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It’s time for an ambitious Global Youth Agenda

Gloria La Cava's picture
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By Gloria La Cava and Tobias Lechtenfeld

It’s time for an ambitious Global Youth Agenda

Half of today’s world population is under 25 years old. There are especially large concentrations of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa, much of the Middle East and North Africa and in many parts of Asia. The growing share of young men and women globally has not yet reached its peak and will continue to increase over the next two decades. Eradicating poverty will not be possible if the needs of this young cohort are not treated with careful attention. Recent estimates indicate that almost a quarter of the planet’s youth, between the ages of 15 and 29, is inactive. Furthermore nearly half of all global youth are working either outside the formal economy or not working up to their full potential. In the coming 10 years, 47 million jobs will be needed - nearly 400,000 jobs per month - in order to absorb the young generation into the workforce. Equally important is the growing sense of frustration voiced by youth around the world. A frustration stemming from a lack of opportunities and participation - not only in the economy, but also in the political and social spheres. The challenge is too great to be treated with a business-as-usual approach, and no individual stakeholder alone is capable of offering a comprehensive solution.

As part of its efforts to engage with the youth, the World Bank recently hosted a Global Youth Summit with over 500 participants from over two dozen countries. The list of guest speakers included the United Nations Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Al-Hindawi and representatives of Civil Society Organizations, international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Private Sector, and numerous youth organizations. The event was a great success as it brought together stakeholders in the global youth agenda.

What were the outcomes of this event? How can it help to move the youth agenda forward? How can the World Bank make a meaningful contribution to the Global Youth Agenda? The Summit’s Expert Panel on The Post 2015 Agenda: Addressing the Challenge of Youth Exclusion generated a vibrant discussion. Here are the three key follow-up proposals that emerged from the event.

A Cross-cutting Solution for Young People in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

During the recent UN General Assembly, a first draft of a post-2015 development agenda that looks beyond the Millennium Development Goals was discussed. Based on the UN High-level Report, the delegates from 185 countries saw for the first time the Youth Agenda being spelled out in a clear quantifiable development target: Reduce the number of young people who are “Not in Employment, Education or Training” (NEET). Advocated by several UN organizations and already in use in several member countries of the Organizations for Economic Co-operation (OECD), NEET helps to look beyond the narrow lens of unemployment. The proposed indicator addresses youth inactivity and exclusion in a meaningful way. NEET is easily measureable using standard surveys with questions on employment, education, and training. The World Bank can play a crucial role in enriching the Global Youth Agenda by ensuring that proposed solutions for young people are (i) truly cross-cutting, (ii) in line with the recommendations of the High Level UN Panel Report, and that (iii) the NEET indicator is consistently measured throughout all the World Bank’s survey work, and monitored in poverty assessments, flagship reports, and country strategies.

A Goal for Youth Development

The development community is in urgent need of a common approach to youth development. It should include efforts to streamline and scale up evidence-based youth investments, mobilize resources, monitor progress, and for the international community to be held accountable for the progress made by young people. The development community must aim for a highly ambitious goal that addresses the lives of half of this planet’s population. Take the NEET indicator for example: reducing the current number of youth that are NEET could mean helping 1 billion youth to find employment, to become entrepreneurs, to obtain relevant training, or to participate in civic engagement initiatives. In other words, 1 billion young people that would need to be engaged and supported over 15 years, between 2015 and 2030 – slightly less than 70 million youth per year. Will that be enough to eradicate poverty? Will it be enough to boost shared prosperity? Probably the goal for NEET should be even higher than 1 billion young people, but these figures provide a sense of the order of magnitude needed.

Youth-led Councils and Platforms to Listen and Learn

The UN Special Envoy for Youth has recently launched a program to encourage governments around the world to set up Youth-led Advisory Groups or Platforms that can support national ministries and local delegations and help monitor the implementation of policies. Supporting this kind of citizen engagement is also a priority for the World Bank, and we have helped set up youth-led advisory groups for our country programs from Peru to Brazil to Macedonia, and more recently in the Arab League. The UN has taken this step one level further and has decided to implement Youth Councils for all UN Country Offices to ensure that programs fully address the needs and aspirations of the generation that will bring change to this world. This is a crucial moment for governments and all development partners to ‘walk the talk.’ Creating partnerships with youth organizations will also be essential in helping to focus on the problems that really matter, and to enable Development Agencies including the World Bank to listen and deliver better solutions.

These are three very concrete ideas to support the Global Youth Agenda. Enabling young men and women to contribute to shaping their own future will be essential, and we will only achieve this together, with strong partnerships.

Can we increase youth participation and reduce youth inactivity in other ways? What are your ideas? Let’s discuss!

Comments

Submitted by Michelle Rebosio on

It is definitely time for an ambitious youth agenda. A first step would be defining the agenda: youth issues are not only about jobs, but about youth participation and civic engagement. We are missing a huge opportunity to get youth ideas to make all of our projects have more impact: youth are not often asked to participate in the design of activities and are rarely engaged in providing beneficiary feedback. There is an assumption that youth only have to be engaged in youth projects, yet in many of our client countries, youth make up the majority of the adult population. They are impacted by the majority of our projects, whether these are large infrastructure projects, projects in the social sectors, or activities to promote better governance. It is time to ask young people to tell us how they would like to be engaged and what their priorities are, and for us to be able to respond to their needs.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
Thank you for your comment! This is exactly what the donor community – including the World Bank – should be embracing: Find ways to more actively engage with youth, especially in countries where youth employment and inactivity are high.

Submitted by Maros Ivanic on
The currently available global data on (in)activity of young people are clearly inadequate which makes it difficult to design evidence-based policies aimed at reducing youth inactivity. For that reason, the initiative to include NEET indicators consistently in the Bank's survey work is probably, by itself, the most important step to motivating and supporting research of youth (in)activity which has the potential to improve youth opportunities in the long run.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
Thank you for your valuable feedback. We plan to organize a seminar with the different research teams at the World Bank to take this forward.

Submitted by Emad Karim on
The establishment of youth platforms and councils is really crucial at this time of uprisings and rapid social change. The youth need formal platforms to voice their aspirations and demands other than just the streets. Youth representative entities can provide more support to both youth and governments to better design programs for youth and fully utilize their untapped talents. Its time for the youth to fully in the matters that shape their life and the communities they live within.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
You are raising an excellent point: youth councils are an important tool for young people to come together, identify their joint topics of importance, and effectively influence policy makers. The international community can help to strengthen these councils through capacity building and creating venues for youth to meet.

Submitted by Emmanuel Marfo on

The NEET approach is commendable. However,we can also look efforts geared towards giving the voice to youth at grass root to the National link and opportunity to act for change.

Is the idea of Governments and other sectors to work for youth or work with youth? Countries need to examine this further!

Community Youth Agenda development could be another good approach to solve specific needs and problems in communities meeting the national, regional and global agenda.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
The Community Youth Agendas are an interesting point. Helping youth in different towns and communities to come together and create effective grass-root organizations will be very important.

Nigeria, the most populous Africa country and current champion in Africa cup of nation, is often referred to as ‘The Giant of Africa’. She is one of the most popular and successful countries in African football. In spite of youth unemployment and poverty, Nigerians embrace football as a comforter and a great gift of humanity. Youth soccer varies in categories, levels and stages, starting from street soccer which is now gaining a lot of stance and sponsorship. It brings youth from various streets in a local government together to play for medals and trophies.

The schools also contribute to youth football by organizing inter-school competitions such as the Principals’ Cup Competition which cuts across various states of the Federation. Generally, in the Nigerian football history, the youth soccer has been particularly more successful considering the fact that Nigeria performs better in these categories (both male and female) over the years. Nigeria youth soccer has however been constrained with some difficulties such as poverty, age fraud and illiteracy. Most youth footballers are school drop-outs who cannot afford tuition fees or age fraudsters who want a longer career span while some consider education a burden. Also, there is a very low level of sponsorship resulting into inadequate facilities and equipment needed for the game. The government and non-government organizations are trying to curb these problems by trying to support both financially and morally.

According to World Bank statistics released in 2007, 70 million Nigerians are unemployed of which majority are youths; and, in another report by World Bank and DFID, unemployment amongst youths between the ages of 15-29 years of age is above 60%. A recent report suggests that 65% of the total Nigerian population is between the ages 0 – 25; therefore any commercial pursuit aimed at this segment of the population will surely ‘hit the mark’ provided it is well planned and projected.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
Indeed, sports can be an important vehicle for development. Apart from the commercial aspects, team sports and other competitive sports can teach young people important live skills, and has been used for outreach campaigns from reproductive health to post-conflict development. Sport alone can probably not address the massive unemployment and inactivity problem faced by youth in many parts of the world, but it remains an important facilitator for youth inclusion. For example, the World Bank is currently helping to prepare a “Youth Inclusion through Sports” project in Russia.

Submitted by Mabel Ahorlu on

The present day youth in Sub Saharan Africa are neglected and nobody trust in our ability. Our views are not adhere to and we are not allowed to make use of our potential. We often hear the government and the leaders of the world talking about youth unemployment and under employment. Plenty talks are made about them. If you should ask me most of the talks are not yielding results in addressing the situation. The youth should be given the chance to help in providing solutions.

I live in Ghana, there are so much unemployment and under employment among the youth, I sat down and decided to do something to help in my own small way by trying to set up a company and employ some of my young colleagues. After l drawing the business plan and the registration l decide to seek for financial help to start up and it will amaze you to know the kind of responds I got from the very people who are talking about youth unemployment and wanting to solve the problem.

Some will say "Oh we are sorry we don't do start ups" others will say "Oh we are sorry we have exhausted our limit come next time" you will go there next time and the same story will be given to you, they will not even look at the plan. I am not discourage anyway am still looking for financial help. All am trying to say is the older generation should believe in the youth and give us the chance to exhibit our potentials.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
Yours is a very inspiring story! Youth Entrepreneurship is clearly part of the solution, and yet access to finance remains a challenge for many young and ambitious entrepreneurs. Making use of innovative tools such as online-mentoring and coaching (for example through Ta3mal in the MENA region) or crowd-funding, many young businesswomen and businessmen are beginning to overcome these challenges. At the World Bank we are working at both end – supporting access to finance while also supporting young entrepreneurs through projects.

As development partners seek broader means of reducing the alarming rate of unemployment globally, more emphasis should be placed on the impact of manufacturing and trade policies as these has a toll on young people from poor nations and rich countries with poor leadership.

Benchmarks for youth employment must be created by development partners for individuals or corporate organizations seeking funding to grow their businesses. Consumer based societies suffer the most from this challenge as GDP naturally dwindles when there is inactivity at supposed productive years. The constraint is often noticed with poor political will with governments and commitment from the profit-driven companies.

Collectively, we must begin to think of ways to balance status of social inclusion and address problems of inequalities and create sound regulatory structures to deal with matters such as local manufacturing, environment, safety nets, funding for small business start-ups and acquisition of businesses by huge corporations which should be considered as part of NEET’s objectives.

Unless development partners through this young people play a leading role in fashioning a sensible way forward, there may likely be a continuation of these challenges.

Submitted by TobiasLechtenfeld on
This raises some important macro-economic aspects. Without proper regulation it will be difficult to achieve the Quality Jobs, which are urgently needed. We have seen that economic growth alone does not always translate into job growth, and even less so into the creation of quality jobs. Through supporting modern labor market regulation and social protection, the World Bank is trying to contribute to these aspects without creating additional labor market disturbances and unintended adverse effects. That’s why new approaches are commonly piloted, evaluated and re-designed in the first years of implementation. But yes, a lot still needs to be done.

Submitted by Tine Radinja on

Young people NEET are a global problem and deserve global solution
In Europe the youth participation has a rich history and several different well functioning mechanisms are in place such as: representative pan-european youth platform (European Youth forum), structured dialogue within EU and co-management system in Council of Europe.

Still the voice of young people was not heard enough when there was a need for a strong investment in youth. Investment in programs that would prevent numbers of NEET grow to the unprecedented rates. The issue of long-term unemployment is now one of paramount concern for young people. Considering that long term unemployment when young, can have profound effect on employability and career development in the medium to long-term, the current youth unemployment crisis will be felt in Europe for the next 20 years.

The cost of NEET in terms of lost tax contribution and social welfare payments alone, is estimated to have been around €153 billion only in 2011, equating to around 1.2% of the EU’s total GDP and has grown ever since. Young people in Europe had to hit rock bottom for things to start changing. The unemployment had to reach up to 50% in some countries to dedicate real attention and serious EU resources to the solutions.
One of the solutions that came up from dialogue with the youth platforms is the Youth Guarantee - a policy where governments, regional authorities and public employment services, with the involvement of youth organisations, commit to offering a young person a quality-job, training or re-training within a certain period of being made unemployed or leaving formal education.

What is crucial about the youth guarantee is that it involves a rights-based approach to youth employment and recognizes that young people can expect certain services and provisions from the state and their community. The EU will allocate 6 billion euros in the scheme in next years next to the significant raise in Erasums+ program that is focused on Education and Training opportunities.

Globally the trends are similar and rate of youth unemployment is increasing and more and more young people are dropping out of the labour market entirely and are also less likely to be registered as unemployed. Therefore there is stronger need than ever to find global solutions to this problems and invite young people and youth organisations to be part of this process. Devoting attention to this trough research, monitoring and advocacy about NEET globally, will raise the awareness, that there is a need for investment in young people, before the numbers hit rock bottom. If we support youth participation and opportunities for the voice of young people to be heard by the Governments and decision-makers the more hope there is, that solutions will be good, timely and inclusive.

Submitted by Joe on

Education is part of the problem. Formal education gives no useful skills to anyone,not all people can do it,and one size does not fit all,other things formal education does,it brings an entitlement to people ,and it also brings resentmentthat comesd from the so called educated to the so called un-educated. Education as a competition has always and will always be an abject failure. Sorry i love to learn but not material that will only benefit you in a game show only.

The three recommendations that were gathered from the youth forum are extremely valid: providing a clear, quantifiable development target for the post-2015 agenda; streamlining common approaches to youth development; and creating youth-led advisory councils.
Particularly in the Arab region, youth have cried out for better opportunities, for a stronger voice and for equal participation in the development of their communities, countries and region. Volunteerism and civic engagement are a way where these potential can be channeled. Volunteering provides youth with the opportunity not only to be the spearheads of development, but also to strengthen their own skills, capacities and leadership.

As stated in the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011, youth volunteering provides a viable mechanism that can turn youth frustrations into positive energy, developing values of self-worth, solidarity and social cohesion.

This aspect must be an inherent component in all three recommendations made for the youth agenda, cross-cutting through all development issues, may it be for fighting poverty, building democratic societies, preventing crisis or empowering women, among many others.

As rightly stated in this blog, development can no longer provide the traditional services and “business is not as usual”. Stakeholders, partner’s, public institutions and experts should ensure that that youth are empowered to reach their potential and that they are provided with the space to actively take part of shaping their future.

Submitted by Shams Toor on

Given the global financial woes, majority of youth is attracted to stable jobs. This is leading to a declining trend among youth for starting new businesses, especially in the developing countries. Instead of taking risks and launch a start-up, they are rather interested in putting bread on the table, which is a very fair and understandable approach. However, there is a need for development partners, governments, and Banks to promote entrepreneurship among the youth. It will not just turn the job seekers into job providers, it will also help growth.

I believe that the next global economic boom will not come from the industrial tycoons, it will rather come from the young entrepreneurs who will build new businesses for a rapidly changing world.

Submitted by Mattias Lundberg on

Dear Gloria,

Thank you for drawing our attention to the issue of youth development and the Bank’s role in finding and implementing solutions, in partnership with the UN and others. You are right that our ability to eliminate extreme poverty and create a world of shared prosperity requires that we engage more effectively with and for today’s young people. Whether we succeed or fail will be determined by how effective we are in creating a world in which young people are able to develop and make use of their talents and to fulfill their ambitions. Today’s 13-year old will be 30 in 2030. Our collective future depends on our ability to make sure that she has access to the services and opportunities that she needs.

As you say, we can’t do it alone, even as one World Bank Group. We must engage more directly and intentionally with policymakers, with young people themselves, and with the private sector, to develop solutions and facilitate the entry of young people into a happy and productive adulthood.

Please let me mention one other issue that we face in our efforts to develop this world and these opportunities. In spite of many years and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, we still have a poor idea of where the constraints really lie, and how we can intervene and invest to alleviate them most effectively. The Bank’s Youth Employment Inventory, which we maintain in partnership with the IDB and the ILO, includes more than 800 programs that have been implemented during the past five years. These programs include various types of training (including life skills), job search assistance, wage subsidies, or support to open a business and engage in self-employment.

The sad reality is that we still have not discovered interventions that are generally applicable and that can be scaled up sustainably and reliably. Part of the problem is that we have not been able to learn systematically about what we do in order to improve the design of current and future programs. Indeed, most of the programs out there have not been rigorously evaluated: we can’t be sure that the changes we see among program beneficiaries are really due to the program. And those programs that have been evaluated rarely yield solid recommendations about what programs work in different contexts, or how to design and implement them.

One overarching problem that limits the impact of programs is that while employment and growth are generated in the private sector, employment programs are often managed by public institutions with weak linkages to the private sector. The lack of involvement of the private sector is also problematic when designing programs to support self-employment or small scale entrepreneurship. Although these programs can increase productivity and output, they are likely to fail if new businesses do not have access to larger markets and value chains. Conversely, the private sector understands that it has a clear interest in engaging with young people, whether as a part of good corporate citizenship, or by investing in youth as consumers, workers, suppliers, or distributors.

Given the scale of the challenge, we need to devote more energy to developing and harnessing effective solutions. As a first step, as you note, the WBG is beginning conversations with organizations that are involved in the area of youth employment to plan our collective response. These discussions have led us to think about establishing a global Coalition oriented around three sets of activities. First, understand what is going on in the area of youth employment, digest the evidence, and prepare tools to facilitate effective policy and investment. Second, to coordinate and influence the design, implementation, and evaluation of innovative and scalable interventions to create jobs for youth. Finally, engage with the private sector directly, as providers of training and skills, as employers, and as actors in the supply chain.

Submitted by Gloria LaCava on
Dear Mattias, thank you for your thoughtful comments as to what it would take to implement a more ambitious youth agenda. You correctly mention in your title the need for evidence based global action for youth and the efforts still needed in rigorous impact evaluations, despite the current IE content of the Global Youth Inventory. While I fully recognize that no one has the magic bullet to solve youth inactivity and exclusion in the scale needed, a lot of progress has been made over the years so today we have a better sense of what does not work. For example, as you point out, we know that employment programs led exclusively by government agencies rarely succeed. I would add that that initiatives that leverage youth engagement and voice are known to be more successful than interventions developed for them. Indeed we need to continue to invest in evaluations and the best way to do so is through youth investments which take into account lessons learned and push the innovations frontier forward, incorporating impact evaluations as a means to an end. We also need to be smart about using technology platforms for good monitoring of results. On line M&E platforms and beneficiary feedback via mobile are one among several cost effective tools which can complement or at times replace impact evaluations, when large research budget may not available. I also think that the Global Coalitions you are setting up with large private sector companies is invaluable and can provide some quick wins in terms of learning and helping to scale up successful interventions.

Submitted by Yassin Sabha on

According to a recent report on Global Youth Entrepreneurship by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and Youth Business International (YBI), three quarters of the youth in MENA believes that starting a business is a good career choice.

However, less than a third of youth is involved in start-ups. If we look at the key constraints to youth entrepreneurship in MENA, what emerges is a mix of business environment and ‘social’ obstacles. Access to credit is the single largest constraint across the region, as shown by the World Bank’s Doing Business. Another key element is the fear of failure that prevents 35% of youth in the region from starting 
a business, signaling a risk-averse business culture. Personal/family networks partially overcome poor business climates. Almost 70% of youth firms rely on personal, family, or friends’ funding to start a business. Micro-credit and angel investors targeting youth businesses can help overcome this issue, as recent articles by the World Bank show. The importance of personal networks comes also in the operational activity of the firm, with 80% of new business run by youth having friends or family as their customers. Another aspect that I would like to emphasize is the lack of adequate skills and innovation by youth business in MENA. Thirty percent of youth in the region believes that they have the skills and knowledge required to start a business. Less than a fifth of youth firms indicate that they offer new products in new markets.

MENA youth businesses perform the worst when compared to their peers in other regions. The decision to start a business is in over 40% of the cases influenced by parental models rather than business-related role models. This makes productivity performance and survival rates particularly low.

Therefore, business development services and vocational training targeted to youth is desperately needed in the MENA region.

Submitted by Gloria LaCava on
You highlight an important connection between youth entrepreneurship and the fight against inactivity. The implicit point here is that the private sector is simply unable to create enough jobs for new entrants in the labor market. or employ the massive contingent of youth in working age who are NEETs (Not in Education, Not in Employment and Not in Training). So entrepreneurship is one of the alternatives which various stakeholders are beginning to support through various mechanisms. Your recommendations to include non financial ( business development services) in addition to better access to finance is very critical and I would add it should also address young people working in the informal sector sector which constitute the largest pool of the working poor (in several regions).

Managers are unhappy with school graduates and are saying they are not adequately prepared for the world of work .Even with a loaded curriculum, our institutions today are not preparing people for the world of work.

Managers are reluctant to hire recent graduates and are looking for persons with experience to fill vacancies and in some cases offering greater incentives to experience workers. There is a huge disparity between what skills managers need to compete in and what job seekers can offer.

Submitted by Muctarr Nyang on

Youth participation is a journey that will be reached if those three concrete ideas are put into action, most especially the setting up of youth councils for all UN country offices because in this part of our world we don't trust our governments anymore in solving the problem of NEET. The youth council in our country is affiliated with politics and the youth organizations that are willing to support the ruling party are the ones that benefit from the meager resources that is allocated for the youths.
It will be of paramount importance if body's like the world bank can link with the UN and provide loans for the youth in other for us to employ ourselves and go to school to have the necessary education and training to empower ourselves.
It's a pity that I was denied a visa to be able to attend the first edition of the world bank youth summit as I was eager to attend such a gathering in other to be able to discourage most of my friends and other youths from using the sea through Libya to go to Italy all because of them been frustrated of their economic condition and most of all not having any hope for the future as the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer in a population of 85% living in poverty.

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