By Sulaiman Kenyatta
The ICP staff is happy to welcome back our founder and executive director, Susan E. Stroud, after she was recently invited to a youth civic participation summit at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, France. Organized by the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations and UNESCO, this summit assembled a committee comprised of experts and representatives of youth and intergovernmental organizations from all regions of the world to present and discuss youth engagement within the world today. The meeting was entitled “Youth Civic Engagement: enabling youth participation in political, social, and economic life”, and aimed to provide innovative discussion addressing how civic engagement can aid youth in the political, social, and economic aspects of their life. Furthermore, it also aimed to identify what were some of the prevalent challenges to youth civic participation and what can be done to ensure that they are overcome.
Presenting the paper “National Youth Service Programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities for Civic Engagement and a Pathway to Employability”, Susan focused on the National Youth Services (NYS) that exist within the African region and the impact that NYS programs have had in boosting youth employment, entrepreneurship, and sustainable livelihoods.
The findings that were presented in this paper were established through a research project that was conducted by ICP in partnership with VOSEA, an NGO based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was funded by the MasterCard Foundation. At the conclusion of her findings, Susan highlights 12 points that she believed that NYS programs can do to ensure that youth participants are able to become self-sufficient:
- Focus explicitly on developing youth as citizens with productive capability: NYS programmes should direct resources towards developing young people as productive citizens able to connect with economic opportunities emerging within national development priorities.
- Contribute to human resource development and economic growth priorities through service: NYS should be positioned as a player in the post-school education and training landscape that can respond to labour market needs and support the development of the human resources required to meet the country’s need for certain skills and capacity.
- Target different groups of youth for transition support including vulnerable youth: NYS programmes should leverage their unique flexibility to target specific types of youth thereby providing education and training pathways for those who would otherwise not have a chance to transition to further education, employment or self-employment.
- Structure high-level multi-stakeholder partnerships: Multi-stakeholder structures create opportunities for the governments to (re)design NYS programme in response to the needs of employers (public and private), other players active in the economy, and further education and training institutions.
- Build young people’s personal assets, including character, connectedness, confidence and competence: Employability starts by building the personal attributes of young people for work and adulthood. NYS programmes should carefully consider how to develop character, connectedness, confidence and competence among its servers.
- Introduce asset accumulation through stipends and savings: Research suggests that the accumulation of financial assets amongst the poor can influence outcomes such as increased savings behaviour, more positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes, a strong sense of future and greater likelihood of accessing and completing post-secondary education. Given that most NYS programmes pay stipends and incorporate savings education in their curriculum, NYS programmes are well-positioned to develop financial capability among servers.
- Produce well-rounded work seekers: By developing a sense of citizenship as well as life skills, NYS programmes can give young people a chance to discover what they can do to help solve development challenges and can build a sense of responsibility among young servers. These attributes are attractive to prospective employers and are essential in enabling young people to transition to productive adulthood.
- NYS can enhance youth employability by addressing the skills mismatch that employers complain about:Addressing the skills mismatch requires that employers are involved in training servers, the training should ideally be certificated, the training must be relevant and of high quality, and the training should respond to the interests and aptitude of the young participants.
- Help vulnerable youth access pathways to livelihoods: NYS programmes can provide an opportunity for vulnerable youth to access formal qualifications and the opportunity to prepare for the world of work (whether employment or self-employment) through a combination of technical skills training, experiential learning, and a focus on citizenship.
- Introduce practical training for self-employment into the NYS curriculum: NYS programmes should combine practical activities with basic training for self-employment to give servers a strong foundation for pursuing self-employment opportunities post-service. This may entail formulating a business idea, applying for loans, looking for small business mentors or partners, among other things.
- Prepare and filter candidates for access to self-employment support: NYS programmes should focus on financial and mentorship support, which are critical in helping young people make business ideas come to life and building these into sustainable livelihoods.
- Create transition mechanisms for jobs, self-employment or further education and training: NYS programmes should consider any of the following mechanisms to facilitate the transition of their participants into employment, self-employment or further education and training: partnering with local or national placement agencies, employment a job placement officer, and/or support young people to access further education and training.
This meeting was the second in a series of UN expert group meeting aimed to explore youth participation. The results of these meeting will provide information for the preparation of the World Youth Report that will focus on ensuring how active youth participation, both locally and globally, will continue the development of youth participation and engagement in the near future. To learn about the this series of meetings and the research that has been presented, please visit http://undesadspd.org/Youth/OurWork/Meetingsandworkshops.aspx