Tomorrow is International Youth Day. When I was asked to think about this blog post, I instantly felt a connection to the topic. I meet children and youth in all parts of my work at Heifer International, and the emotional connections with those families are deeply entrenched in my mind and heart. And what I know is this: we must be mindful about how we approach working with youth.
When I look at my 5 year old or any of the children I meet around the globe, I want more than anything to be able to reinforce confidence in a future that is positive and one that means every child has hope, health and dignity.
However, as I began researching and speaking with my Heifer colleagues to better understand the challenges and details of the state of our global youth, I realized the situation is far more sobering than I could have ever imagined.
We are living with the largest generation of young people our world has ever known, and the statistics are sobering:
- Today there are nearly 1.8 billion young people (age10-24) in a world of 7.3 billion
- The UN estimates there will be roughly 2 billion young people (10-24) by 2050
- Nearly 75 million youth are unemployed around the world, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007
- More than 120 million youth are illiterate, with young women accounting for 60.7 percent
- More than 40% of new HIV/AIDS infections occur among youth
- More than 500 million youth struggle to survive on less than $2 per day
- Every day, 39,000 girls under 18 become child brides
- More than 300,000 child soldiers fight in conflicts around the globe
I often think about the world that will exist in 30 years. As we are all making 2030 and 2050 goals, what seems so far away is already at our doorstep. We have a youth explosion that will dictate our circumstances, and our youth are faced with vastly different conditions for opportunity and exploitation than those faced by previous generations. The divides are growing wider, yet societies are more intricately woven than ever before.
In contrast, we are also faced with a generation of young people who have different intentions and expectations of how they plan to engage with the world around them. In a recent Deloitte 2015 Millennial Survey, millennials believe business needs to reset and focus more on people and the wellbeing of society than the advancement of profit and personal reward.
Will that shift in perceived mindset be enough to change the dynamics of our future? And create a new social fabric that allows for deep social change in all areas of our world?
I believe we cannot sit idly back and hope for this: we must put in the hard work to facilitate these changes.
Global, post-2015 agendas recognize the need for protection of youth rights, inclusion, empowerment, understanding and the critical need to take a systems approach to youth programs. Several of the Sustainable Development Goals include youth as a consideration, with targeted action items as part of
- Goal 4: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
How these are implemented will be of the utmost importance. Adaptation and deep engagement in the daily lives of young people will be critical to generating a sense of hopefulness and a desire for change.
At Heifer International, that means engaging at all levels of the farming communities where we work through:
- Technical and life skills development
- Access to productive assets
- Youth enterprise development
- Young women’s empowerment
- Creating social capital and community change.
Dignity and self-reliance matter as much as employment and dollars. Youth want to feel a sense of hope and community, not anger or frustration about a world in which they feel no sense of accountability or ownership.
It is never easy, and it doesn’t work the same way everywhere. It requires ongoing learning and understanding.
While our model focuses on engaging youth in the agricultural sector, I think the same ideology can be applied more generally. All youth are vulnerable. It is our responsibility to develop values and a sense of community and self-love.
We cannot take shortcuts in preparing this next generation for our growing population. We must change our mindsets about how we empower and enable our world for the future. Our lives depend on it.