Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY August 12, 2020

Passing on the flaming torch: Youth Engagement for Global Action

Passing on the flaming torch: Youth Engagement for Global Action

The next 10 years will be a defining moment for the international community to adapt and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Today, we celebrate our youth as key drivers of the positive change, innovation and hope that the World Bank twin goals represent in its quest to ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

Youth and future generations at the helm of leadership are not only at the receiving end of international development efforts that aim for more inclusive and equal societies, but are an asset to promoting and achieving them. With currently 1.8 billion people aged 10 – 24, the international community is endowed with the largest generation of youth in history, presenting both immense opportunities as well as considerable challenges. Yet working towards the 2030 Agenda meets these challenges head on: more than one third of SDGs target young people, and their impact will be magnified by the fact that 90% of youth live in developing nations today.

This year, International Youth Day celebrated on August 12, has as its theme “Youth Engagement for Global Action”, in order to highlight the actions undertaken by young generations at the local, national and global levels to engage in policy issues of our time. This theme comes at a time when the economic recession that has come as a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak are gearing towards hitting youth severely, via disproportionate unemployment for the age group, gaps in education throughout the crisis, and the future burden of rising debt and inequality. The International Labor Organization  estimates that more than one in six young people have stopped working due to the pandemic, with job losses disproportionately hitting young women and people of color.

Youth in Africa

According to the World Bank, school closures due to lockdowns have affected an estimated 1.6 billion children worldwide. As countries and schools reopened in July, over 1.1 billion students had continued to be out of school. This generation of students could lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings over their lifetime if no active effort is made to encourage students back into school. Recently, over 100 youth shared their videos to the World Bank as part of an online campaign #YouthOnCOVID19, in which many shared concerns of the increasing barriers to employment and severe interruptions to education. While countries are scrambling to protect their citizens’ lives and livelihoods, scaling up investment in human capital – that is on health and education from an early age – cannot be forgotten as a game changer for the youth of today to pull out of this setback. 

Hon. Patrick Muyaya
"The most important challenges remain the construction of schools, hospitals, housing and above all employment, which involves employing more than 60% of the population. The immensity of our challenges is therefore a set of opportunities for young people who are motivated by the desire to build the present and the future of the country at the same time,” shared Hon. Patrick Muyaya, a dynamic MP elected at just 29 years of age in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In light of these challenges, he created a network of young parliamentarians to bring together members under 40 to ensure issues directly related to youth stayed on the parliamentary agenda.

By investing in the youth of today, we are putting our best foot forward for a sustainable future. Decision-makers have already acknowledged that opportunities for youth will be a key reconstruction priority in the post-COVID-19 recovery, both from inside and outside parliament. Hon. Anna Adeke, a young MP from Uganda, emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis had offered opportunities for young generations to participate in calls for a greener, smarter post-COVID society. She has seen first-hand the asset that youth has been in her country to move this along:

Hon. Anna Adeke, MP from Uganda
“ I am very aware of so many young people in my country that have come up with so many applications in this COVID-19 crisis to make life simpler for people in the health sector, for expectant mothers to make it easier to record their data and get assisted. It has really encouraged so many inventions to come up. And it also helps us as parliaments from the Global South, which may not be as technologically advanced. It has helped us explore opportunities using the internet, online platforms and virtual spaces.”

Indeed, the call for a deep transformation of economies and societies towards technological innovation and sustainability will offer society a chance to be more reflective of its young population and their needs, with young MPs being at the forefront of this transformation. Portuguese young MP and Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and IMF Hon. Ricardo Leite notes that as MPs at the interface of the people and governmental power, ensuring everything is done to prepare for future generations is not only a right, but a duty to fulfill. It is clear that the crisis will only be surmounted through long-term responses looking to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability. It will therefore be critical for youth to have a seat at the table and contribute to global action towards challenges that will determine their future. 

Hon. Giulio Centemero
As an Italian young MP & Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean Panel on Trade and Investments, Hon. Giulio Centemero observed that young MPs hold comparative advantages in skillsets such as being digitally savvy, and typically holding high language skills.

Language skills are also higher than the average which allows us to adopt foreign best practices in our legislation. Moreover there's more energy, they are more agents of change probably because of their own experiences, career span and perspective,” he added. 

How then, has youth been implicated in restoring trust in public institutions, and in advancing our shared goals and commitments? In terms of parliamentary engagement, young MPs are gaining ground. The lower house of Armenia holds a staggering 75% of young MPs under 45  in office currently. Ethiopia houses also an impressive 63% of young MPs. In fact, the top 10 youngest parliaments in the world are spread out across nearly every region of the world, with European countries taking the lead in such representation. Yet according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, young people under 30 make up just over 2 per cent of the world’s MPs.

Young MPs remain grossly underrepresented in parliaments today, despite their high numbers in specific countries. As parliaments and governments grapple with the challenges of economic recession, gaps in education and heavy debt, young voices will not only hold first-hand knowledge of tomorrows’ needs, but will have the tools and skillset ready to bring about modern solutions to level with our present-day and future challenges.

In the words of French young MP Hon. Aina Kuric, “the time has come for us to forget old ways and shift towards a new era.