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Youth at the Bank

March 13, 2012

  • Youth are unemployed all over the world - which leaves them untapped, unable to contribute, frustrated and hopeless.
  • The Bank Group's Youth2Youth Community held a conference on global youth unemployment.
  • Experts say the problem must be addressed through partnership between private and public sectors, entrepreneurship, and the inclusion of the youth voice on the ground and at high levels of government.

March 13, 2012 - Many young people around the world are frustrated and voiceless. The rich resources they offer - to their communities and the world - remain untapped. They are, in a word, unemployed.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), youth aged 15 to 24 make up a whopping 40 percent of the global unemployed. The reasons are varied and complex. In some contexts, the skill sets of educated youth do not match employer demands. In others a “last hired, first fired” mentality is stacked against youth. And sadly, in many places local corruption or conflict drive youth to the imagined glamour of organized crime.

And then there is the conundrum perhaps familiar to us all: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to gain experience.

Young Bank staffers from the Youth2Youth (Y2Y) community convened youth experts and advocates from inside and outside the Bank in Washington on March 7 to discuss the issue at the Global Youth Conference 2012 on Youth Unemployment: Empowering Solutions through Innovation and Inclusion. The conference was also webcast, with online participants from over 20 countries.

Youth unemployment is an issue common to the developing and developed worlds alike. The effects range from the Arab Spring to violence on the streets of London,” says Kavita Gupta, co-secretary of the Y2Y group. “We, the youth at the Bank, feel for this global problem and can relate to its causes and effects too.”

The over-arching question of the conference was: So what do we do about youth unemployment? Here is what participants had to say.

“Change education and educate to change.”

Managing Director Caroline Anstey said the mismatch between skills provided by current education systems and skills needed in the work force needs to be addressed. Samuel Freije-Rodriguez, a Bank economist in LCR, impressed the need to reeducate policymakers to include a job lens—a country's GDP can increase without remedying high unemployment or raising the quality of jobs and standard of living for its population. Chinese entrepreneur Jianxiong Peng talked about the need for government and the private sector to work closely in fostering youth entrepreneurship.

“Never give up.”

Youth should assert themselves and take responsibility for their own futures through networking and self-organization, said Branka Minic, director of Global Corporate and Government Affairs at Manpower, a world-renowned global staffing firm. But governments and companies should also include young people as honest partners, said Ronan Farrow, advisor on Youth Issues to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Farrow lauded youth who are already engaged in the political process and who push boundaries to make themselves heard. Known for being tech savvy, Farrow tweeted to followers before his presentation resulting in hundreds of responses and follow up questions from around the world.

“Do something crazy.”

These words came from the sly humor of Dennis Szeszko, a botanist-turned-entrepreneur who started a business exporting orchids from Mexico to other countries. Szeszko urged youth to find their passion, come up with an idea, and follow that idea to a beneficial end, sometimes purely by asking for what they want.

Szeszko's message was echoed by the personal poverty-to-success stories of E. Sarathbabu, an Indian food industry entrepreneur, and Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, founder of a community owned and managed radio station for farmers in Nigeria.


Participants did some role playing too. Breaking into groups, they traveled to the fictional country of “Utopia,” where the service-based economy and free-floating currency had been hit hard by the financial crisis and young people had become victims of the narrowing job market.

A common theme among the suggested solutions was the need for a multi-faceted partnership between government ministries, the private sector, academia, and NGOs to create an environment in which youth could be considered honest partners and use their voice in policy making and problem solving.

Y2Y is a group of young staff members (under age of 33) formed to channel the fresh ideas and create a partnership between young and Sr. staff members to develop and implement ideas and policies. Founded in 2004, today it boast of more than 1000 members across the 120 World Bank's country offices.