Currently, there around about 1.8 billion young women and men — between the ages of 10 and 24 — in the world, accounting for nearly 19.6% of the global population. Agreed, not all of them can (or should) be homogenised into one single cohort, ignoring their varying cultural, economic, social, and geographic intricacies and differences. But for the sake of clarity, labelling helps. The majority of global youth (nearly 87 %) live in developing countries, being put through challenges – such as limited access to resources, education, training, employment, and broader economic development opportunities — that their counterparts in the first world would not have to face.
Additionally, by the year 2030, the number of young people in the less developed and least developed regions is projected to increase, as opposed to a decrease in total population of young women and men in more developed regions. This highlights the grave necessity for youth empowerment, primarily because the vast majority of youth will be living in underdeveloped regions, where there would be far fewer opportunities. For example, with 356 million 10–24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population. This suggests that it is crucial to develop infrastructure for successful youth participation in policymaking, especially in matters that affect the developing world, which includes equipping them with a substantive role in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda.
According to data from UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2012, approximately 61% of the world’s youth lived in Asia and 18% lived in Africa. By 2040, this proportion of world youth is expected to change to 52% and 28% in Asia and Africa, respectively. Despite there not being any disaggregate data on youth living below the poverty line — it can very well be imagined that a sizeable cohort of young women and men in these regions would be living in neighbourhoods where poverty is a significant obstacle to development.
Now, in theory, when a nation faces a youth bulge, its dependency ratio — that is, the ratio of its non-working age (dependent) population with its working age (productive) population — decreases, which is a good sign. In practice, however, such a nation would likely face either of the two scenarios: All other things being equal, if the rise in the number of working age adults is accompanied with opportunities for employing them in productive occupations, the nation’s per capita income would, on average, increase as a result.
Firstly, all other things being equal, if the rise in the number of working age adults is accompanied with opportunities for employing them in productive occupations, the nation’s per capita income would, on average, increase as a result.
But, on the other hand, if a majority of young adults are unable to find satisfactory employment, the youth bulge would be counterproductive — as a large cohort of unhappy and frustrated young women and men would end up being a likely recipe for social-economic insecurity and instability.
The aim, thus, should be to ensure that — as in the first scenario — the youth bulge is successfully converted into a demographic dividend. There are a number of important existing outlets — such as the Rio +20 conference or the Youth Assembly — wherein young people can make their voice heard and have a tangible impact on the decisions that affect the course of their future.
In an age where more world citizens have access to good health and better education — in a time when cities across the globe offer its dwellers unparalleled opportunities, it is a shame that a very small chunk of this opulence is divided amongst the growing ranks of the global youth. The State of the Urban Youth 2010–2011 report, for example, cites that perpetual inequality of opportunity bereaves young people of their (economic, political, social, and cultural) rights to their cities.
In similar stead, back in July 2015, at the Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia, member states adopted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which identifies that investing in youth is an important prerequisite to achieving all round, fair, and sustainable development for current and future generations.
Since the onset of the financial crisis, talks on unemployment have been ubiquitous — however, it needs to be highlighted that the youth face majority of the brunt. To be clear, global youth unemployment as part of total unemployment the world over has definitely reduced — a promising sign for years to come. However, the Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015report states: “recovery is not universal and many young women and men remain shaken by changing patterns in the world of work.”
Taking all this evidence into account, it wouldn’t be naïve to expect a full-fledged, unanimously-supported international aid policy for youth. But a perfunctory analysis of the global aid environment would depress one into realising the clear disinterest in treating young women and men as an important target demographic. Only some donor countries seem to have contemplated seeking input from their young citizens to inform their aid programmes. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), for one, has established the DFID-CSO Youth Working Group in order to engage the youth in matters of international development. On the other hand, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has, plausibly, the most promising framework for youth engagement. USAID’s youth policy places high importance on assimilating considerations of young women and men in the global aid agenda. It also emphasises the significance of establishing a variety of different coalitions and promoting innovation by (and for) young people. Also, the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada), in cooperation with UN-Habitat and UN-Women, has organised a series of national youth consultations on the future of the country’s international development programmes. The Canadian Government has called for these consultations to guarantee young Canadians a voice in the evolution of Canada’s international development assistance programme.
Elsewhere, private foundations have been doing their bit to fund youth initiative too. The MasterCard Foundation, for example, aims to “advance education and financial inclusion to catalyze prosperity in developing countries” by “helping economically disadvantaged young people in Africa find opportunities to move themselves, their families and their communities out of poverty to a better life.” Through the Economic Opportunities for Youth programmes, The MasterCard Foundation has invested funds in modern, unconventional, and unorthodox advances that augment access to entrepreneurial courses of action — and in due course, employment — for underprivileged young women and men. Similarly, the Qatar Foundation hosted the Global Youth Consultation (GYC) for the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in 2015 — an international youth dialogue that maximises the voices of young people and enhances the value of the transformative ideas they have regarding the future of the international humanitarian landscape.
In addition, since 2011, the annual Nexus Youth Summit has served as a platform for young investors to come together and fund young entrepreneurs, and thought leaders — so that the “causes of young people” can “galvanise young wealth-holders.”
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim, the Executive Director of the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA) said back in 2014: “Never before have there been so many young people — never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social progress,” before adding, “How we meet the needs and aspirations of young people and enable them to enjoy their rights will define our common future.” As current projections emphasise — the number of young women and men will increase over the next years. This unparalleled demographic shift could very well be an opportunity — however, keeping in mind the low bar set by international poverty and the dearth of any good opportunities for young people, it could very well turn into a critical threat to the future of the current generation. The inability to accumulate marketable talents for future scholarship may bequeath them with dogged, familial poverty.
Back in August 1998, the Third World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, held at Braga, Portugal, marked an important event that endorsed the importance of youth participation. Here, the Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes, “committed nations and the international community to taking actions in areas such as youth participation, development, peace, education, employment, health, and drug and substance abuse.” The espousal of the Lisbon Declaration was an event that capped more than a decade-long struggle to raise youth policy to a level of international prominence and, in so doing, reinforced global and domestic actions in support of young people. But today, nearly two decades since the declaration’s adoption, several issues agreed at Braga have not been realized. Two of the most important issues — as evidenced by Ravi Karkara and Douglas Ragan — are youth rights and financing youth development: “The world still does not have a clear agreement on a Youth Rights, though we have regional agreements such as Africa Youth Charter and Ibero-American Convention on Youth Rights, we are yet to agree on Braga’s call on youth rights. Braga’s call to financial institutions to give greater support to national youth policies and programmes within their country programmes is far from reality. Youth issues are highly under-resourced and financing of youth agenda remains a huge challenge.”
A year later, on 17th December 1999, the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 54/120 endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth held in Lisbon, Portugal, from August 8–12th 1998 that 12th August be declared as International Youth Day. On the 2017 International Youth Day, let’s hope that approaches that provide underprivileged young people to actively discharge their economic potential to the fullest finally gain traction.