After attending the World Bank’s Global Youth Summit and participating in several discussions on young change makers and the post-2015 development agenda, I was left with an impression that the global community is at the precipice of truly elevating the youth platform on major issues in development. This year’s summit theme was on “Youth Entrepreneurship: Cultivating an innovative spirit to alleviate global youth unemployment” and included a case competition in addition to a series of discussion panels.
Young professionals at USAID had the chance to engage with our international colleagues on issues facing young entrepreneurs, particularly in developing nations. We actively shared USAID resources relevant to our young colleagues on programs like the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), Fall Semester, and USAID’s Youth in Development policy which has the goal to “improve the capacities and enable the aspirations of youth so that they can contribute to and benefit from more stable, democratic, and prosperous communities and nations.” At the summit, my “brothers and sisters” in development, as one panelist put it, joined us via livestream from Mexico City, Freetown, Addis Ababa, Bucharest, Juba, and many other cities around the world. Perhaps what I was most impressed with the entire day was the enthusiasm and tenacity with which these international change agents engaged the panelists during the Q&A, often jockeying for a turn to ask their potent and thought-provoking questions regarding corruption, political engagement, and technical infrastructure. Seeing their passion to contribute to and enliven the discussion proves that young people are catalyzers for changing the world and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.
Even still, for my generation, which currently account for almost ¼ of the world’s population, there are many barriers and limitations for youth involvement, especially in developing countries. UN Envoy on Youth, 29 year-old Ahmad Alhendawi, noted that the average age for the general African population is 18 whereas the average age of politicians is over 60. With this discrepancy, it’s no wonder youth concerns appear to go unheeded. Corruption, poor infrastructure, and lack of capital, all major obstacles for young entrepreneurs across the developing world, are unfortunate and unacceptable realities that must be addressed by our leaders.
My major take away from the Summit was this: much is being done to shift conversation towards youth engagement, but there is still much to be done to translate this talk into action. I challenge the leaders in the development world to take the first step by following the example of the UN. Aid agencies and members of the international development world should appoint a designated Youth Coordinator for their respective organizations, someone who can concentrate the organization’s efforts to respond to the needs of young people so they are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to advance the global community. To do this, he or she must work to arm young leaders not just with resumes and CVs, but with business plans and investment opportunities. Barriers must be reduced for political involvement and entrepreneurial spirits must be encouraged. USAID’s Youth in Development policy commits the Agency to do just that.
As I left the Summit, I mulled over a quote from John F. Kennedy that Global Poverty Project Co-Founder and CEO Hugh Evans shared with us:
“We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
What struck me the most about this quote was the realization that my brothers and sisters across the world, despite the limitations we may face, are not only living by this quote but are inspiring others to join them. I hope you’ll join me and other young leaders as our generation fights to end extreme poverty.