Meaningful Youth Engagement Strengthens Post-Pandemic Response and Recovery Initiatives
Published: 19 July 2021
Understand and address the needs of vulnerable young workers and entrepreneurs as part of COVID-19 measures.
Meaningfully engaging young people as active partners in development can help overcome coronavirus disease (COVID-19) challenges and drive progress toward a society for all.
The United Nations’ (UN) Youth Strategy 2030 emphasizes the importance of working with young people to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Strategic investments in young people, including genuine opportunities for intergenerational collaboration, accelerate human development and maximize dividends associated with young, productive populations. Failing to respond to challenges experienced by young people during the pandemic with solutions by, for, and with the youth risks creating a disenfranchised “lockdown generation.”
Importance of Positive Intergenerational Relationships
In Asia and the Pacific, the coexistence of aging and youthful populations has important implications for development prospects at the country and regional level. The region is home to more than half of the global youth population but will considerably age by 2050 when 18.1% of people will be over 65 (from 8.1% in 2016).
Positive intergenerational relationships can maximize the youth’s contribution to addressing complex development challenges posed by important demographic trends and the protracted impacts of COVID-19. Although young people are traditionally seen as mere beneficiaries in development, recent studies show that they possess knowledge and skills that can directly contribute to development outcomes as well.
The opportunity to reimagine youth–adult relationships in development is particularly relevant as countries bounce back from COVID-19. The crisis has affected vulnerable groups the most, including young people. Its impacts on a young person’s life are far-reaching, complex, and covers economic and sociocultural factors. One of the most pronounced challenges that they face are drastic changes to jobs and livelihood prospects in the region. According to a joint study from the International Labour Organization and Asian Development Bank (ADB), the crisis exacerbates the already precarious position of young workers and entrepreneurs in the labor market because of job disruptions (including reduction in working hours), impeded access to education and training opportunities due to school closures, and school-to-work transition difficulties.
Meaningful Youth Engagement during the Pandemic
Governments and development institutions are under pressure to deliver COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives using limited resources. In this space, meaningful youth engagement offers a pathway to shape and inform effective and inclusive measures “to mitigate the negative effects of the crisis and support an economic and employment recovery,” says the ADB study.
A recent study commissioned by Citi Foundation through the Youth Employment Funders Group (YEFG) finds that meaningful youth engagement is achieved when “under enabling conditions, youth representatives actively participate throughout the [youth employment] program life cycle and enter into youth–adult partnerships that empower youth and may contribute to positive and long-lasting labor market outcomes.”
Here are two examples of meaningful youth engagement in ongoing programs:
Mitra Kunci Initiative (MKI)
Mitra Kunci stands for “key partners.” The initiative, which is led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Development Alternatives Incorporated, provides skills training, labor market information and resources, and work experience to Indonesia’s poor and vulnerable youth, women, and persons with disabilities.
Guided by USAID’s Positive Youth Development framework, the initiative regards young people as partners who possess key assets that contribute to project outcomes. It incorporates a grant mechanism that facilitates youth participation from underserved communities where they collaborate with public and private agencies to identify ways on how workforce development programs can be strengthened. This led to the creation of a Youth Support Network where young people are empowered to mentor and coach other youth project beneficiaries through peer-to-peer learning mechanisms.
Asia Pacific Youth Symposium (APYS)
The Asia Pacific Youth Symposium is ADB’s flagship platform for intergenerational social dialogue on how COVID-19 impacts the jobs and livelihood aspirations of young people. It was created to inform policy responses of government and development institutions. This youth-led event features strategic partnerships with non-youth partners to facilitate youth–adult collaboration throughout the project lifecycle.
A key outcome is making the platform more accessible to young people from vulnerable communities (e.g., youth with disabilities, young women). To empower them to participate actively in social dialogue with adult counterparts, training opportunities were provided by an intergenerational group.
What This Means for Youth Recovery
The YEFG study and these examples show that meaningful youth engagement can be achieved in employment programs through the combined practice of ensuring youth diversity and representation, cultivating a safe youth engagement-enabling environment, fostering youth–adult partnerships, creating genuine opportunities for youth participation and maximizing youth-led activities, and empowering young people as partners.
Although this framework is anchored on the youth employment program experience, it also provides direction on how meaningful youth engagement can be mainstreamed in other sectors, such as health and well-being, green recovery and climate change, and urban development. The synergy between theory and practice will be crucial in understanding nuances on the different barriers and enablers of meaningful youth engagement across different sectors to advance its practice as a whole.
Given the complexity of COVID-19’s impacts and its protracted nature, advancing the practice of meaningful youth engagement across different sectors can unlock the latent potential of the lockdown generation to contribute to a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific for all.
Asian Development Bank. 2018. Strategy 2030: Achieving a Prosperous, Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable Asia and the Pacific. Manila.
International Labour Organization. 2020. Policy Brief: The need for social dialogue in addressing the COVID-10 crisis. Geneva.
R. N. Saito and T.K. Sullivan. 2011. The Many Faces, Features and Outcomes of Youth Engagement. Journal of Youth Development. 6. pp. 109–125.
S. Zeldin, B.D. Christens, and J.L. Powers. 2012. The Psychology and Practice of Youth–Adult partnership: Bridging Generations for Youth Development and Community Change. American Journal of Community Psychology. 51 (3-4). 385–397.
Tackling the COVID-19 Youth Employment Crisis in Asia and the Pacific: International Labour Organization, Bangkok (Thailand), and Asian Development Bank, Manila (Philippines), 2020.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2017. World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision. New York: United Nations.
United Nations Development Programme. 2016. Shaping the Future: How changing demographics can power human development. New York: United Nations.
USAID. 2019. Youth Advisory Councils: Eight Steps to Consider Before Youth Engage. Washington, D.C.
USAID. 2018. USAID Mitra Kunci Initiative Annual Report (October 2018 to September 2019). Washington, D.C.
Women Deliver. 2019. Meaningful Youth Engagement: Sharing Power, Advancing Progress, Driving Change. New York.
Youth Employment Funders Group. 2021. Youth Voices in Youth Employment: A Roadmap for Promoting Meaningful Engagement in Youth Employment Programs.
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