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Blogs and Op-Eds by the Youth Co:lab team and contributors from our extensive network of changemakers. 

  • Writer's pictureYouth Co:Lab

Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals as an Indigenous Youth

Guest post by João Baptista Pereira Guterres

I am João Baptista Pereira Guterres from the Malayo-Polynesian Indigenous community in Timor-Leste. I want to tell you my story, about my education, my international experience and how being Indigenous shaped me. But more than anything, I want to tell you about my plans to contribute to the realization and acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I graduated from São Pedro Senior Highschool in 2016. I continued my higher education at the National University of Timor-Leste, majoring in Animal Health. Soon after, I got a chance to study electromechanics in China for one year.

Living in China was very challenging for me. A different language, a different culture and a different environment from what I was used to. To adapt to these differences, I learned Chinese for daily communication, learned the culture with my Chinese friends and learned how to use their technology and fit in the environment.

All this taught me that the differences between us are opportunities to learn how to fit in.

When I came back to Timor-Leste in 2019, I decided to volunteer at the Centro Quesadhip Ruak (Taibessi), also known as Casa Da Cidadania. It is a foundation founded by the recent Prime Minister Sr. Taur Matan Ruak and Sra. Isabel Ferreira, which aims to contribute to the well-being and education of children and youth, and much more.

I was teaching the children about languages, morals and basic live skills. Our objective was to help them change their physical and mental well-being, to study hard and learn autonomously, and to become a good person in their family, community and country.

I really loved doing this, so I decided to pursue it as a career path. At the same time, I received a scholarship to study in Cambodia for four years. I am now majoring in International Business at the Tony Fernandes School of Business, University of Cambodia and hope to learn as much as possible, so I can bring this knowledge back to my country.

Then I got the opportunity to join the Regional Dialogue on Indigenous Youth Social Entrepreneurship, which gathered young Indigenous leaders from all around Asia-Pacific. The three-day event was organized by Youth Co:Lab, a project co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, UNESCO, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, UNDP’s Business and Human Rights team and UNDP’s Small Grants Programme in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2020.

The event aimed to highlight the importance of preserving Indigenous cultures, to raise awareness about the issues faced by Indigenous Peoples and to emphasize the vital role of youth entrepreneurship in sustainable development, while creating a regional platform for Indigenous youth to learn from each other. It made me realize that around the world, young Indigenous activists and social entrepreneurs are stepping up to protect Indigenous communities, cultures, traditions and knowledge systems in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This event opened my eyes about how important Indigenous peoples are: they have traditions and cultures that have a special connection with nature. It taught me how we, as Indigenous people, contribute to the SDGs in our own way.

For instance, the Malayo-Polynesian community manages its resources sustainably, by allowing the land to recover by ‘shifting cultivation’, which means growing food in small parts of their territory, before moving on to another area. They put a mix of seeds in each hole for different crops in different seasons.

During the event, I got so much inspiration and ideas from all of the participants and speakers. Yuttapan Kerhi, one of the Thai participants really struck me because we share the same passion for promoting local coffee. Plev Bich, a participant from Cambodia and representative of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association made me realize that I could continue engaging with Indigenous peoples also where I live now.

I want to share all this knowledge and inspiration with the young Indigenous people in Timor-Leste, especially in the rural areas, to encourage them to celebrate their knowledge, to protect and raise their rights and show them how they are already contributing to the realization of the SDGs. It also opened my eyes about the importance of supporting young Indigenous people to create their own businesses.

With the new connections and knowledge that I gained, I am planning to lead workshops in every district in Timor-Leste for the Indigenous people, especially for youth that have dreams of starting up their own businesses as social entrepreneurs. I want to share what I have learned and help develop their entrepreneurial mindsets, from job seekers to job creators, from beneficiaries to contributors.

In the future, I want to create a space for young people in my home country to help them find out what they want to be or how to start up their business. I would combine it with my passion for coffee - because our country has the best coffee in the world! - and that space would be a sort of coffee shop where young people can learn about tradition, culture, coffee and business!

So I am calling on all my fellow young people in Timor-Leste: we have to start now! To make sure our voice is heard. To protect our motherland, our people, our traditions and our culture, by contributing to realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.


Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab establishes a common agenda for countries in Asia-Pacific to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.

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