The release of the new USAID policy (PDF) on youth and development is an opportunity to reflect on whether our work in development is truly serving the next generation. As millions of young people transition from school to work, the urgency of the problem is clear. These young people have the potential to be engines of significant economic growth and agents of social change. But if we fail to equip them with the skills they need, and if the market is unable to provide meaningful work, they will be a drain on national resources and a source of social instability.
Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the problems faced by youth are particularly severe. Unemployment among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 ranges as high as 60 percent. And young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are suffering a crisis of confidence. They have lost faith that this society can provide them any opportunity for success. Civic involvement among young people is extremely low, and an alarming 97 percent of youth believe they have no or little influence on important decisions in the local community.
But the problem does not lie in them. The problem is a society where young people have been taught that corruption is normal and acceptable, that the powerful can prey on the weak with impunity, and that the citizen does not have a meaningful voice.
Yet these young people are brimming with good ideas to challenge societal norms. With the help of USAID, young people around the country are developing projects and putting them in motion. These projects are designed to tackle many of the country’s greatest needs. These young people want to be the driving force behind social change by rebuilding divided multi-ethnic communities, becoming political leaders, and working with local officials to push for changes and resources for youth-driven community projects. They are ready to move their country into a prosperous future as a member of the European Union.
Investing in these young people is one of the soundest investments we can make. Development programs targeting youth can be enormously cost effective. USAID Bosnia is investing in programming that leverages three dollars for every dollar of USAID assistance. We are investing in job training programs linked to strategic industries in partnership with the private sector. And we are teaching young people how to advocate for themselves. By strengthening civil society, promoting entrepreneurship and helping to develop young leaders, we believe that a small investment now will result in a significant return in both economic and social development.
For more about youth programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, visit our website.