Participants of the Youth Volunteers Rebuilding Darfur Project, a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Program and the Sudanese government to establish a youth-led scheme to promote environmentally sustainable poverty reduction and private sector development in the region. Photo by: Albert González Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

The world has never seen a youth bulge of such large proportion. It is estimated that there are 1.8 billion young people across the world, and an expected second round of youth bulge will come from Africa in the next 10 years.

The world has never been younger, and youth issues have never been more diverse, yet interrelated. Young women and young men have been raising issues and proposing priorities for the last 80 years. The first world conference on youth took place in 1936 in Geneva, and the most recent took place in Sri Lanka in 2014. One can draw a list of similarities on issues raised in 1936 and 2014. We can either celebrate that such issues are common, or we can become highly frustrated that the world and its leaders have failed to respond to the priorities of youth decade after decade.

While we have gotten away with ignoring youth priorities and their recommendations, at this stage, we simply cannot continue with this behavior. Youths are more connected than ever before, and they are using both offline and online tools to be heard.

The recent U.N. secretary-general’s My World 2015 survey asking global citizens to share their top six priorities from a menu of 16 priorities was totally dominated by 5.2 million young people voicing their priorities out of a total of 7.2 million votes. Young people became the largest number of participants in this survey. The priorities are clearly articulated and reflected, namely education, better health, decent work, honest and responsive governments, protection from crime and violence, gender equality and the end of discrimination. This very clearly brings forward the acute need to respond to these priorities if we truly want to develop the world’s future agenda and the upcoming sustainable development goals.

Furthermore, young people have participated in over a hundred national consultations, 11 thematic consultations and multiple online discussions where they have very clearly demanded that world leaders, civil society organizations, the private sector, the media and the academic community reboot themselves in order to really recognize youth as social, political and economic actors in today’s and tomorrow’s development. Young people have clearly mentioned the need for the education system to be market driven so their skills and competencies can match the market demand and not be based on age-old outdated education. They’re very clearly demanding that education should also readapt itself so that we can have more social entrepreneurs and economic entrepreneurs. Young women, in particular, are demanding that they must be recognized as important economic and political actors if we truly want to transform the global economic and political landscape.

When the U.N. General Assembly in 2014 adopted July 15 as the World Youth Skills Day, many responded with enthusiasm but also skepticism. Will one day make a difference? From my perspective, absolutely yes because it puts many days of celebration on the table. For me, the most important is investment in youth skills and development.

“While we have gotten away with ignoring youth priorities and their recommendations, at this stage, we simply cannot continue with this behavior. Youths are more connected than ever before, and they are using both offline and online tools to be heard.”

— Ravi Karkara, global adviser on youth at U.N.-Habitat

Youth skills need to be unpacked from a gender and diversity perspective. We must ensure a clear focus on young women as a priority and their skill development as crucial to society’s progress. At the same time, we also need to make special efforts to reach out to youth who are many times marginalized when such interventions are made. This includes indigenous and minority youth; youth with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex youth; migrant youth; and youth affected by conflict and disaster. The world leaders need to stand up and establish a global youth skills fund that can become a pool for supporting youth organizations and youth initiatives for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

As we celebrate 70 years of the United Nations, 20 years of the World Program for Action on Youth, 15 years of Millennium Development Goals, and 20 years of the Beijing Platform for Action, we must ensure that across development issues and priorities, youth skill development must become a priority. Programs such as U.N.-Habitat’s Urban Youth Fund should be invested in so that the youth can have a larger pool of resources to set up their own social entrepreneurship and innovation units on sustainable development and beyond.

Finally, I would call upon all governments, the U.N. system, civil society organizations, and the media, academia, and philanthropists alike to establish a global coalition on youth skill development and immediately develop a global strategy. This strategy must respond to creating truly skilled young women and men that create social, economic and political transformations across the world for a better today and even better tomorrow.

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers. 

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ravi Karkara

    Ravi is a trained social worker with commitment to advancing human rights, gender equality, inclusion and social justice. He serves as the global adviser on youth and partnership with United Nations Millennium Campaign and U.N.-Habitat, based in New York. He is the lead author of “Youth 21: Building the Architecture of Youth Engagement in the UN System,” by U.N.-Habitat.