Investing in our future

Write a blog on the importance of youth empowering development!

To be honest, this had me a little stumped. Not because it’s not an important issue. Not because there isn’t an immense amount of research into it. And certainly not because I don’t believe wholeheartedly in the issue. But rather, because this idea is so fundamental, so basic, so obvious to me, that it’s a little difficult to know where to begin.

And yet it is clear that the idea is not so simple, straightforward or obvious at it should be. There are endless examples of youth being ignored, not considered, or given a token position, all the while being blatantly removed from any real decision-making process.

The UN dictates that “All children have the right to express their views and to have them taken into account in all matters that affect them.”1 However all too often, this is taken merely at face value and not truly implemented. Youth representatives, youth-specific conferences, discussion papers, advisory groups – all of these are ways for organisations to tick the box of youth participation and then move on to other more pressing concerns. Youth are frequently an annoyance to be pacified and dealt with, preferably with as minimal time, fuss and resources as possible.

And yet… some 43% of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Education for youth is proven to be one of the most powerful ways of promoting health, economic development, equality, and human rights2. Young people bring new ideas and perspectives, and experience the world in a way that older generations cannot. They being enthusiasm and optimism, and are not yet jaded by the “system” and the notion that it’s just “the way things are”.

Unemployment and underemployment are constantly highlighted as a key issue for the developing (and developed) world. Young people are three times more likely than adults to be out of work, and unemployment early in life often permanently compromises an individual’s future employment prospects, continuing the cycle of poverty into the next generation3. Youth disengagement through unemployment and marginalisation has been cited as one of the most immediate threats to a country’s stability4. The exclusion of youth – either deliberate or unintentional – creates significant tensions which are only exacerbated in already fragile developing states.

In contrast, active participation encourages people to take charge of their lives and solve their own problems – the very essence of sustainable development. Young people gain a greater understanding of governance, human rights and political processes, vital in both established and developing democracies. When young people are engaged with responsibility and community planning, they become role models for their peers and their community, and leaders of their nation.

Participation fosters hope and dignity, encourages a sense of community, of inclusion and belonging. This spreads through young people’s friends, families and communities, while also reducing the potential social costs of apathy, social exclusion and frustration at a world which doesn’t include them.

It is now commonly accepted that the recipient of any policy or project must be actively engaged and involved, and youth are no exception. There are many difficulties in achieving genuine youth participation and engagement at a local, national and global scale, which is a different – though equally important – discussion (read more here). However before any discussion on the how, it is essential to be clear on the why.

The why is clear. Youth make up half of today’s global population, and all of our future. Investing in youth is an investment in our future.

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