They can be instrumental in defining and delivering a post-Covid policy reset
*15% of the world’s population – some 1.2 billion people – are aged between 15 to 29. On International Youth Day we call on the world to acknowledge that from Covid-19 to Tokyo 2020, young people offer solutions and leadership.
As leaders of the world’s six largest youth organisations, our movements collectively reach 250 million young people every year. Our networks of national organisations, local chapters, volunteers and young changemakers tell us that now is the time for young people finally to be heard. They need to be recognised as part of the solution to the world’s biggest challenges – from climate change, to gender inequality, to the impact of Covid.
Here are three reasons why this International Youth Day makes us call for action.
First, the world gets ever younger. 10 billion more people are yet to be born in this Century. This exponential growth will continue to be uneven, with concentration in more populous and less developed countries resulting in more mouths to feed, more young people to educate, and more jobs to provide.
Second, predicting the future may be a flawed exercise when the present crisis of a fast-warming planet requires immediate action on behalf of young people. Greta Thunberg spoke for millions of her peers when she told the UN two years ago that, mired in climate inertia, global leaders had stolen not just her childhood, but her dreams for her future.
Third, we believe that this is young people’s kairos: their moment, their time. The Covid pandemic has accelerated and heightened that moment, magnifying both crisis and opportunity.
The Covid crisis is clear enough. The virus has highlighted the inequity and vulnerability of global society: it may affect us all, but it discriminates to the extent that many countries and many groups of people are less equipped to deal with it.
Covid has disproportionately affected young people, and especially young girls and women. It has disrupted their education, their training, their jobs, their relationships, their mental health. They knew all these challenges prior to the pandemic, and then they became its pariahs: largely ignored in policy response, blamed for the spread of Covid, and increasingly left to their own devices.
We have seen how Covid has made the vulnerable even more vulnerable. Vaccine inequity is a fact. Gender and domestic based violence have increased significantly, as well as teenage marriage of young girls in Africa and parts of Asia.
Yet this moment also brings a real opportunity for young people.
The untold story of Covid-19 is that young people are the solution, not the problem. At the end of last year, we ‘Big Six’ youth organisations came together – with the backing of the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization – in a Global Youth Mobilization to highlight and promote young people, their ideas and their innovative solutions to the impact of the virus and the many community challenges that have come with it.
What we have seen is that – given a platform, agency and inter-generational accompaniment – young people can become partners in providing solutions across communities and countries. They are addressing mental and physical health, mitigating the impact of disruption to education, training in digital skills, improving employability through support to livelihoods and financial literacy, providing vocational training and skills, raising awareness on vaccines and other forms of Covid prevention.
So on International Youth Day we ask how we can make this great moment of opportunity for young people official.
We are calling on Governments, UN agencies, corporations and civil society to put young people at the centre of a great post-Covid policy reset.
Governments must strengthen their youth policies and put money behind them. They must commit to having children and young people from diverse backgrounds playing a direct role in policy development and decision-making. They must ensure equal access to healthcare for children and young people, whatever their status. They must invest in user-friendly, low-cost systems to ensure children and young people have digital access to education, both formal and informal – within school and without. They must commit to upskilling and reskilling to future-proof careers. In all these commitments, they must pledge to pay even greater attention to girls and young women.
The intergovernmental world must remain fully behind this. The UN, the EU, the African Union and the Commonwealth all recognise the need for a coordinated effort to put young people centre-stage.
Big and small business, too, must continue to play its part in investing in young people’s futures. It’s not just the work of their charitable foundations; it is core business, and it’s also good for business. Consumers are recognising the value of ensuring we have businesses that put the future and young people first.
And we in civil society have a big role to play. We are not service providers to young people, but facilitators of their ideas: we’re supporters, followers, and co-creators, providing space for them to lead.
And when they lead, they lead well. It has been inspiring watching young Olympians in Tokyo these last two weeks – many of them teenagers – competing not just with extraordinary skill and determination, but also with humility and humanity, rejoicing in others’ success.
Young people are already on the podium: that’s where they must stay.
By Ahmed Alhendawi (World Organization of the Scout Movement), Carlos Sanvee (World YMCA), Casey Harden (World YWCA), John May (The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation), Anna Segall (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), Jagan Chapagain (IFRC, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies).