Youth Are a Resource for Meeting Global Challenges

International Youth Day is observed every August 12.
International Youth Day is observed every August 12.

By Jane Morse
10 August 2013

Washington — With more than half the world’s population under the age of 30, youth are often seen as a problem instead of an opportunity. “But that viewpoint needs to change,” says Zeenat Rahman, special adviser on global youth issues to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Youth are a key component to solving many of the world’s most pressing global challenges. It can’t and shouldn’t be done without their voice and input,” Rahman said. “It’s important to highlight young people who are leading in their communities and who serve as role models for others.”

In an interview leading up to International Youth Day — an annual U.N.-led celebration observed on August 12 — Rahman acknowledged that many of the world’s young people face challenges, in areas such as accessing education and employment. “But they are also often the ones creating solutions,” she said.

Young people are the drivers of innovation and economic growth, and act as positive change agents, Rahman said, but their potential needs to be cultivated. To that end, the State Department has a number of initiatives to foster progress in these areas:

Economic empowerment: The State Department is partnering with the private sector to conduct entrepreneurship training and networking in every region of the world and bringing this issue to the highest levels of government.

Political participation: Young people are being included in multilateral meetings such as the International Labour Conference, the Community of Democracies Ministerial and the U.N. General Assembly. “Additionally,” the special adviser commented, “we are providing youth the opportunity to join youth councils in our embassies and consulates, where they meet with leadership, including the ambassador, to discuss our policies, the challenges they face and possible solutions.”• Skills training: The State Department has placed significant emphasis on empowering youth and providing skills that match market demands. One example is TechGirls, which is focused on empowering 15- to 17-year-old girls in the Middle East and North Africa regions, including Tunisia. “The program emphasizes hands-on skills development in fields such as programming, robotics, mobile application building, Web design, video graphics and 3-D game design,” Rahman said. “It is intended to help them break into the science and technology fields.”

Education: Malala Day — observed at the United Nations July 12 in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot by Taliban terrorists for her outspoken support for girls’ schooling — reinvigorated the international community. “But 57 million children are out of school and many more cannot afford higher education,” Rahman said. “This has a direct impact on the employability of young people and the global economy.” One way the State Department is addressing this issue is through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a platform that provides open access to higher education courses online.

Engaging young leaders in Africa: Africa is a continent of 1 billion people, and more than 60 percent are under age 35. “By 2050, one-quarter of the world’s workforce will reside in Africa,” Rahman said. “To remain competitive in the global marketplace, America needs to establish partnerships with African countries and Africa’s rising young leaders who are helping to fuel the growth of these economies.” To meet this need, President Obama in June launched the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which will give young people the opportunity to study at U.S. universities and intern in the United States in the summer of 2014. In addition, the Apps4Africa competition was launched in 2009 as an annual program that rewards social entrepreneurs using technology to solve societal problems.

Learn more on the State Department’s Office of Global Youth Issues webpage.