The global youth boom — complicated by rural to urban flight, brain drains, and youth recruitment for violent extremism — is having a dramatic impact on the developing world. These consequences are perhaps most visible in Africa, where 10 million young people enter the labor market annually, and 35 percent of the population is between 15 and 35 years old.
The youth boom was discussed repeatedly and starkly at the annual Borlaug Dialogue, hosted by the World Food Prize (WFP) in Des Moines, Iowa, which I attended from Oct. 18-20. The youth challenge is systemic, intersecting with family life, nutritional development, education, and jobs in agriculture.
As the 2017 WFP Laureate, Akin Adesina, Ph.D., said, solutions must create wealth, not just combat poverty. More productive and engaged young people translate to healthier families and societies, agricultural innovation, lower levels of rural-urban migration, and potentially fewer recruitment opportunities for violent extremists. Every year, the Borlaug Dialogue invites hundreds of youth from around the world to its symposium for training and knowledge exchanges, fostering youth leadership.
Programs Are Investing in Young People
Multiple efforts are underway to empower youth across Africa and the globe. These projects present opportunities to build networks of informed youngsters who can make a change in their lives and their communities.
Adesina, for example, is “reinvesting” his $250,000 prize to endow an African Development Bank-Borlaug Youth Institute in Africa. His decision joins creative efforts underway from the private sector, donors, and other actors to address diverse issues facing younger generations worldwide.
At USAID, an updated Youth Policy — adopted in 2012 and now operationalized around the world — addresses the broad challenges faced by more than 1.5 billion youth with potential technological solutions.
The African Union, which named 2017 “the year for Harnessing the Demographic Dividend from Investments in Youth,” is investing in programs such as its Volunteer Corps, vocational training, and grants or awards for young scientists as part of a broader effort to demonstrate that the continent’s leaders are seeking ways to address youth.
Similarly, the Gates Foundation’s Program for Emerging Agricultural Leaders (PEARL), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) analytical work on concrete solutions, and the CGIAR center’s youth-focused climate change work are bringing youth to the table of global problem-solving, while the USAID/Bureau for Food Security is training its Agricultural Officers on better integration of youth into program design.
Integrating Youth into Abt Program Design and Implementation
At Abt Associates, we work to harness the power of this policy around the world by fully integrating youth into program design and implementation on projects as diverse as our:
- USAID/Cambodia Horticulture Value Chain, where a young generation of farmers is learning about the demands of markets and buyers;
- USAID/South Sudan FARM Project, where young leaders were identified and incorporated into farmer association establishment/strengthening; and
- USAID/Mexico Economic Policy Project where a new generation is working through hackathons and other digital tools to promote a culture of transparency which fights endemic corruption.
But We Can Do More to Help Young People
However, we at Abt can do more however to contribute. We must ask ourselves how can we do more, what pitfalls exist, and where can we best apply our expertise to make a difference? There are no one-size-fits-all answers, but the following seem to be worth considering:
- When designing programs and solutions for agriculture, think about both the role of youth and technological solutions to youth challenges.
- Do not limit your analysis or problem solving just to the young woman or man. Consider family dynamics, socio-cultural elements, and country-specific variables.
- Avoid duplicating, replicating, or overlapping with ongoing programs. Unintended consequences have led to a “youth gravy train,” where people simply seek to capture resources.
- Try to encourage youth in the world around you: mentor a student, have your project hire an intern, or give a talk at a university or high school. While thinking locally and acting globally may be a cliché, it is a valid approach.