In early April, I attended the launch event for a report entitled The Global Youth Wellbeing Index, at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to the report, there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 15-25 in the world today. The report is the first of its kind to measure the wellbeing of young people in various domains and suggest critical paths to improve the situation of young people’s role in changing society. More than 80% of the youth represented in the index have very low levels of wellbeing, lack economic opportunities, and face various challenges and limitations. The report surveyed Nepal’s neighbor to the south, India, and profiled several practices from which Nepal can learn.
The Global Youth Wellbeing
International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Center for Strategic and International Studies jointly produced the report with financial support from Hilton Worldwide. The report profiled six areas and examined 40 indicators. It summarized the opinions and statistics generated from 30 countries which are home to more than 70% of the world’s youth. According to the president of IYF, the report is the only way to solve today’s crises that are facing youth. He further emphasized the importance of measuring youth wellbeing to shape future generations. The index will provide a strong knowledge base to policy makers, businesses, donors, and youth organizations to define and prioritize focus programs and create sustainable solutions to many problems experienced by the world’s youth.
The report’s 40 indicators measure progress in the following six categories: civic participation, economic opportunity, education, health, information and communication technology, and safety and security. Among other topics, civic participation – which I think is the key to bringing changes in youth development – caught my attention because of its importance in the context of Nepal. The index highlights the importance of increasing the participation of youth in decision making.
Youth are not just the recipients of services, but are key leaders capable of defining those services they think are best for themselves and for society. Often, youth are considered a strong force for change in society, but are not given a proper role in decision-making that can produce more sustainable change. The report very comprehensively finds ways to measure the level of youth wellbeing on the basis of opportunities young people receive from active engagement in civic affairs. In many developing countries, young people play a vital role in making changes through use of their muscles, mind and motivations. Many regimes have changed due to the active participation of youth in many countries, such as in Tunisia and Egypt. In Nepal for example, the 1990 Mass Movement, the Maoist War, and 2006 People’s Movement are some examples where youth played a vital role.
Perception of Youth Index
Every society has their own way of viewing young people. Oftentimes, the conventional perception is to treat youth as ignorant or lacking the wisdom to lead and teach their elders. For many societies, it is hard to believe that youth participation in decision making on economics, education, and health is not only crucial but also beneficial. This conventional view is present in every society, it is embedded in culture and it molds behaviors and attitudes that are hard to break and hinder change.
While debating the role of youth empowerment for decision making, we should not forget the perception that society often has of its youth. Therefore, it would be an important addition to the wellbeing index to include indicators on the perception different age groups and sectors of society have towards the youth in their country. Without this complementary perception component and data on how perceptions of youth are in stasis or in flux, the wellbeing index is an incomplete analysis of the position and wellbeing of youth.
Numbers and Hope
Today’s youth throughout the globe are the hope and dreams of the 21st century. They should not be seen as problems, but should be treated as sources for the solutions of many of society’s common ills. Between them, the world’s youth have 1.8 billion dreams, 1.8 billion hopes and 1.8 billion opportunities. If we provide appropriate environments and opportunities to young people so that they can participate in civic governance in their societies, this will make them more self-reliant and responsible contributors to nation-building.
In many countries in the world, the youth bulge is a rapid phenomenon. In South Asia, the youth population is more than 50% of the total population. The youth bulge can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. It depends on each society, on how it wants to explore and utilize the potential of their youth. If not managed well, the youth bulge can become a restive demographic that can disrupt the normal functioning of the very societal institutions that seek to exclude them. Nepal’s Maoist War is an example of how young people can turn to violence if they feel that governments have not taken their wellbeing seriously.
The large number of youth in Nepal have the potential and the ingenuity to create and drive change. The recent census shows the youth population, those between the ages of 16-40 years, is about 48%. If they are given opportunities for employment, education, health and capacity building, they would be less likely to get involved in wars and fighting. By nature, youth are always primed to take new initiatives, test new ideas, and practice unusual behavior. If society provides enough ground for young people to play, they always become productive.
The wellbeing report has identified four key approaches to scale up youth development that can be utilized in Nepal:
- Advance youth voices and participation. If Nepal did this better, it would be able to harness new ideas and host more open and transparent dialogues on nation-building. Towards this end, I recommend creating a national level platform for youth, such as a National Youth Council, and developing a mandate for National Youth Policy. The Ministry of Youth and Sports should develop a comprehensive platform to engage youth on finding new ways to reach out to adolescents from remote, marginalized and under-served populations.
- Promote deep diving and targeted research and analysis. It is important to research to find out youth potential beyond the numbers. A national level database should be prepared of young people that profile their skills and interest through online and offline mechanisms.
- Consider integrated policies and programs. Separate sector policies should be developed for addressing youth impacts in the areas of health, education, public service, science and technology, and international development. Programs targeting youth in these sectors, along with strong coordination and collaborative mechanisms between the government, civil society organizations, and private institutions, will both better capture what skills and knowledge are needed among youth and better allow for programs and policies that foster those skills to be developed.
- Advance the body of age-disaggregated youth survey data. An open data initiative should be undertaken by the government to assess opportunities for and skill sets of youth. This will aid the private sector in matching talented youth to available jobs when planning new business ventures. The maximum age of youth should be reduced from 40 years to 29.