I am very pleased to participate today in the launching of the Youth Empowerment through Community Participation Project. The project is a partnership between the World Bank and the municipalities of Tirana and Durres. It addresses one of the critical social issues facing Albania – helping youth help themselves and their country.
Why is this so important? With 70% of the population below 30 years old, Albania is a very young country by European standard. This is potentially one of the country’s greatest strengths, for which a special term was coined, the so-called “demographic dividend”. But Albania has a high rate of youth joblessness compared to other Europe countries: 45% for girls and over 30% for young men. Further, Albania has the highest rate in Europe for leaving school early. 58% of 18-24 year olds have not completed secondary education and are not in education or training. Young people are making up half of today’s urban population. Most of them live the rapidly urbanizing areas of Tirana and Durres. Adding to this, the remaining pockets of poverty are concentrating remote mountains area as well as suburbs of big cities. Fortunately, the local governments realize that young people are part of the solution for better future if they are given a hand at a difficult time.
The project that is being launched today will help vulnerable youth groups become masters of their own future. It covers three interlinked dimensions: giving young people life skills, making them more employable, and engaging them in undertaking civic responsibilities. As such, the project is testing a novel and comprehensive approach to addressing youth needs.
This innovative project is financed through a special program called the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF). It provides grants in support of community-driven projects that reduce poverty by empowering the most vulnerable groups not reached by other programs. The grants are administered by the World Bank, which also oversees implementation and ensures transparency and efficiency in the use of funds, in accordance to its standards.
I am emphasizing this because there has recently been some repeated misleading information in the media about this project and World Bank staff from our Tirana office. This misinformation, regretfully, continued despite our best efforts to provide clarifications. I want to make it very clear that these reports are totally false. The project implementation team and the concerned municipalities will follow the transparent and standard rules for World Bank projects. Furthermore, the project will go an extra mile to disseminate information about its activities to the public, given the interest it already generated.
I would also like to make clear that we in the World Bank are very proud of the work of our local staff and have complete confidence in each and every one of them. They have always acted and will continue to act professionally and with dedication in supporting Albania’s development priorities and its people.
As with all innovative initiatives, there will be challenges going forward. We do not expect miracles. What we expect is to very much learn what works and what does not. We expect to learn how to improve addressing both high unemployment among youth and the risks that young population faces.
I invite all young people to embrace this project, be part of it, bring ideas, participate, and benefit from it. This is a project about youth, and by youth. This is a project about dreams coming true – not by accident or luck but through learning, skills and work that can be very rewarding.
I invite the business communities to support this initiative, as with little help, young people can multiply their talents and energies, and put them at use for the good of their community.
I would like to thank the municipalities of Tirana and Durres for taking up this challenge, the implementing agency, National Center for Social Studies, for their work, and the Ministry of Finance for supporting this grant.
My colleagues and I look forward to working with all project stakeholders on successful implementation of this exciting and promising initiative, and to seeing its results.