Youth investment: Key to sustainable future

James Kon

While youth development is often one of the first casualties of social policy funding cuts, and is seen as the least urgent in terms of investment, there is ample evidence that financing youth development within the sustainable macro-economic framework has huge positive impacts for society in both the short and long term.

Investing in youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations. As such, it is vital to design and deliver national youth strategies for meeting the needs and aspirations of the young people.

The importance of investing in youth and not pruning funding was highlighted by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in her opening remarks at the Commonwealth Youth Senior Officials Meeting (Asia Region), at The Centrepoint Hotel yesterday.

The secretary-general recalled, “I attended the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Uganda on August 2017. This mid-way point on our road to the next Youth Ministers Meeting was an appropriate moment to take stock of what has been achieved since then.”

She said, “Commonwealth Ministers of Youth agreed to mainstream youth development into development planning, to prioritise youth participation in decision making and to invest more human and financial resources in youth development to support national efforts to accelerate the implementation of youth development policy priorities by 2030.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland speaks during the Commonwealth Youth Senior Officials Meeting (Asia Region). PHOTO: JAMES KON

“The challenge in social policy tends to be the implementation, which is why our youth policies have practical recommendations for actions and interventions that prioritise and tackle the specific challenges young people face. Yet the reality is that the policy actions are often not implemented on the scale needed to make a real impact,” she added.

She said, “It is encouraging that the Commonwealth Heads of Government who met last year fully supported youth development in accordance with the policy recommendations of Youth Ministers.”

The secretary-general also said, “In Paragraph 5 of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Communiqué, Commonwealth leaders agreed to mainstream youth priorities into national development policies and plans, and to promote the participation of young people at all levels of decision-making as underscored by Commonwealth Youth Ministers.”

She said, “Our leaders will assemble for the 2020 CHOGM in Rwanda. So we need to ask ourselves what progress we have made on their 2018 mandates.”

Asia has by far the largest youth population among the Commonwealth regions. According to the Commonwealth Youth Development Index, the Asia Regions has over 1.7 billion young people under the age of 25, with more than 525 million young people aged between 15 and 29. “That is the largest number of young people in the region’s history, and it presents us with a choice as policy- and decision-makers,” she said.

She hoped to learn what has been done in each country and community and how to address challenges and achieve impact on youth development priorities. The challenges may include lack of appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks, inadequate human and financial resources, or there may be too few trained youth workers, researchers and policy makers.

Challenges in youth development at the national level are linked to the challenges in the global and national macroeconomic environments, exacerbated by the global economic crisis of 2008.

Since then, the world economy has experienced a slow growth and increasing challenges to the rising debt burden in some small states, growing unemployment, inflation and other structural economic uncertainties. External shocks from financial and economic crises – including ability to service debt – or from conflict, natural disasters, terrorism and disease outbreaks remain real challenges for the young.

It was shared that there is a need to look at policies and programmes that are in place to cope with such crises, and whether they adequately take into account the needs of the young people. There are also parallel priorities including the protection of marginalised people and preservation of the planet as well as the action against climate change, which demand resource mobilisation. She also highlighted that Commonwealth countries in Asia have low lying coastal areas susceptible to rising sea levels. Climate change disasters in Asia can have ripple effects half a world away, while the economic cost of natural disasters has soared.

“From 2007 to 2016, the average damage from natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region was estimated at USD76 billion – more than twice the cost for the previous decade. So we are all called upon to do more with less, and the demand to deliver even greater results for youth development increases,” she said.

“The potential of young people to drive positive change means we need more investment in youth. Yet resources are limited, and there are so many other competing national priorities. This means we have to be innovative, and work in creative partnership, sharing knowledge and expertise. That is the essence of what we mean by our theme this year, ‘A Connected Commonwealth’.”

“Let us work towards proposals for policy action that can be taken to CHOGM 2020 in Rwanda to develop dynamically in implementing the CHOGM 2018 mandates with the support and partnership of networks and organisations represented at this gathering – ASEAN, SAARC, UNDP, Asian Development Bank, academic institutions, Commonwealth Youth Council and Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Work Associations.”

“We depend for progress on those who work in our communities with young people, inspiring and guiding them towards fulfilment of their potential and achievement of their ambitions,” the secretary-general added.