When you picture a United Nations conference, you probably don’t imagine 600 young people dancing in the aisles. But from the beginning, it was clear that the ICPD Global Youth Forum was not your typical conference. The forum – led by young people, for young people – brought together youth leaders, and representatives from civil society, the private-sector and government, from around the world to learn, deliberate, and make recommendations around five key issue areas: staying healthy, comprehensive education, employment, family and youth rights (including sexuality) and leadership.

We gathered in Bali for the Global Youth Forum as part of the ICPD review process, following up on the historic objectives laid out at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The ICPD agenda was important because it clearly demonstrated the connection between advancing the health and rights of young people, particularly reproductive health and rights, and achieving sustainable global development.

Nearly twenty years later, 43 percent of the world’s population is now under the age of 25. Yet, despite their huge stake in the future, the thoughts and concerns of youth have often gone unheard by global leaders. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recognized that not only do youth have the right to be heard in development debates, but they also have bright and creative insights into how to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. This unprecedented forum gave youth the opportunity to have their voices heard at the highest levels: recommendations from the conference will be included in the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly in 2014, and will be taken into consideration for the UN’s post-MDG development agenda in 2015.

From the first day of the forum, it was clear that these young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today. They shared their personal stories and the stories of young people from their countries. While there was talk of the world’s most critical problems, the conversation was largely uplifting and positive, primarily centering on innovative solutions. Although it was a diverse coalition with a wide array of life experiences, several themes emerged. In particular, we heard over and over the need for accessible, confidential and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health education and services.

To ensure that every young person could be heard, UNFPA utilized technology and social media to allow more than 2,800 virtual delegates from 126 countries to participate in the forum and submit their recommendations on the five issue areas. The virtual delegates actively told their personal stories, and contributed more than 600 recommendations. The forum’s Twitter hashtag, #ICPDYouth, trended in several countries, creating a global conversation.

At the end of the three days, the delegates gathered in the conference room and social media was buzzing, anxiously awaiting the reveal of the final outcome document. Cheers erupted as the final outcomes were read. The message was clear:  universal access to sexual and reproductive health education and services must be a top priority. Additionally, the document called for governments to prioritize free and accessible comprehensive education, the elimination of harmful traditional practices and gender-based violence, and the appointment of a UN Special Advisor on Youth. You can read all of the outcomes here.

As we capped off the day with a musical performance from world-renowned DJ, Avicii, the excitement was palpable. Everyone in the room knew they had been part of something truly special: not only the start of a global conversation, but the start of a global youth movement.

The youth have spoken, and now we need to listen. Let’s take this tremendous energy from the Global Youth Forum, and turn these recommendations into actions!

To learn more about our work to advance reproductive health, follow @UnivAccessProj