There is no gainsaying that human capital is important for international development. Skills affect the people’s lives, as it boosts economic and social development in many ways. Societies that invest adequately into human capital development – which is key to national development – are building blocks for firmer economic, political and social status quo. Whereas young people need to be placed at the forefront of human development, the failure to invest in them reflects a lack of compassion and a colossal failure to sustain ongoing reforms and development.
One major challenge for international development is the lack of (or inadequate) investment in the rising youth population. I am particular about harnessing youth potentials because the world now has the largest generation aged 15 – 24 in history, and ninety percent of these young people live in developing countries. Many of these countries are already experiencing a “youth bulge”. Over half the world’s population is under the age of 30; yet progressive plans are not really in place, at the global level, to meet up with the increasing number of youth. The problem originates from the marginalization of young people. They usually do not have sufficient support in place to help them. In some regions, youth are perceived as problems to be solved; they are a missed opportunity to be fully engaged in the society. Whilst young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 need better support and programs to help them become productive members of the society; they are mostly swallowed up in the bigger picture as they are either grouped with adolescents or with all adults. They are often treated as a distinct population in policy, programs and research.
Now that youth unemployment reportedly stands at over 90 million people worldwide, there is need to challenge longstanding practices which hinders young people from participating at vital levels within the society. Ignorance, illiteracy and insufficient knowledge about how to represent and solve their needs have helped limit many young people in the globe, especially in Africa. Early marriages and inequity in education have also complicated matters for some of Africa’s young people. But if we will ever meet up with international development challenges, we need a generation of ground-breaking and adaptable young who are willing and rightly empowered to create their own future. I strongly believe that young people are conduits of creativity and catalysts for global change.
In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), investment in youth would reduce inequalities, promote decent work and economic growth, and boost industry, innovation and infrastructure. It would also pave the way for peace and promotion of human rights laws – which are necessary for the entrenchment of democracy and good governance. But the lack of investment in youth can prevent them from reaching their full potentials. It can also prove costly to governments on the long run. The current education systems are failing youth by not equipping them with the right skills to transition to work. Many young people do not acquire refined, quality education – even after spending decades in school. The essence and quality of education need to be revisited.
Recently, a report from UN Children’s Fund and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) warned that without a major investment from Pacific Island governments, youth could falter as a generation – and this could impede the economic development of these pacific nations. The report also recommends that governments and donor agencies improve the governance of youth issues, including developing youth employment strategies, which meets different needs of youth. In Europe, the European Youth Forum continues to call for the repackaging of systems so as to effectively tackle youth unemployment.
The failure to invest in preparing youth for productive lives could even lead to a dependent young population engaging in crime, violence and other forms of domestic terrorisms. In Nigeria, for instance, it was reported that Boko Haram secretly recruited and employed the services of unemployed Nigerian youths to perpetrate evil. Whether this is originally true or false, there are tendencies for such to happen scenarios on the long run if we fail to make adequate investment on the youth. This makes youth investments crucial for international development.
Our growing organization, Young African Leaders Forum (YALF), upholds the value of non-formal education amongst youth, and the right to education of the girl child. Through experiences, I realized that many young people in Africa have the potentials of becoming good business managers, technocrats, activists and community development knowledge facilitators – when they undergo quality non-formal education and mentorship. But how many governments and private bodies in Africa offer this? How many underprivileged young people need to be reached? We need to reach a consensus and adopt strong policies which will consistently protect the right to quality education.
To promote international development, governments must work actively with all constituencies, particularly civil society organisations – which are mostly led by young adults, to help design national strategies, deliver services and defend human rights. The following radical rules can be adopted:
- Entrench Quality Education: Radical changes that would entrench quality need to be made in the educational sector; this will help developing countries meet their target of transforming into middle income countries. Quality education is key to personal development. Young people need to learn the essential leadership skills, knowledge they need to take action for international development.
- Support Youth Entrepreneurs: Governments and private bodies must partner to support the innovations of young people, provide adequate mentoring and easy access to start-up capital. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, which reportedly empowers about 1000 young innovators annually with start-up seed grant of $5, 000 each, is a great example of youth investment. We must frown at government policies that suppress enterprise development. Since MSMEs fuel the growth of Canada as they make up for 97% of the country’s economy, supporting MSMEs owners should be a 21st century imperative for all nations.
- Build Youth: Ignorance, unemployment, and other attributes of juvenile delinquencies have led some young people to prisons. Criminal convictions and incarcerations negatively affects young adult’s employment, educational attainment and civic engagement. There is need to organise for rehabilitation programmes for young adults in the justice system – or for ex-convicts, as the case may be. Like the YouthBuild in the United States, we can give this group of young adults another chance to establish legacy by contributing to the development of their community.
- Involve Youth in Decision Making: A recent report from Uganda claimed that the Federal Government compiled a National Youth Policy without consulting or involving young people. We must involve young people in every important discussion about their future. Governments must stop silencing youth activists; instead work with them. The social media can also help young people reclaim their rights.
- Make Youth Employable: Youth unemployment is another hot-button issue. Many young people lack the practical skills and experience which makes them employable. Governments, private bodies and civil society organisations must organise vocational and skill acquisition programmes (like even ICT trainings) which will empower more young people. This will attract huge results in Africa and Asia-Pacific. We must help our youths develop vital life skills; being unemployed can lead to increase in the risk of poverty, deskilling and social exclusion.
These five rules for radicals can help position the world’s young people on the right path in international development. Youths can be decision makers; they can contribute to international development decision making processes. They are leaders of spirited movements, they are media makers. But they need opportunities, quality education and inspiration; through adequate investments. If we can keep the youths busy, we would have changed the face of conflicts all over the globe.
When we empower young people and boost the rights of the girl child, we work against poverty and boost shared prosperity.
President, Young African Leaders Forum (YALF),