Friends and Colleagues:
I’m delighted to participate in today’s launch of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s first policy on Youth in Development. At its core, this policy is about making youth around the world an important priority in the decisions and implementation of our work. Last year, the global population of youth surpassed seven billion people, more than half of whom are under the age of 30. A large majority – nearly 90 percent – live in the developing world. Whether we are raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, building roads, or expanding access to financing for entrepreneurs, the support and engagement of young people is necessary for long-term, sustainable development.
There are two competing ways to consider the role of young people in development. Some diagnose a growing youth demographic as a serious problem. They speak of a youth bulge: a massive part of the population in developing countries that is apathetic, unproductive, and a drain on economic resources. These young people are considered a volatile, dangerous, and purposeless group ready to join the next warlord able to offer them a siren song of empowerment, leading to the existence of some 300,000 child soldiers around the world.
But there’s another way to think about it: Let us consider these young people as individuals who are trying to find their way in life, who want to be full contributors to their families, their societies, and the world, and who are looking for our help in defining a role for themselves that includes dignity and respect.
Youth have proven to be at the forefront of change, innovation, and envisioning new worlds of possibilities. When given the opportunities and resources to succeed – education, jobs, access to healthcare, and strong institutional support systems – they can become the proponents of stable democracies, strong societies, and prosperous economies.
That approach drove our efforts in preparing this policy. The policy identifies a number of different tenets that should guide our work in making youth a more central part of our development efforts.
First, we are committed to expanding specific programs and projects to strengthen grassroots youth organizations that promote youth voice in local and national policy dialogue, to sponsor their participation in broad coalition, and to create new livelihood opportunities for youth. We believe that development efforts on their behalf must be guided by the voices of the people we’re seeking to assist - youth and youth activists in developing countries based on the principle: “Nothing about them without them.”
Second, we must mainstream youth issues within our broader development programs, ensuring that they form a central element in our initiatives in health and HIV/AIDS, food security, global climate change, democracy and governance, and economic growth programs. In this sense, it is not enough for us to be working with developing countries’ ministers of child welfare, but to ensure that the health minister, agriculture minister, and, perhaps most important, the finance minister prioritize these considerations.
Third, we must highlight programs and strategies to protect youth in situations of conflict or natural disasters, knowing that when social order breaks down, it is marginalized groups like youth who suffer most and are most vulnerable. It is in these contexts that problems of trafficking and sexual abuse are magnified, for example. And we need to focus our attention in particular on young people who are also subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of other factors of marginalization, whether they are girls, LGBT, people with disabilities, displaced, or from ethnic, religious, or indigenous minorities.
Fourth, our policy draws heavily on our experience in the field which shows that successful youth programs are built upon elements of a systems-based approach. This means assessing what is going right in the federal, provincial, and local governmental structures and civil society, expanding upon these assets, strengthening existing and nascent institutions, and allowing the community to be in the driver’s seat.
We also need rigor in our approaches – applying tough standards of accountability and results orientation, and using stringent monitoring and evaluation systems to build feedback into our programs and provide an evidence base.
Finally, the policy recognizes that we need partnerships that can bring new resources, innovations, and political will. We modestly acknowledge that no government, no civil society group, no international institution, and no business has a monopoly on financial or human resources, ground-truth, good ideas, or moral authority.
This policy builds on impressive work already going on in some 40 countries around the world. For example, under our EQUIP3 activity, we have workforce development, livelihood, service learning, and cross-sector projects in 26 countries worldwide from Haiti to Somalia to Kosovo. We are supporting more than 400 youth development partnerships and networks, and strengthening the capacity of more than 500 youth–serving organizations.
In Kenya, our Yes Youth Can project has mobilized more than 700,000 young people from thousands of villages and of differing ethnicities, languages, and religions to become members of democratic youth groups that work in partnership with adults and elders for community improvement.
In partnership with PEPFAR, USAID is working to move youth towards an AIDS-free generation with initiatives like GoGirls! Toolkit for girls and young women’s prevention in Africa and Break the Cycle in central Asia.
Under the Central American Regional Security Initiative, we are establishing 100 outreach centers in four countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama – and their communities to provide opportunities for at risk youth and lessen the possibility of recruitment by gangs. A few weeks ago, we signed an MOU with Mayor Villaraigosa in Los Angeles to collaborate on these critical youth and citizen security activities, and I am traveling to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala shortly to review these efforts.
Since 2006, our MTV Exit program in Asia – a public-private partnership with MTV, AusAID and others to build and activate an informed movement of youth across Asia able to protect themselves and others against human trafficking – has reached over 24 million young people. Under our Youth Work GDA project in Jordan, over 7,000 youth have benefitted from employability training and civic and volunteer activities, and the program is expanding with new partnerships with community and local organizations.
We are also being more creative in using all the leveraging tools at our disposal to support youth. For example, in order to make university and vocational education more affordable in Kyrgyzstan, the USAID Mission designed a loan portfolio guarantee with two Kyrgyz banks, to cover 50 percent of losses on a portfolio of loans for vocational and university education.
USAID/Kosovo’s Young Entrepreneurs Program invested resources through the Development Credit Authority (DCA), spurring a local bank to lend to Kosovar youth aged 18-35, fostering entrepreneurial opportunities and stimulating local economic growth and job creation.
We have also recently launched a special window for young innovators in our Development Innovations Ventures – our version of venture capital staged financing – to identify, test, and scale solutions to today’s greatest development challenges
Along with this policy, we will also soon launch – with our inter-agency partners – a corresponding U.S. government-wide action plan to guide and enhance our contributions to children in adversity. The innovative approaches identified in that plan are designed to ensure that children not only survive, but thrive.
Let me close by recognizing the hours of hard work over the past months that produced this policy. I wanted in particular to thank the members of the Policy Task Team under the chairmanship of Nicole Goldin and Mark Hannafin. These members include Christine Capacci-Carneal, Clare Ignatowski, Cate Lane, Erin Mazursky, Mark Meassick, Enrique Roig and Jennifer Watts.
Thanks are due as well to Bill Reese from the International Youth Foundation and Susan Stroud from Innovations in Civic Participation as Chairs, and indeed all from Alliance for Youth in Development for not only hosting this forum, but being a dedicated partner in the development and future implementation of this critical policy. No challenge at our Agency is more important.
Last updated: July 18, 2014