Bharat chauhan ,New Delhi,India, like countries around the world, is faced with a critical challenge — which is also a critical opportunity: how best to support its growing population of young people.
Every fifth person in India is between 10 and 19 years of age. 253 million people — one fifth of the population.
That makes India home to the largest number of adolescents in the world. An incredible advantage — but also an enormous challenge.
Because despite significant progress for children in their first decade of life — through reduced child mortality and increased access to primary school — tens of millions of adolescents in India are not getting the support they need through their second decade of life. Especially the most vulnerable: girls, migrants, children with disabilities, and those belonging to historically disadvantaged communities.
Taking advantage of India’s youth dividend means addressing some tough questions. Will they get the education they need? Will they get the skills required to compete in today’s workplace? Will they know how to open a business of their own and become entrepreneurs? Will jobs even be available? Will they suffer from violence or discrimination? Will they access health care, sanitation and nutrition to support their bodies and brains as they develop?
And if they’re girls, will they have a chance to go to school at all? Will they be married before their 18th birthday? Will they be among the millions who become mothers while still children themselves?
These questions are too big for any one government, agency or business to address. Partnerships are critical.
That’s why this consultation is so important. It brings together governments, NGOs, agencies, businesses, UN and — most critically — young people themselves to explore new solutions based around their specific needs.
Last week, UNICEF launched a new global partnership to not only identify, but scale-up, these solutions.
It’s called “Generation Unlimited,” or “Gen-U.” It provides an open platform for the public and private sectors to join forces with young people around the world to co-create solutions that can be scaled up to reach thousands, even millions, of young people.
Remote learning. Apprenticeships. Job-shadowing. Skills training. Mentorships. Work-study programmes, so they can “learn and earn” at the same time. Entrepreneurship training. These all areas where young people have told us that they want increased support.
And they’re areas in which local businesses can get involved. After all, they should have a hand in shaping the workforce they’ll need in the years to come.
To help guide this co-creation process and co-ordinate with our many partners, I’ve appointed Mr. Ravi Venkatesan as UNICEF’s Special Representative for Young People. Among many other influential roles, he previously served as Chairman of the Bank of Baroda, and as Chairman of Microsoft India, Cummins India and Infosys Limited. In his new role, he’ll be providing strategic guidance and support on Generation Unlimited. He’s here with us today, and has a deep understanding of India’s massive potential, so please reach out to him with any ideas or input.
Here in India, I see three areas of particular opportunity.
First — can we work together to scale-up flexible education options for young people who have either dropped out of school or never been to school in the first place?
One excellent example is the flexible, distance-learning education programme in the district of Vizag, in Andhra Pradesh. Through this programme, adolescent girls and boys — aged 15 to 18 — who have dropped out from school are provided with distance learning, and skills-training programmes from government and NGO partners.
And most importantly, they’re linked to job opportunities in a number of sectors. A great model that we could learn from, adapt, and scale-up to reach thousands or even millions more young people who have dropped out of school — in India and around the world.
Second — can we work together to scale-up social-protection programmes that target the financial hardships that parents face in getting their children into school, and keeping them there?
For example, the state governments of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are using direct cash transfers to reach over five million disadvantaged girls — giving their families a strong incentive to keep their daughters and sisters in school. Not just making progress on our education goals, but giving girls the tools they need — and deserve — to shape a better future for themselves, and their societies.
And third — can we find new ways in which adolescents can support other adolescents?
The best part of my job at UNICEF is meeting with young people, and seeing their inspiring energy and commitment to changing their communities.
Indian adolescent groups are well-known for standing against child marriage and violence against children and for promoting education among the most vulnerable.
For example, more than 1.5 million adolescent girls and boys across the country are part of the growing movement to end child marriage, and working with local authorities to make it happen.
More than 1,000 of them are volunteering in Jalna district, helping the children of seasonal migrant communities gain an education.
And in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bhopal, UNICEF is working with adolescent “collectives” in poor urban settlements to improve services and infrastructure, prevent violence, and promote access to sports and recreation activities.
These are just a few examples of how youth are willing and able to shape a better future for their communities.
Can we help them do more? In our own communities, operations and businesses, can we provide a space or financing to help them not only identify problems or issues in their communities — but to take action?
Our efforts with young people — from local examples like these, to the big global solutions we’re scaling-up with Generation Unlimited — must not be “us” telling “them” what they need.
Rather, we must listen to their needs, and co-create new solutions that will help them make the difference in their world that they want to see.
Young people are any country’s most important resource — and with the right mix of ideas, funding and political will, they are India’s biggest advantage.
Let us work together to leave them a legacy of hope and opportunities not just for them — but with them, every step of the way.