Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Involve Young People in Poverty Reduction Efforts?

Thursday, December 22, 2011
The Youth Population is the largest in history today. The
shier number alone make it imperative to ensure their
engagement in policy development and implementation.
At policy level, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and National Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategies are at the core of defining national efforts to address poverty in a multitude of aspects. The African continent, among the developing world, has known poverty for decades and in many parts, millions of people still live under 1 USD a day, an estimate indicating significant levels of poverty. And from a non-income perspective, poor infrastructure and social services further compound the intensity of poverty people face on the African continent. To that end, the question this piece will be trying to answer is how particular groups in society, especially young people, can be involved in the development, implementation and eventual review of these strategies. 

Why Involve Young People?

This question today is no longer important to ask, because the importance has already been demonstrated by current demographic trends on the continent. But to further emphasize, let us examine this a little further. 

Young people in Africa, as defined by the African Youth Charter – 15 to 35, amount to 364 million on the continent according to estimates from the UN Population Division and as reported in the State of the African Youth Report. The significance of this large cohort of young people, unprecedented in history cannot be overemphasized. In a population of just over 1 billion on the continent, it is more than imperative to ensure policy decisions and actions taken today receive equal and wider participation from this group, else sustainability of actions on the ground will always be suspect and will waste precious resources – resources we have already agreed the continent does not have. 

This group represents a large policy voice. Being those that are already and will inherit society in the next 5 to 10 years, decisions taken today must with all logic engage the youth voice. Not just for the sake of fulfilling this important obligation, but because young people have the ideas, are already at the frontline of efforts to address critical social challenges and are developing important approaches in those efforts. Although not possessing the experience base that is always required in the working world, the unique and fresh perspective young people offer is unmatched. 

How do you engage young people then – how do you tap this potential? 

This is a question receiving significant academic attention and research. We have seen important empirical evidence to suggest young people are critical agents to economic development and in addressing poverty. We see this in the example that Far East countries have leant to the world since the late 1960’s. They took ample advantage of the youthful population they had to chart the economic direction that we are seeing being demonstrated today. How did they get there? How can their lessons if anything inform the answer to the question we are asking here? 

The answer to this is two folds; it is engagement of young people at two levels. One is by ensuring they have an equal and respected place at the policy and decision making table. But the second and most critical is ensuring that young people have and are utilizing critical services and opportunities to advance their communities and society (i.e. education, employment creation, skills building programmes, health and information services). If we only see young people engaging at policy level but do not also ensure to mobilize their engagement in other parts and programmes in society and vise versa, we will see only see partial progress. We need to see holistic progress. We need to see young people engaging in all aspects of society. 

Specific examples then of how young people can be engaged in this respect can include but not limited to the following; 
  1. Ensuring national youth policies are comprehensive, current and involved young people extensively in their development. The policy must also ensure it includes the values, guidelines and principles set out in the African Youth Charter. This will go a long way to ensure the rights of young people are respected and deliberate efforts for their engagement are taken, 
  2. The review of PRSPs and National Poverty Reduction Strategies should ensure a youth led review process is facilitated. This ensures that examination of issues in the strategy is also done by young people,
  3. As specific sectoral groups are created during review processes and also characterize implementation of these strategies, it is important to also ensure a Youth Working Group is also established as part of the implementation process. 

This piece was submitted to the AfriYAN/ SAYM Essay competition, which was also announced. We will announce through our Facebook Community Page whether we are among the winners. We would like to hear your feedback on this. Do you agree with our assessment? What more can be done to ensure young people are involved in poverty reduction efforts?

Editorial Team.  
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