Change. Global leaders galvanize nations in pursuit of it, advocates demand that policymakers facilitate it, and I’d suggest that we all strive to be a part of it. As the saying goes, change is “easier said than done.” But young people don’t seem to see it that way. Not only are young people calling for social, political and economic change, but they are being the change.
Today’s generation of young people is the largest the world has ever seen. In fact, over half the world’s population is under the age of 30. To some, this number may seem daunting – but the way I see it, that’s more than 3.5 billion young people representing 3.5 billion opportunities for change.
We know that when you invest in young people – particularly in girls – the returns are tremendous. Girls with access to education and health care, including youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services, are more likely to marry later and, once mothers, are more likely to send their children to school and provide them with health care.
And the impact flows beyond families and communities: By enrolling just 10% more girls in school, a country can increase its gross domestic product by approximately 3%. In short, when you invest in girls there are ripple effects throughout society – and everybody wins.
Simply put, the world cannot afford to leave this tremendous potential untapped. Yet all too often, young people’s needs and voices are excluded at the international meetings where decisions are being made about their lives and their futures.
Young people’s request is clear: “Nothing about us without us.” And last week, the World Bank Group heeded that call at its Second Annual Youth Summit. The meeting brought together young leaders from around the globe – from Brazil to Bangladesh – to engage in an open dialogue about youth engagement on government transparency and accountability.
The UN Secretary-General’s envoy on youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, called for a seemingly obvious, but all-too-often ignored, approach, saying: “Young people must be directly engaged in all issues concerning their lives.” Fellow advocates reinforced the fact that young people know best what young people want and need, and that they have fresh ideas that can help us all build the type of world and future we want. Together.
Hopefully the youth perspectives shared last week were heard loud and clear at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, where big decisions are made about future development priorities. With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline rapidly approaching and the Sustainable Development Goals being finalized, there has never been a more critical time to prioritize young people’s needs and listen to and learn from what they have to say.
At Women Deliver, we recognize the power and the potential of young people. Through our Young Leaders Program, we provide young people with the tools, skills, and opportunities they need to improve the lives of girls and women in their communities. All in all, 200 Young Leaders from 68 countries are involved with more to come – and earlier this year, with funding from Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global, we gave seed grants to 10 of the Young Leaders to support inspiring local advocacy projects.
The results have been nothing short of remarkable, from Nargis Shirazi’s efforts to empower young people with youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information in Uganda to S.M. Shaikat’s push to put an end to dowry-related violence in Bangladesh. Their work shows what’s possible when you invest in young people and in their creative ideas. I am inspired by their passion, by their drive and by their optimism that it’s possible to make the world a better place.
We are excited to bring hundreds more young people together for our fourth triennial meeting, the Women Deliver 2016 conference, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Because, like the World Bank, we believe that it’s not only important, but imperative, to bring young people to the table – and ask them to help set it.
So, I ask the global community to ensure that young people are involved in every important discussion about their future – and that their voices are not only heard, but truly listened to. Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow. They are very much the leaders of today, and together, we can build a future that delivers for young people and makes it possible for them to reach their full potential.