We have all witnessed over the last two years that youth are shaping the political landscape of their countries. I have seen young people driving innovations and economic and social entrepreneurship in every region of the world. I believe the best solutions to our shared challenges will come from harnessing the energy and creativity of youth.
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
This year International Youth Day highlights the theme “Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth.” The importance of engaging young people in political, economic, and civic spheres is evident just by looking at the numbers: more than one in six people on the planet are between the ages of 15 and 24. Yet these adolescents and young adults are all too often neglected when it comes to opportunities to lead a fulfilling and prosperous life.
One reason is the pace of demographic change: according to the UN Population Division, the number of young people globally has been steadily increasing since 1950 and will continue to rise – with a concentration in low- and lower-middle-income countries – for at least another two decades. As the Arab Spring shows, if governments cannot provide satisfactory prospects for their growing populations, social unrest may follow.
Beyond economic exclusion, which manifests itself in high youth unemployment (or employment in the informal sector), political exclusion of youth is another reason why young people often feel neglected. In many countries political parties and state institutions remain dominated by older officials who may not understand the needs and concerns of youth, and are unwilling to seek out the views of young people. CIPE works with local partners in countries around the world to counteract the exclusion of youth in all aspects of public life and to partner with the next generation of leaders. Here are a few examples:
Young people interested in entrepreneurship can connect via CIPE’s online Community of Young Entrepreneurs (CYE), a platform for conversations to stimulate entrepreneurship. CYE features success stories, questions, and resources to share insights, experiences, news and opinions valuable to other young entrepreneurs. If you want to be a part of that discussion, send your submission to email@example.com or comment on an existing post.
CIPE’s ChamberL.I.N.K.S. (Leaders, Innovators, and Knowledge Sharing) program provides rising stars from partner chambers of commerce and business associations overseas with the opportunity to gain valuable leadership skills in the United States. They spend several weeks with host chambers and associations in the U.S., mutually benefiting from the new perspective and unique skills that each visiting young professional and each host organization possesses. Since 2007, over 20 young people from around the world have shadowed 20 different chambers of commerce and associations in the U.S. through this program.
CIPE has recently launched a similar project in cooperation with Atlas Corps called ThinkTank L.I.N.K.S. We are currently looking for young researchers from developing countries who are interested in democratic and economic reform issues to participate in this great opportunity to spend six months at a policy think tank in Washington, DC. Apply now!
Every year CIPE also calls on young people around the globe to share their thoughts and ideas on the role of democracy, market economy, entrepreneurship, and similar themes in the development of their countries. In its recent fourth annual International Youth Essay competition CIPE received more than 400 entries from 65 countries, from Afghanistan to Uganda. The three essay categories were Corruption, Democratic Transitions, and Economically Sustainable Development. The winners were selected by an international panel of judges and you can read their essays here. We are about to launch the 2012 edition – check back tomorrow for the official launch announcement!
Aside from these worldwide programs, CIPE’s work with youth also focuses on projects in select countries. In Peru, CIPE has been working with Instituto Inverir on a very successful EmprendeAhora initiative, winner of CIPE’s 2011 Leading Practices Contest. This program provides young people from outside of the capital of Lima with entrepreneurial skills and greater awareness of the role of democracy, the market economy, and the rule of law in building prosperous societies. All participants complete a final project that includes a business plan and a video on the relationship between democracy and the market economy. They also conduct a training session in their home towns sharing what they have learned. Notably, authors of the best business plans have an opportunity to secure private funding for their businesses. Since 2008, EmprendeAhora alumni have started over 40 companies in diverse sectors such as ecotourism, IT, and architecture.
In Afghanistan, for the past eight years CIPE has been implementing a program in partnership with the Ministry of Education to help Afghan youth learn more about entrepreneurship and basic business skills. Since the program’s inception, approximately 13,000 high school students have completed the three-year Tashabos youth entrepreneurship course – half of them girls and young women. In 2011 alone, 177 Tashabos students successfully started their own businesses. In total, 1,362 of the Tashabos graduates have set up their own businesses, 204 have revived a family business, and 350 have helped expand an existing family business, creating 7,336 jobs in their communities.
In Nepal, CIPE partner Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, among other youth-focused initiatives, launched the innovative Arthalaya program, which is a five-day workshop promoting concepts of entrepreneurship and the market economy. The program aims to engage Nepalese youth in the private sector and encourage them to start new businesses and bring new ideas for promoting economic and democratic reform. CIPE and Samriddhi recently created a publication, “Building a New Generation of Entrepreneurs in Nepal,” which profiles eight of the graduates of Arthalaya who have launched their own businesses. Since the program started in 2009, more than 300 students have completed it, and Samriddhi now runs Arthalaya with funding from local private sector donors and nominal student fees.
Young people around the world show every day that they can be the agents of transformative change. However, that requires getting things right in many important areas, from healthcare to training and education to gender equality. Crucially, youth can help countries realize the benefits of demographic dividend – a time-limited window of opportunity for rapid income growth and poverty reduction when societies shift from high rates of fertility and mortality to low birthrates and longer life expectancies. As demographics shift, countries temporarily end up with large shares of young populations that can fuel strong economic growth and development, provided that policies conducive to entrepreneurship and employment are in place. To make sure that this opportunity is not missed, countries must provide avenues of civic engagement so that voices of youth can be heard – and heeded – in the policymaking process.
Do you want to be part of the discussion on building a better world through partnering with youth? Join us for a series of international Twitter chats @CIPEGlobal all this week! Follow along with the hashtag: #YouthChange.