How to Help the World’s Youth
April 3, 2014
Brimming with talent and ideas, today’s youth—the largest and most connected generation in human history—are creating a new global reality, and charting an unprecedented course for themselves and their communities. They are defending democracy, promoting peace, and with an enterprising spirit, desperately wanting the opportunity to work hard, build a sustainable livelihood and live up to their potential. Today’s young people are an inspired generation, poised to drive global prosperity and security not only for themselves and their families today, but their communities and nations for generations to come.
But we know demography is not destiny. Their fate may be challenged. The promise in youth is often overshadowed—and in some cases undermined—by absent or ineffective policies, weak systems, poor infrastructure, unsatisfactory education and training, or inadequate investments and avenues of participation that limit the opportunities youth deserve and the world demands.
Fundamentally, however, young people’s needs and aspirations have too often gone largely unnoticed or unheard. Why? One reason is that we simply don’t have a strong enough understanding of how they are doing or feeling.
To help shed light on how young people are faring around the world, and in turn increase youth-centered policy dialogue and investments, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Youth Foundation (IYF), with principal support form Hilton Worldwide, have today launched the inaugural Global Youth Wellbeing Index in hopes of facilitating thought and action by, with, and in the interests of today’s youth.
The index measures youth wellbeing based on 40 indicators comprising six interconnected domains in 30 countries, covering 70 percent of the world’s young people. And there were some striking lessons [findings?]:
- A large majority of the world’s young people are experiencing lower levels of wellbeing—85 percent of the youth represented in our Index live in countries with below average scores overall.
- Even where young people are doing relatively well, they still face specific challenges and limitations. Spanish youth, for example, face economic exclusion, while Saudi young people grapple with safety and security.
- Though young people may not be thriving overall, they display success in certain areas. Colombian and Ugandan youth, for example, top the ranks in terms of citizen participation.
- Across countries, average scores indicate young people faring best in health, weakest in economic opportunity, and with the most variance in information and communications technology.
There are roughly 1.8 billion young people on the planet, living for the most part in emerging and developing economies and fragile states. Yet these global youth are not a monolithic group, and face cultural, geographic, economic, and political constraints and opportunities.
While we anticipate young people, policy makers, donors and investors will largely respond within their immediate communities and countries, we hope this index will also help stimulate discussion about the global economic, social and political agenda (including the Post 2015 development framework) for young people, allowing for recommendations that can be acted upon both globally and locally—anywhere and everywhere.
So where should action start? The index also highlights the need to elevate and better connect and coordinate policies and investments concerning young people, and for closer attention to youth satisfaction and aspirations, increasing youth participation and elevating youth voices by highlighting the opinions and outlook of young people themselves.
Of course, providing sufficient opportunities, addressing needs, meeting aspirations and supporting success among millions of youth is a real challenge—especially for still cash-strapped governments still trying to steer their economies back toward sustainable growth. But the potential payoff is huge—not least economically. Now is the time to invest in strategic policies, partnerships and programs that engage and equip youth to be productive and realize their ambitions.
If this transformative generation can be given the tools it needs to thrive, then we will all be the better off for it.
This essay originally appeared on April 3, 2014, on CNN Global Public Square. It is reprinted here with permission.
Nicole Goldin is director of the Youth, Prosperity, and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and principal author of The Global Youth Wellbeing Index (CSIS, April 2014).
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.