For those who research and develop strategies for youth development, it is a good thing that ‘youth’ has progressed into a global agenda. But our work does not stop there, we need to do more to ensure that this idolizing is actualized in creating meaningful opportunities for young people.
In particular, youth unemployment has gained the attention of global leaders such as within the World Economic Forum and as evidenced in the outcomes of the Annual Global Shapers Survey assessing young people's perception and action in technology, economy, values, governance and business. This report reveals some truths yet to be addressed and which Simon Sinek has alluded to in his viral video on ‘what’s wrong with this generation’. Fundamentally, the claim that the current generation of young people feel entitled to everything might not be necessarily true. Their everyday lives portray a generation that is continually denied any opportunity to make meaning of themselves in a rather uncertain and neoliberal world.
We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future - Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This is the very claim that Pope Francis addressed in part of his end year message. Just as his 2015 Encyclical, Laudato si, challenged the world to care for the planet, the Pope has again helped focus the world attention on this century’s issue: young people. Pope Francis argued for the need to create opportunities ‘so that they [youth] can be capable of dreaming and fighting for their dreams’. He observed that ‘we have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future’.Indeed, these marginal opportunities for young people have been written about previously, for instance, the Precariat by Guy Standing (focusing on developed countries, and further explained here), The Time of Youth by Alcinda Honwana (focusing on African youth waithood and aspirations), and the Global Futures for East Asia Youth by Ann Anagnost et al (focusing on youth meaning making in East Asia).
The lack of opportunities, poverty, conflicts and disasters have influenced the rate at which young men and women despair and move elsewhere to find hope. Take for instance North Africa where youth unemployment was near 30% in 2016 according to the ILO. Almost 5,000 people died attempting to reach Europe by boat from North Africa in 2016 alone. Of the 181, 000 boat migrants - mostly African - who reached Italy in 2016, 25,000 were unaccompanied minors, double the number who came in 2015. However, migration is just one piece of the puzzle; there are million other youth engaging in illegal activities, hustling in meagre informal sector, joining cartels, becoming rebels, or just waiting for opportunities to come by. Yet, the society continues to idolize them as the future and the demographic dividend of developing countries.
He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future - Adolf Hitler.
Pope’s argument that the world owes these young people ‘a debt of dignified and genuine work’ is then valid. The quest for ‘true inclusion’ should be hastened both in understanding and in action. How can we genuinely include young men and women in growing economies without seeming to be tokenistic or creating technologies of control and manage? How can governments and other actors create opportunities for work that is worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary? How can political and economic systems transform to include the marginalized, especially the young men and women who would have a huge influence on these systems anyway? It is about opening the doors that have remained closed to young people; bringing them at the negotiating table, not to hear their voices, but to include their views in planning, budgeting, evaluation, and forecasting.
This should be the end of leavening our youth for the future. They are here. They are knocking the doors. They are waiting. They are aware of what they can do, what they need, and what the world needs to do to assure their hopes and aspirations. They are entitled to the opportunity of having a chance to be productive citizens of this world.