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Voices of youth: Give me hope and I’ll succeed

Gilles Cols's picture
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Tajikistan is the youngest and fastest growing country in the Europe and Central Asia region, with those under 25 years old making up around 55 percent of the population. So, young people filled with enthusiasm and ambition - just like anywhere in the world - really are Tajikistan’s greatest asset.

Young women, Tajikistan

While Tajikistan has been transitioning away from a planned economy for nearly a decade now, by leveraging its resources and relationships to support its growth, this massive group of young people presents an incredible opportunity to advance the country’s social and economic goals - contributing to greater long term stability, prosperity, and global competitiveness.
 
However, there are still challenges for the country’s economy, including an inadequate environment for private sector development. The labor market is facing significant pressure with few employment opportunities. Until recently, Tajikistan could rely on the Russian economy, with nearly one million working-age citizens migrating to Russia and other neighboring countries each year to find jobs. These migrant workers have contributed to a large flow of remittances, equivalent to nearly half of Tajikistan’s GDP.
 
Given Russia’s current economic recession, many migrants - including many youth - have to return and explore alternative options for income generation in Tajikistan. Unfortunately, Tajikistan’s economic, political and social transformation has not been able to keep pace with the rapid changes taking place in a burgeoning youth population and its expectations of quality education and a good business environment to develop its skills and flourish.
 
The government will need to prioritize youth much more in its policies, especially those related to private sector development and job creation. At the same time, the youth of Tajikistan need to strongly believe that they can succeed in their own country, as entrepreneurs or professionals. If the current lack of faith continues, young people will keep bringing new skills and knowledge to other countries and markets, while Tajikistan remains in need of strong and competitive human capital.
 
In October 2015, a World Bank-financed project was launched that works to engage institutions which implement policies and also with youth to try their ideas on the ground. A specially developed training program aims to foster pro-youth and pro-private sector development policies to contribute to a more favorable job market. The training specifically targets mid-level government officials to strengthen their awareness of private sector development in general, and of the evolving needs of businesses in a changing market in particular.

Despite Tajikistan’s progress in private sector development, the business environment is still far from conducive to enable dynamic growth of the private sector that would match current needs in terms of employment creation. This is due partly to a lack of capacity of institutions to fully embrace reforms in the sector, and a lack of incentives to perform among mid-level civil servants in charge of implementing them. It often translates into lack of communication with the private sector, lack of trust, and a breakdown in the policymaking exercise.

The training program aims at establishing a cohort of well-informed, action-oriented mid-level government officials who are in charge of implementing reforms linked to private sector development. It will be offered to selected civil servants, with the idea that the Tajik government will take over the delivery once the Bank’s support ends.
 
Secondly, the project will intervene directly with youth by empowering them and building their skills to create their own businesses, notably through micro-entrepreneurship. Skilled youth often decide to leave the country because of the lack of employment opportunities, especially as the business environment remains weak. Unskilled youth face an even more difficult situation, especially in rural areas, and their unfulfilled expectations leave them vulnerable to negative discourse.

The project will help these young people by organizing village-based basic entrepreneurship skills training, with 150 training sessions carried out in various parts of the country during the project life cycle. The next step will be more in-depth business plan boot-camps, where young people will learn how to access financing, develop their business ideas, and ultimately create value for themselves and their communities.

Overall, around 4,000 young people will be directly involved in the project.
 
Although the project will not cover the entire youth population of Tajikistan, it is a first step in the right direction. The idea behind the project is to bring hope to young people in Tajikistan, by giving them basic tools to succeed and by convincing them that it is possible "to make it in Tajikistan".

Last October, the project organized a Youth Entrepreneurship Forum in Dushanbe, bringing together 250 existing or aspiring entrepreneurs. The enthusiasm we saw in these young people made us believe that this project is very timely, and will help make a difference in realizing the vast potential that awaits Tajikistan.

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