Born and raised into the millennium, with destinies handcuffed to development goals and great expectations, how do young people of today struggle for identity despite being perceived as a homogeneous mass? And how such identities intersect and mediate their ability to achieve wellbeing, and compliment their role within the society and contribution to development?
Conversations overheard as the expiry date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) draw nearer on the role of youth in the next set of development goals – the Post 2015 agenda. Discussions on inclusivity, equality, and sustainability are raising questions on the extent to which the current growth centered development models have succeeded in finding solutions to some of the pressing issues such as extreme poverty, hunger, energy and environmental crisis. To this end the discussions on national and international development, cooperation, policymaking, and resource mobilization are also looking into the crux of youth inclusive development, as youth present themselves as part of the problems such as HIV/AIDS, unemployment etc. Such conversations are currently gaining momentum across the world, through platforms such as Beyond2015, World We Want 2015, and the upcoming World Conference on Youth which will be held in Sri Lanka in May 2014.
The growing youth budge is a cause of concern owing to unrest and frustration fueled by debilitating poverty, overwhelming unemployment, prolong dependency on parents, diminished self-esteem, and exposure to violence and injustice. Youth uprisings we witnessed for instance in Venezuela, Arab Spring, Occupy Movement are indication of youth being indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities. Discussions on making youth a part of the solutions have been taking place for some time. Yet little has been the progression.
Treating youth as a homogeneous mass and not fully realizing their potential and role in adult lead societies present as an obstacle. For instance, across the Red Sea in Yemen, where nearly 74% are under 30, we saw how the disenfranchisement of youth – partially owing to the generation dynamics – played a large role in the 2011 unrest. We have heard similar stories from around the world where youth feel sidelined from shaping policies, and from involvement in crucial national dialogues. And their restlessness is an indication of their desire to participate to find solutions to problems that affect their lives and the environment around them.
With capabilities converge at the navel of technology and considerably improved status of entitlements experienced compared to their previous generations, the global youth of today are true manifestations of globalization, sharing similarities with one another than the older generations. Albeit, their capabilities to participate in the global change process are suppressed through adult lead and adult initiated participatory models. There is a dire need to advance and compliment the role of the youth in Post-2015 agenda – to make them an enabling pillar to drive the next set of development goals.
Especially with more than 85% of the youth living in the developing world, the power to challenge existing systems and to reinvent the change processes could lie in the hands of this generation. In South Asia which is one of the fastest growing regions, yet home to the largest concentration of poor in the world, one fifth of the population belong to the ages of 15 to 24. India alone has some 200 million young people, which is the largest number of young people ever to transition into adulthood, both in South Asia and in the world as a whole. In Africa (both Sub-Saharan and North Africa), nearly 70% of the population is under 30. This demographic bonus could truly be the window of opportunity that the world desperately need at a time where we are still fighting against extreme poverty, deteriorating environmental indicators, violence and conflict.
Implicitly, discussions must take place not only to commit through near-universal ratifications to acknowledge and respect the role of the youth, but also to explore ‘how’ youth can find solutions to some of the pressing issues the world endure. For instance to find cure for HIV, or find solutions to global energy crisis, and to reimagine development models and reinvent ideal societies where development is measured through happiness, profound and true quality of life, equality, sustainability, peace, and prosperity of every single agent of the society.
Criticisms succumb to a status quo of abysmal dismay raising questions on whether such role could possibly be anticipated from this generation; and whether this is only a utopian way of thinking. In the contemporary youth culture where young people struggle for identity in the battle over the shifting lines of socio-economic, political and ethno-religious structures, and influences of universal' ideological frames ranging from neo-liberalism to Maoism or religious fundamentalism to feminism, how do young people assume salience, influence and foster change?
We have heard the drumrolls playing and mourners treading indicating the iconic state where the growth models have failed us, the wars and inequalities have devastated us, economic and environmental calamities have plunged us to the deepest grounds. Conversations overheard on the next set of development goals could be the much anticipated salvation for people and communities that have been living under extreme conditions for prolonged periods of time. Thus, this is the most opportune moment to pick our change agents and fully understand their role in the change process. Without a question youth is the untapped power source of change that as a world we must make a use of. Albeit questions are yet unanswered on ‘what’ is the nature of their role and ‘how’ to help them fully realize this role?