Expanding the Global Youth Agenda beyond Jobs


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Young man from MENAYouth exclusion- is a challenge of staggering proportions in the post-2015 development agenda. Since 2011, disenchantment among the largest youth cohort in history has channeled itself into movements challenging the status quo in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Europe, and Latin America. Popular protests have been called not just for jobs but for changing the old order, for a voice on policies that impact the future of youth, and for justice, freedom and dignity.

Theirs has been a wake-up call heard around the globe. Of the estimated 1.5 billion young people in the 12 to 24 age bracket, more than 1.3 billion live in developing countries.[1] While the ratio of youth to adult unemployment is significant, the Not in Education Employment or Training (NEET) indicator is a more comprehensive assessment of inactivity as it includes discouraged and disengaged in addition to unemployed youth. More than a quarter of youth around the world aged 15 to 24 are considered ‘inactive’, with the highest rates in Europe and Central Asia and MENA.[2]

A number of governments and institutions like the UN, EU, OECD, the World Economic Forum, members of the private sector, and foundations, now see youth inactivity and inclusion as a priority.  The Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda[3] saw for the first time a quantifiable youth development target to decrease the number of young people not in education, employment or training by x %.  What does this mean for a renewed World Bank?

The recent brainstorming on “Unbundling the Youth Inclusion Agenda” at the World Bank stressed the importance of an integrated approach  on  youth issues  to reach the goals of reducing poverty and promoting shared prosperity, and the need to develop a common framework on youth inclusion. This was the first time staff from across the Bank met to unbundle the many dimensions of youth inclusion, along, with academic experts, the private sector, civil society, and youth community representatives.

The  brainstorming  session offered an opportunity to unbundle youth inclusion into several dimensions: economic opportunities, such as income, education, employment, and inactivity; social such as demography, gender, ethnicity, social networks, and disability; political such as security, conflict and violence, civic engagement, trust in institutions, participation in decision making, and voice; and cultural such as religion, identity, values and aspirations.

Findings from a Gallup World Poll 2013 emphasized the need to go beyond the metrics of income and unemployment. It compared perceptions from youth on standards of living, their own evaluation of their lives, social well-being, community attachment, volunteering, and their degree of trust in national government. The MENA and Sub-Saharan African regions were consistently classified as the bottom performers.  In terms of life evaluation, their youth were the least likely to be classified as thriving. MENA youth reported worse standards of living in 2013 than in 2012, and less confidence in their national governments than African youth did.

It was stressed that youth is a social category with an identity that cuts across a range of ideological, ethnic, sectarian, gender, and national identities. Youth today encompass a contested patchwork of identities, as well as multiple lives, for example at home within the family, in the public sphere, and in the street.

Interventions that address articulate urban, middle class youth should no longer be the priority: For lower income and less educated youth, especially the bottom 40%, the informal sector remains the main source of employment. This sector has thus to be part of the solution.

Local governments and communities are a critical channel for youth engagement and empowerment.. Youth-friendly services like life skills training, ICT and language skills, healthy lifestyles, peer mentoring, and sports can be provided in a more sustainable manner at this level. They have greater impact when delivered with youth participation and in partnership with local governments and communities.  The need to only support interventions that are owned by young people and empower them was emphasized.

We need partnerships that include the private sector and civil society right at the beginning and not as an afterthought. We also need to systematically address critical constraints to youth development, such as labor market and business regulation, education, property rights and human rights, as well as the lack of voice in decision making. These are broader development challenges that indicate that the future of youth and their countries are intertwined.  

The next steps suggested for the Bank are a thematic group centered around knowledge sharing,  a working group across Global Practices to work towards a common framework on youth inclusion and to identify few countries where a more multidimensional approach could be taken to scale and replicated elsewhere.
[1] World Development Report 2007, Development and the Next Generation, World Bank, 2006.
[2] World Bank. Human Development Network Statistics, 2013.
[3] A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, May 2013. 
May 07, 2014

i appreciate this write up and the perspective of the world bank towards the youth inclusion agenda. however, it should be noted that a lot of 'lip service' is still being paid to youth development and unemployment in developing countries. those who can really effect the changes we desire are left out of the circle.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Dear Salas,
Thank you for your comment. We agree that we need to scale up from advocacy to concrete interventions and that youth participation and ownership is crucial to the success of any youth related intervention. We have in this light supported the Moroccan government in designing its new National Youth Strategy which was crafted after extensive consultations with youth.

Nigel Bellingham
May 07, 2014

A fascinating discussion, thank you. I'm struck by the comment that the informal sector has to be part of the solution. How on earth do you do that? Organisations like the World Bank (and my own) tend to develop rigorously structured programmes which inevitably address the formal sector. The next steps for the bank look interesting, but I wonder if they are innovative enough to come up with new, creative ideas which are needed if we are to find a way to provide effective support to those seeking employment through the informal sector.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Dear Nigel,
Thank you for your comment. Yes, creative solutions are needed for the informal sector. We have already started to address this issue in our project Strengthening Micro-Entrepreneurship for Disadvantaged Youth in the Informal Sector in Morocco, by providing low-skilled youth with first time access to business skills and support services. It fosters local public-private-NGO-partnerships that can provide an integrated support model at local level tailored to these young people.

Sarah Michael
April 27, 2014

Great to learn from this MENA experience and to see your multidimensional approach to youth development highlighted. As you note, effective youth development strategies and programming have to include investments in employment, as well as social inclusion and voice. We in ECA would be glad to continue to partner with you on this work!

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for offering to partner with us in this Bank wide effort to incorporate the multidimensional approaches to youth inclusion into our youth programs. We look forward to realizing this goal together with you.

May 01, 2014

Accounting for differences in skills among youth for inclusion in the labor market
The Bank needs to provide an approach to youth inclusion that accounts for the differences in the levels/types of skills. For instance, promoting entrepreneurship can include young people with high skills and innovative ideas. This requires tackling constraints to doing business, particularly access to finance, strengthening the role of venture capital and angel investors, and pushing governments to allow mobile collateral for loans and protect property rights. Regulatory reforms on bankruptcy also need to be implemented to allow business exit and counter risk-aversion. Youth with medium-skills, on the other hand, require vocational training to match the demands of employers in the labor market. This type of youth also tends to be the most likely to ‘wait’ for public sector jobs. Aligning private-public sector salaries can also help tackling this issue. Finally, youth with low-skills can be included educating them to accept the low-skill jobs often taken by immigrants in agriculture, construction, hospitality, etc., which they refuse to take for ‘shame’. Microfinance, on the other hand, can help poor youth (particularly females) with low-skills but entrepreneurial ideas accessing credit to start their own business.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Hi Yassin,
Thank you for sharing your ideas on creating more opportunities for youth in the labor market and in the formal and informal sector. This requires governments to take a macro as well as micro approach to the problem. Issues of regulation and improving the enabling environment for business are issues that are not exclusive to youth alone. These are macro level issues that needs to be addressed in a coordinated manner by the concerned government departments and agencies.

Emma Murphy
April 28, 2014

It is good to see a move away from a purely instrumentalist economic approach to this issue. The Arab Spring demonstrated that - whilst economic exclusion is a critical issue for the MENA region - it is by no means the only form of exclusion experienced by youth. It is not possible to address economic exclusion properly without addressing the prevailing political and social exclusion which reproduces patterns of inequality in access and opportunity. Solutions need to be holistic and very specific to differing contexts and communities within the youth category. Moreover, they need to engage youth participation in their formulation, not just in their implementation. Giving young people a voice in determining how to address their exclusion is itself inclusionary and enables young people to become the agents of social change. It also offers a pathway to reconstructing the social trust which has been eroded by decades of exclusionary politics. I look forward to seeing where the World Bank goes with this.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Hi Emma,
You are spot on when you state that while economic exclusion is important other forms of youth exclusion are equally important and addressing them is essential to achieving economic inclusion. This is true not just in MENA. The other points you have made about adapting solutions to specific contexts and for young people to play a role in designing youth related interventions have been echoed by other commentators here. We have taken note of these messages and are in complete agreement. We are counting on your support in realizing the goal of a comprehensive approach to youth inclusion.

Mathias Amgbah
May 07, 2014

Very interesting piece and i agree on anumber of issues.Firstly for the lower income 40% of youths it is fact that the informal sector is part of the solution.
Take for instance in Nigeria where the agricultural sector has become a focus on creating jobs and most importantly entrepreneurs who can in turn employ more people and fill up the vacuum in the value chain.Recently we have initiated a concept called Corporate Farmers TV reality show which intends to educate young people on the benefits of Agriculture as a full time business fusing it with entertainment to attract the youth while teaching them the rudiments of agric thus we term it #Agrotainment.Organisations such as the IITA,Min of Agric Nigeria and recently Cross River State is set to host the show for the first season with opportunities still open for othe International bodies to partner.
In terms of local governments involvement especially in the area of skill acquisition partnerships have begun to see the establishment of skill centres in local government areas with collaborations from Senate and House of Reps members who are establishing same as constituency projects.
We also have a sports club called Eastside Sports club that is organising ward games in a local government to engage people while spreading the message of the need for peaceful dialogue,participation in politics,entrepreneurship and also tackle social vices such as drug abuse and HIV.
Lastly i agree with you that interventions owned by young people should be supported to empower them as this will create a positive ripple effect on job creation.The problem with some of the programs such as the CBN entrepreneurial centre established in Calabar,Nigeria is after the trainings most youth cannot access funding to execute and implement their business plans.Once the issue of credit can be properly sorted then we would have less people off the streets fulfilling their dreams.While we continuously work out solutions to this global youth problem i believe that in CrossRiver State Nigeria we are setting standards that with more support from organisations such as the World Bank our projects can be replicated in other countries for future global benefits.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Dear Mathias,
We read with great interest the creative approaches taken to youth empowerment in the Cross River State in Nigeria. The Agroentainment program, skill centers and sports clubs all play a role in providing much needed youth friendly services. Besides finance we need to equip youth with the skills need in the job market today and into the future. We would be interested in learning more about the efforts in Nigeria. Do send us your email address and so that we can correspond by email and Skype.

Mathias Amgbah
June 12, 2014

Thanks for your comment.My email is mathias.amgbah@yahoo.com

Mabel Opoku Opong
May 21, 2014

I am glad to know that the World Bank has taken up this initiative of youth participation and involvement in development of their continent. I must say the world Bank is sphere heading this great initiative as it has been its topic in most platform recently. I recommend them for that but the only issue l want to emphasize is that is initiative should not be a mere talk but should adhead to. The youth should be given the chance to partake in nation building and when they have an idea, they should be help to implement that. We have seen from experience that poverty cannot be eradicated using only the local communities, the private sector should also be involved as they play a crutial rule in that.
We are looking where the world bank will take this good initiative started and how involved they will engaged the youth.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Dear Mabel,
Thank you for your encouraging comments. We hope that we can translate these ideas into programs that will make an impact on the ground. We agree that private sector needs to be a partner right from the beginning in helping to eradicate poverty and for greater youth inclusion and empowerment.

Salem Kosemani
May 19, 2014

This is a very critical issue and i must say all your proffered solutions looks absolutely great but i think for a great return or high positive result the local govts. , state goverments and bodies surrounding this areas need to implement policies that would make our solutions work, most times solutions might work there and not workable somewhere else because certain policies were not implemented or the lip service as stated in a comment here. Finally we need to start from the foundation by imposing certain ideas into the education sector of this areas so that it evolves as they grow out of this institutions.

Sharafudeen, Tara
June 12, 2014

Dear Salem,
Thank you for your endorsement of the efforts we are making to incorporate multidimensional approaches to youth inclusion. We agree that a joint effort by countries, state governments and local governments is needed for higher impact. We cannot simply cut and paste solutions from elsewhere.