More than half of the world’s population is under 25. Youth are not merely an ‘interest group’ in the Post-2015 agenda, and they deserve more than a thematic consultation or Google+ Hangout with the decision makers, the grown-ups. It is not enough for decision makers to listen to youth; youth leaders must be incorporated at all levels—in designing, implementing, and ensuring the success of the Post-2015 agenda.

It is youth who will inherit this world. That means we will inherit melting ice caps, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, and an economy dependent on the exploitation of low-wage workers. However, we will also inherit vast knowledge and expertise, the technology, and the global partnerships established by our forebears. In designing the Post-2015 agenda, the United Nations is dictating the world which the youth will inhabit.Youth laughing

Too often youth are talked about as a problem to be solved. A youth bulge. A high dependency ratio. A threat to stability. We must change the conversation. Youth represent potential, not merely a development challenge.

Thus, those who care about development should not only be asking how to feed, educate, and provide decent employment for the next generation, but rather how to harness the potential of the next generation. Youth are not just another demand on resources, but a direct and promising investment in the future.

If youth have the education and means to plan whether and when to have children, they can not only better take charge of their own futures, but invest even more in generations to come. And if countries educate, empower, and ensure meaningful employment for today’s youth, they are better positioned to benefit from a “demographic dividend,” in which a shift toward smaller families allows for rapid economic growth and development.

Youth not only represent future potential, but are emerging as leaders today. Youth leaders know how to communicate with other youth, and engage their communities. By engaging youth leaders as participants in the Post-2015 processes, the UN can tap into existing youth activism and organizing networks.

Today is International Youth Day, but we must make sure youth are heard and included the other 364 days and in years to come. Youth ownership is paramount to ensuring success of the Post-2015 agenda.

This is our future, this is our world, and we deserve to be engaged as equals and as participants.

Kat Kelley is a summer population and climate intern at Population Action International. Follow her on twitter at @KatKelley46.