SDG 17, which is specifically related to the right of all peoples to self-determination, the right of all peoples to development and international cooperation, the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application, and the right to privacy (OHCHR, n.d.). It demonstrates that we do not have to do all the work alone and we can join forces globally to achieve the goals faster. While the Global Goals are integrated, I consider Partnership for the Goals as the most important being the call for policy alignment among states and for those countries that have more shall assume bigger responsibility. It is lamentable that the global process for achieving SDG 17 is lagging behind other goals (Sachs et al., 2020).

Today’s generation is born with technology, thus, they are in a better position to leverage it for the SDGs.  This should not dissuade our predecessors from the sublation of the status quo. In Hegelian dialectic fashion, the youth should not find identity and difference as competing privileges, but ultimately interdependent (Palm, 2009). Working for SDG 17 is like being employed at the back office—it is out of the limelight, nevertheless, it holds all the other SDGs together.


Global Shapers Manila. (n.d.). SUGO: A foreign policy mentorship program.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (n.d.). Summary table on the linkages between the SDGs and relevant international human rights instruments [Infographic].

Palm, R. (2009). Hegel’s concept of sublation: A critical interpretation [Doctoral dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven]. Leuven Institutional Repository and Information Archiving System.

Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Woelm, F. (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals and Covid-19. Sustainable Development Report 2020. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmidt, G. (2012, March 4). Why do we hear phrases like “youthful idealism”? What happens when people get older? [Online forum post]. Quora.

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