U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at a USAID Youth as Partners in Innovation and Development Event

For Immediate Release

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Office of Press Relations

W Hotel
Washington, DC
April 19, 2018

MS. BATEYUNGA: So, my first question will be, looking at what the USAID youth policy does -- that's the USAID Youth in Development Policy. So, the paper makes reference to both the potential and the challenge of the current youth demographic transition. So, what's your take on this dichotomy?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, we're living in interesting times. We have the largest youth population in history. So, it depends on how you talk. We say it's the glass half full or the glass half empty. There are pessimists out there who look around the world, and they talk about all the challenge that we have, the conflict that we have, and it's real. But they look at the number of young people and they see that as a challenge, as a problem to be managed.

Others of us, at USAID, we see the opposite. We see, with the largest youth community in history, the greatest opportunity in history, because with each young person, we have an open mind. With each young person, we have new ideas and new energy. And so, what we hope to do with USAID is play a small role. We're modest. It's all you. We do a small role, but we hope we can unlock. We can hope that we can, in some small way, amplify opportunities for young people.

And please understand, it's not for young people through people like me. It's selfish. With all the challenges that are out there, we need you desperately. We need your ideas and your innovation. So, people like me look selfishly and think, "My God, we have challenges. We need our young people." It's the only way we're going to advance.

MS. BATEYUNGA: So, what does promoting youth innovation look like?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You know, it is no one thing. It is many things. Obviously, I'm a big fan, as you know, of Tanzania Bora Initiative, and what I've seen around here, technology. I think our young people sometimes can't fully appreciate how far the world has come in a short period of time. I had a chance to talk to some of my Kenyan friends earlier. I started off my career in development 30 years ago. Many of you were not born 30 years ago, I know. Thirty years ago, I was a teacher in Kenya, Western Kenya. And we had in my village one wind-up telephone. You literally walked to this phone and you would turn the crank. You'd pick it up, and you'd say, "Operator, give me Kisumu." You'd put it down, and you'd go sit under the mango tree, and eventually, the phone would ring, and they'd say your call was through. Twelve years later, I visited the same school, and I went to track down one of my former students. And I saw a young man, and I said, "Do you know Niva?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Can you go and get him for me?" Pulled out his mobile phone and called him.

A dozen years later, I'm an ambassador in Tanzania. And my team, my staff, are doing transactions, they're processing malaria tests -- all of this by smartphone. And so, the progress that we have seen in my adult lifetime is staggering. But that's just scratching the surface. So, innovation for us is using some of these remarkable technology tools to bring freedom, opportunity, collaboration, to what we used to think of as remote corners of the world.

But there's a second piece to it. For us, it is helping to connect young people to solve some of the challenges that we see in the world and to overcome some of the biases we see in the world. There are many places in the world where there is conflict. There are many places in the world where we see hardened attitudes. I remember a few years ago, I was an election observer in Georgia in Europe, Eurasia. And the parties during the elections were very harsh. There was lots of arguing, and it was very contentious. And I was very worried about how this would get solved.

That same day, I went to visit some young people, IRI partners. And they were college-age, recent college graduates. And they represented all of the parties. I asked them to meet with me. And when I came in, they were all best friends. They were meeting all the time. They were talking all the time. They were talking about challenges. And I realized, as difficult as that election was, when I met those young people, it's going to be okay. That we have young people who are willing to talk, to talk across lines, to talk across sectors, religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds. And that, to me, is the great hope. So, for us, innovation, technology for certain, but it is tapping into young people with ideas, but also who are open and trying to leverage that. That, to us, is the real hope and the innovation. So, technology is fantastic, but if all of you left this room and the technology remained, it's nothing.

MS. BATEYUNGA: So, looking at young people as partners. Don't you run into skeptics with such an approach?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Sure, all the time. You know, one of the reasons that I like working with young people, particularly in the developing world -- 90 percent of today's young people are in the developing world -- is they're not interested in skeptics.


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Don't have time for skeptics, don't have time for pessimists. You know, there are certainly pessimists that are out there. But again, what we see at USAID is, with each mind, we see unlimited opportunity. And so, the fact that so many of our young people come from the developing world, that tells me that we will have truly unusual ideas coming from different backgrounds and cultures. And we will need every single one of those ideas and every single one of all of you to help take on these challenges. So, I'm sure there are pessimists out there. So, just wave at them and walk by.

MS. BATEYUNGA: Can you give me an example --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You shouldn't be so shy.

MS. BATEYUNGA: Can you give us an example of how you are responding to the needs of young leaders and young innovators? Especially, what does that programming look like in practice?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, and that's where technology comes in. So, we already have something, the Youth Power Learn Network, which you can access at youthpower.org. And it's a dynamic knowledge hub. And the idea is connecting thousands of young people from different backgrounds. And that's, to me, why technology is important. It becomes a hub that can bring people together. It can help young people access opportunities for assistance. By the way, no one's going to give you anything. You earn things, you compete, but at least, you'll know where to turn. And information sharing.

What I see is perhaps the greatest promise of all, as I look out and see so many young people. What I want you to gain from today, and I want you to gain from the network, the learning hub, is inspiration. When you see each idea, I want you to say to yourself, you know, "I can do that." And you take that, and you apply it to what you see locally. So to me, that's the importance of it. And then secondly, and I'm announcing this today, we are announcing a complementary Youth Lead platform. It will be in English and Spanish, but there will also be a translation machine. So, it will translate it into as many languages as I see represented in this room.

And that's meant to be a collaborative learning tool with exclusively youth-led content. And the idea is that we want to accelerate, and lift up, and to profile your ideas, your input, and make sure that, in the crowd of noises and voices that are out here, young voices come to the front and that other young people can connect, listen, exchange ideas. So, we see this as a force multiplier for innovation.

MS. BATEYUNGA: I am wondering, what do you think are the most pressing issues that are facing young people today? And especially, how are we listening to young people, to their priorities?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, I am an optimist. But there are challenges that are out there. What I would point to as perhaps the greatest challenge -- it's not just for young people, but I think it disproportionately affects young people these days, is the displacement of people.

So, depending upon whose numbers you use, we have 60 to 70 million displaced people in the world today. And we have young people who are growing up displaced, whether it be in camps or urban settings. We have children being born in those camps and settings. And I am very worried about access to education, access to civic education. So that, God willing, someday the gate opens, the fence comes down, young people are able to energetically participate in their country, their government, their community. And it's a challenge when so many are displaced and displaced so far from home.

Secondly, unemployment and underemployment. We have a number of well-educated young people who do not see economic opportunities immediately in front of them, and that worries me a great deal. We need to see economies growing and growing in ways that provide opportunities for young people.

And then third, when you combine those two, I worry about disillusionment. I worry about, again, not exclusively for young people, but in particular for young people, giving up or perhaps pushing away the rest of the community. And that would be a horrible thing. It would be a terrible thing for lots of reasons. And those are challenges that I see that we must address, and we must address them fully and soon. Time is pressing.

MS. BATEYUNGA: I want to also go a bit further and look at a challenge that I see, but I want to cover it with social media, for this would not be a youth event if we were not talking about the power of social media. How -- what is your take on young people being used in violent extremism? I know it's a broad question, but the whole idea of young people being recruited and social media being used for violent extremism.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, some of it goes back to what we were just talking about: disillusionment, and young people being disconnected from the rest of their community or feeling disconnected from the rest of their community. So, media tools abused by extremists are dangerous, but they are only dangerous if they hit fertile ground. And so, I think it is very important that we are (inaudible) young people, listening to young people. But even more importantly, young people listening to each other, talking to each other. And we must let our young people know they have a home, and that we're there. And if they are uncomfortable, if they are unfamiliar or concerned with messages that they're hearing, things that they are seeing, people who are reaching out to them, talk about it.

Remember that extremists are looking to isolate people, looking to cut people off. They want to turn young people into victims. And no one has to be a victim, but it's up to everyone, each one of us, to make that decision. So, to me, it's very, very important that we're talking to each other. We're talking openly about problems that we see, concerns that we have, dreams that we have, and dreams that are not being fulfilled. So, yes, there are extremists out there who seek to prey upon, abuse, and misuse young people, but my money's on young people. Push back, stand up, and be open and talk about it. Everybody's quiet.

MS. BATEYUNGA: Because you're giving us wisdom.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, I've got the opportunity to ask Abella a couple of questions.


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: But you see, she said that she -- she pointed to Mike and said that he was taking a risk by letting you go off script. I'm the one really at risk. I'm sitting up here with (inaudible).

So, now I will ask you. You asked me, let me ask you. What do you see as the great barriers that young people, particularly young Africans, but not only young Africans, face in trying to become more involved in innovation, in leadership, in social media leadership? What are the challenges that you have faced and that you see for others?

MS. BATEYUNGA: I'm looking at both Fabian and Victor. And so, this is going to be a marathon for all young Africans. I hope I present you well. So, for me, I think youth should be trusted. We should be brought on the table as partners and not as a charity case. That is number one that I think is big. Like, I know trust is earned, but because there's a prior disadvantage that we come up both with lack of skills, lack of opportunity, and the -- just the age in Africa. The fact that you are young people, you are to be seen but not to be heard. So, how do we actually work on that to build the trust?

But also, there's a limited space to drive our own development. Young people should be allowed to set our priority and our own agenda. They -- it should be bottom up more than top down. And so, if you're working with the development, if you're working with government, you should be listened to. What we do matters and what concerns us matters.

I think also access to funding and support. I think it's about time to also try to support businesses and to support business model and social enterprises more than the traditional non-profit support. I think there's too much emphasis upon experience and collateral. We don't have both. We just have passion, and we have energy. But if someone is 25, they have two year or three years' experience. So, you have to bear with us on that one. Also, for the big (inaudible) and less comfortable to give (inaudible) the people that you work with every day. Can you trust the young people more in one way or another?

And I think I'll finish by saying that we need to work with the government to create youth responsive services and product. And we are calling upon everyone negotiating with government not only to just give youth aid, but also equal partnership that put the youth agenda at the center of it.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, Abella and I know each other from, as she mentioned, elections. We got together around that time. And one of my messages to Tanzania Bora Initiative at the time was just one of those numbers that we talked about before. If every young person, let's say in Tanzania, got out and voted, if every young person was engaged and expressed his or her opinion, I'm sorry, they have to listen to you.


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Numbers in a democracy. You have the ability to shape the future, but only if you get involved and you vote. And if you don't vote, I'm sorry, I'm not terribly sympathetic. Don't complain, because you have the ability to change it if you get involved.

I have one more question for you. So, you talked about it a little bit, but what do you think we can do as a community, generation, government, to support youth innovation? What is it that we can do to help leverage and expand upon some of the interesting ideas that I'm seeing?

MS. BATEYUNGA: Please use public offices to invite youth in. The example is YALI, Young African Leadership Initiative. President Obama, he did invite all the young people in. And it went on in Asia, leaders and everyone. So, can we use those ones who are already in the platform? Can we use your spaces to invite young people in? That would be the one thing.

And also, let's support that is -- already movement that are ongoing. In Africa, we have many movement. In (inaudible), in Asia, we have many movement. Young people are already doing these things. So, let's go and decide a new agenda for them. Let's support what young people are already doing. And I know we are running out of time. But I think -- one thing I would say, let's support youth-led local solutions. When we are doing programming, from the designing of a program -- from the analysis, to design, to implementation, to evaluation. When we are setting up funding? Can we think of actually what works in Kenya? What works in Hebron? What works in Brazil? What works in Tanzania? And actually, take it as a model as we're creating (inaudible) and putting the youth agenda in front.

I have many other. But I have to -- I can write a book.


Last updated: March 30, 2020

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