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Global Youth — Between Marginalization, Militarization and Mobilization

What is being done to engage the world’s youth in a positive manner?

January 6, 2006

What is being done to engage the world's youth in a positive manner?

A prison workshop, a loan, a lot of hard work — and a second chance for a fallen “Angel.” In this case, an Argentine ex-convict named Angel Ovidio Sánchez who, with the help of a prison reintegration program and an Argentine loan agency, has been able to start a new life on the outside.

Today, Angel runs a shoe shop and boot-manufacturing workshop, succeeding against long odds amidst the chaos of a devastated national economy.

The Argentine charity Fundación Impulsar offers a ray of hope to young entrepreneurs like Angel, providing interest-free loans and mentoring resources. The agency also supports ventures like a cycle tourism business, a kindergarten, a furniture factory and a fumigation company.

In South Africa, where youth unemployment hovers near the three million mark, The Nations Trust has assisted nearly 1,000 youth businesses with their original capital requirements.

With Nations Trust assistance, former street hawker Zweli Mthwisha has expanded his operations to a covered market stall, created family jobs — and is now establishing a call center to sell his audio and cell accessories.

In Brazil, a large government program called Primeiro Emprego (First Employment) has enlisted support from corporations and civil society in targeting the creation of 260,000 youth jobs and assistance for 600,000 more young people though state-sanctioned vocational training and micro-enterprise support.

Although this program is slowly getting off the ground and is still somewhat mired in politicization, it has brought Brazilian youth needs to the forefront of public debate and action.

These are only a few of the novel private- and public-sector initiatives taking shape around the globe in response to the crises facing contemporary youth communities.

As described in part one of this “Why Youth Matters” series, global policymakers responsible for development and anti-poverty strategies have long ignored the plight of youth sectors in national decision-making processes. Fortunately, though, we are seeing the first steps toward greater recognition.

The United Nations has established a global Youth Employment Network and helped sponsor a related Youth Employment Summit, held in Veracruz, Mexico in 2004.

Nearly 20 countries from the Global South are leading the way in implementing national action plans that address youth concerns — and recent years have also seen a growth in informal youth networks that are supported by non-governmental and private-sector organizations.

There are at least three major responses available to citizens and policymakers to support global youth movements and concerns. The first is called “Enhancing Youth Awareness and Positive Mobilization.”

There is need for youth involvement — especially those marginalized and minority sectors — in global and national policy dialogues.

There is also a great need for media to communicate development goals to and from these youth groups. Youth priorities must receive more attention in public debates and the social re-integration of youths vulnerable to conflict should be a top priority.

For example, the non-profit Search for Common Ground (SFCG) has worked with local youth networks in Sierra Leone in mobilizing civic education and monitoring post-war elections.

Similarly, in Burundi, SFCG ethnic reconciliation programs have targeted the participation of diverse youth groups in their national humanitarian efforts, cooperative sporting events, peace camps and radio programming.

The second response is called “Formulating Youth-Sensitive Policy.” Youth-focused policy demands “youth monitoring” to assure the incorporation of youth goals in public policy — to consider youth not as their own separate niche, but as an integral part of the larger social system.

Action plans developed in Brazil and Indonesia provide helpful templates for other national initiatives, while transnational youth networks should communicate their best practices and the lessons they have learned.

Inspiring examples of youth entrepreneurs and community groups can be found on the websites of Youth Business International, International Youth Foundation and Oxfam’s International Youth Parliaments.

The third response is called “Offering Opportunities for Youth to Help Themselves.” Recent years have seen growing institutional support for young leaders by leading non-profits and social enterprises.

However, there still remains a great need to make credit available to youthful entrepreneurs, to create multi-sector partnerships with donor, business and government leaders — and to strengthen collaboration among youth groups, local authorities and community leaders.

There is potential to extend the reach of vocational education and to create better incentives for youth mentoring and apprenticeship, as demonstrated by the case of our ex-convict turned entrepreneur Angel.

Youth are at risk around the globe — and history begs us to listen to their concerns and frustrations. There are, of course, no easy answers for the widespread unemployment, labor insecurity and civil conflicts of our day.

However, in these rapidly changing times, it falls to policymakers, civic and business leaders, parents and other concerned citizens to creatively deal with our impending youth crisis.

We are well advised to treat youth not as threats, but rather, as partners, stakeholders — and as potential innovators for civic dynamism and sustainable economic growth in our new millennium.

Read Part I: Why Youth Matters