Youth can be powerful agents of positive change, and contribute vastly to the socio-economic development of their societies when given the chance to learn and make productive use of their skills and talents.
Globally, 1.2 billion people are between 15 and 24 years of age. A huge share of these young people live in developing countries. Youth can be powerful agents of positive change, and contribute vastly to the socio-economic development of their societies when given the chance to learn and make productive use of their skills and talents.
However, too often this is not the case. Too often young people are unemployed or underemployed. The International Labour Organization estimates that around 74 million young people were unemployed in 2013 worldwide. The global unemployment rate was 13.1% for youth and 4.5% for adults, indicating that youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than older segments of the population.
UNIDO’s mandate to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development makes employment one of the main focus areas of the organization’s programs and activities. Entrepreneurship and private sector development can be one solution to the youth unemployment challenge. A sound private sector provides the foundation for economic growth, structural change and innovation, creation of jobs and livelihoods: globally 9 out of 10 jobs are created by the private sector.
Najet Salem, a young woman from Tunisia, made her way from being an unemployed graduate to being an economically independent entrepreneur whose business gives other young women the opportunity to engage in productive activities. Najet, like many young women from the region, spent most of her time weaving to support her family and improve their family income. Upon graduating from the School of Fine Arts in Gafsa, Najet decided to help her mother upgrade their small, home-based production of carpets, and increase their sales by strengthening cooperation with other women producers of carpets in the region. Thanks to a technical assistance program established in the region by UNIDO and local institutions (handicraft, training and investment promotion agencies), Najet participated in a number of technical trainings including product quality, design, management, marketing and market access, as well as training to better understand and master the weaving value chain. She participated in fairs and exhibitions in Tunisia and Europe, and networked with important designers who inspired her visions on new and innovative carpet production methods. Today, Najet’s company has notably increased its production of Kelims and employs more than 60 women. Najet Salem was able to overcome obstacles through her entrepreneurial drive and willingness to further develop her talents and skills, and through the support received in the process of setting up and growing her business.
What have we learned from the story of Najet? First, in order to make sure that talented young people have the opportunity to make use of their skills and take their future into their own hands, technical assistance programs for youth productive employment should be designed in a way that addresses business environment development on macro, meso and micro levels.
UNIDO has developed an integrated approach that assists governments and institutions to serve young entrepreneurs who want to create and develop sustainable enterprises, and ultimately improve their livelihoods.
This approach includes: 1) fostering an entrepreneurial culture by introducing entrepreneurship development courses in high schools, universities and vocational training institutes; 2) providing business development services for young entrepreneurs such as training on entrepreneurial hard and soft skills, identification of sectors and value chains with high potential of employment and self employment, technology transfer and innovation, investment promotion; and 3) pre-investment financial feasibility studies and access to finance.
Once the young entrepreneur has started his or her own business, local support institutions and the private sector will offer counselling and coaching support to services aimed at reducing the post-creation business mortality rate.
A second important lesson learned from Najet’s story (as well as other successful cases UNIDO has registered in its projects) is that, in order to address the multifaceted challenges facing young people around the globe, governments, private sector, development banks, civil society, NGOs and the United Nations need to closely cooperate to develop and harmonize policies and tools to make sure that the young generation of entrepreneurs can grow in a conducive environment, thrive in their aspirations and live up to their dreams.
To best coordinate efforts and create synergies within the United Nations, 40 United Nations entities have joined forces and created the Inter-agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD). The main aim of the network is to increase the effectiveness of the UN work in youth development by enhancing collaboration and exchange among all relevant UN entities, while respecting and harnessing the benefits of their individual strengths and unique mandates.
In March 2014, UNIDO took over the annual co-chairmanship of IANYD and will chair the network at an important time when the Millennium Development Goals transition into a new vision of Sustainable Development Goals. The international community will have to ensure that the multiple challenges faced by youth are addressed so that young people today and in the coming decades have opportunities to reach their full potential.
Monica Carco leads UNIDO’s engagement in its 2014 co-chairmanship of the IAYND.