What should be included in Pakistan’s National Youth Policy? And who should have input into how the policy is written? The answer to the second question is easy – young people themselves should have the opportunity to make recommendations for incorporation into such a policy before it is passed. But, that almost did not happen – a draft National Youth Policy for Pakistan was written by the previous government and was set to be passed without any input from stakeholders.
However, the outgoing government ran out of time to approve the policy, which presented a unique opportunity to facilitate dialogue between the new government and youth. Earlier this week, CIPE, the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), and the Ministry of Youth Affairs held a conference in Islamabad on the draft policy – the first-ever opportunity for youth in Pakistan to provide feedback directly to policymakers.
The drive of Pakistan’s youth to play an active role in the reform process was evident. To attend the conference, participants traveled to Islamabad from all areas of Pakistan, including Lahore, Mardan, Multan, and Peshawar, just one day after a fatal bombing in the federal capital. In total, over 130 students, young entrepreneurs, and decision-makers attended, which is 60 more than originally anticipated.
During breakout sessions, participants developed recommendations for the National Youth Policy in the fields of entrepreneurship, skills development, micro-finance, and internship programs, which were provided to the Ministry. Among the many practical suggestions, participants recommended:
- Establishing a lower loan interest rate for young entrepreneurs with sustainable business plans;
- Instituting a uniform application process for the Government’s internship program to give equal opportunity to all students;
- Creating career centers and incubation centers in universities, and holding job fairs; and
- Cultivating partnerships between universities, chambers of commerce, and businesses to guide students in entrepreneurial activities and job placement.
The Youth Conference was attended by Secretary for Youth Affairs Mr. Ashfaq Mahmood, who demonstrated his strong commitment to engaging youth in the reform process. He took notes throughout the young people’s presentations of their policy recommendations and provided feedback on the spot. At the conclusion of the event, he observed, “This is the beginning of the dialogue,” and stated, “[the Ministry of Youth Affairs is] responsible for delivering the promises set forth in the [National Youth] Policy.” He also requested further input from the participants on the issue of developing the entrepreneurial capacities of rural youth, which is a pressing issue in Pakistan due to a high unemployment rate and a large youth population.
Speakers at the conference included Mr. Muhammad Ijaz Abbasi , president of ICCI, Mr. Moin Fudda, country director of CIPE Pakistan, and representatives from USAID and the Acumen Fund. Mr. Fudda emphasized the importance of creating an enabling business environment for youth, noting, “Bringing young entrepreneurs into mainstream economic activities will strengthen the entrepreneurial culture in [Pakistan].”
At the conclusion of the event, participants and policymakers agreed that creating a good policy is just the first step in developing the entrepreneurial capacity of youth in Pakistan. Implementation of the current policy and youth’s continued participation in the policymaking process will determine whether the policy will build the entrepreneurial capacity of young people. The ICCI’s Young Businessmen Forum, which was established in 2008 with the assistance of CIPE, is well-positioned to continue the dialogue between the government and youth to ensure that the Ministry incorporates the conference recommendations into the draft policy.
The Center for International Private Enterprise conducts youth programs around the world to engage young people in the democratic and economic development of their countries. To learn more about these programs, visit CIPE’s website.