Let’s take a second and ponder over the word “Youth,” and play a game of word association. What comes to your mind? Given that I fall into the youth bucket, my list of associations is mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Yet, from a development perspective, youth can sometimes be perceived as the (excuse the word play) “problem child” demographic - What can we do with them, and how do we do it?
Did you know that approximately 1/5th of South Asia’s population lies between the ages 15 to 24? What is more, young adults also comprise 50% of the unemployed in the region. While many may view this as a sad state of affairs, Youth Solutions, the recent collaboration between Microsoft and the World Bank, viewed it as an opportunity for empowerment.
When I first heard about the project, an old joke popped into my mind: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!” Dry humor aside, it makes a fair point. We can either be directly involved trying to solve an issue, or stand and watch and ultimately settle at the bottom. That is exactly what Youth Solutions set out to do! As a result, over the last few months, youth from Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka sent their ideas on how they could harness the power of ICT to create employment in their home countries.
Now, let’s fast forward a few months to last week’s event - long after the proposals had been submitted, then shortlisted, and two finalists from each country had been selected.
I sat there, watching the eight finalists present their ideas; I couldn’t help but be inspired. Every single presentation was not merely about creating employment, but also driven by a greater cause: be it helping youth with disabilities, struggling with drug abuse, those living in rural areas or helping with poverty alleviation. The youth of South Asia didn’t just want to simply ease the burden of unemployment, but do so by benefitting something greater as well. The eagerness behind each proposal was evident. If you were following the live stream of this event, you know what I’m talking about!
The judges too were impressed by how passionate the presenters were, this was not merely a chance for financial support, but also an opportunity for these organizations to further their cause. Watching them present, made me want to become an advocate for each organization.
I had the opportunity to chat with the finalists after the event wrapped up, and I was amazed at how grateful they all were for this grant competition. I learned that it was not merely an opportunity for funding, but the entire experience helped educate youth in the region how to write a proposal, budget, streamline ideas and think out of the box. Youth Solutions was a platform to live their passions.
To all those who submitted proposals, your passion, commitment and drive did not go unnoticed. I was humbled at how thoughtful and far reaching your project ideas were.
To the winners, YPSA; Live and Learn Environmental Education; YUWA and the Shilpa Sayura Foundation – Congratulations, you truly deserve it, and I can’t wait to hear all about how these projects turn out.