JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

A generation seeks inclusion

Date

Chris Varney

Students in a public school in Chennai, India.

Students in a public school in Chennai, India. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

''I will not let my generation be wasted.''

So said a 22-year-old teacher I met in a slum in Mumbai. I had been making my way around the cows, beggars and carts scattered across the small laneways of this slum. So many colours grabbed my eye. So many smells filled my nose. Everywhere you looked there was activity.

Finally I came to a room filled with computers. Young men and women were seated at them, their eyes fixed on the screens. Standing in the middle of the room was teacher Antesh: a young man determined to solve youth unemployment.

The world's slums are filled with young people who have been unable to enjoy a full education and pursue employment. This was the reason why Antesh had spent his adolescence in a state of despair. He turned to alcohol and drugs to numb his sense of hopelessness.

Thankfully he received a scholarship at age 15 to complete a beginner's course in literacy, numeracy and computer software. This proved to be his turning point.

Antesh went on to earn an undergraduate degree and a master's in communications. When he graduated, he surprised his teachers by rejecting the corporate graduate path. Instead he returned to his slum to start a youth investment project.

Antesh's vision was to equip young people with accredited training in literacy, numeracy and computer software. When I met him, he was delivering this in partnership with local businesses. Already he could share stories of students using their training to gain employment in India's IT boom.

Antesh's initiative provides a powerful demonstration of how to tackle youth unemployment. It also highlights the ideological shift we need to make. We must move away from seeing youth as ''clients'' of welfare.

The patron-client paradigm of youth policy has failed. It, in part, has led to young people bearing the brunt of the global financial crisis. Instead we need to treat young people as partners.

Young people such as Antesh can co-design entrepreneurial solutions to education and employment challenges.

This is the raison d'etre behind the proposed UN permanent forum on youth (UNPFY). We lack a global forum in which governments, in partnership with young people, can build and implement an agenda that advances the participation of the world's youth. The UNPFY body intends to fill this gap.

Countries are lining up to support the proposed UNPFY. Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Benin, Sri Lanka and Morocco have all signed up. The question is: will Australia support it?

It would certainly be valuable to the Australian government's foreign policy objectives to do so.

Australia's campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council 2013-2014 will come to a head when votes are cast in October.

The campaign has demanded a long slog from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Since Europe is backing Finland and Luxembourg, which are competing with Australia for the two seats available, the government has focused its attention on the votes it can win from regions such as Africa.

It is in such developing regions that the role of a UNPFY can be most valuable. Indeed, developing countries have 87 per cent of the world's 1.2 billion young people and are experiencing a significant ''youth bulge'' in their populations.

This youth swell has intensified the youth unemployment crisis. Nowhere is this crisis more acute than in North Africa and the Middle East. In 2010 youth unemployment levels reached 23.8 per cent in North Africa and 25.5 per cent in the Middle East.

It was unemployed and frustrated young people who were central to the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

These events show how powerful young people can be in driving social change. On the other hand, widespread joblessness among youth, if left unabated, can also lead to increased drug use, violence and crime.

The youth bulge does not have to mean doom and gloom. Rather it poses an opportunity to turn a substantial portion of the global population into a skilled and socially conscious cohort.

Already there is much to build on.

Two months from now, governments will meet in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit. As they review progress towards achieving sustainable development, youth leadership will be a clear stand-out. Around the world young people are proving themselves to be a resource for poverty reduction and sustainability.

What can a UNPFY add to this? Will it just be another talk fest?

Not with the world's youth watching it.

In Nairobi recently, more than 200 young people from around the world developed a declaration on the UNPFY. The principles agreed included a requirement that youth organisations be integral to the selection of the UNPFY's  members. These members, in turn, will be accountable for listening and acting on the voices of marginalised and vulnerable youth.

As the Australian government enters the home stretch of its Security Council campaign, endorsement of the UNPFY might just provide an extra kick to help it over the line. The case is simple: young people are a resource. Let's not waste them.

Chris Varney is a former Australian youth representative to the United Nations.

twitter Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU


10 comments

  • I work in IT so I'm not thrilled to hear about more Indian IT workers. Every day more jobs are outsourced to India. We keep hearing about manufacturing, yet the service industry is constantly under pressure from Indian outsourcers undercutting local workers. When is Labor going to step in for the service industry workers??? Oh that's right, not unionised so they don't care. Always look after their union mates/paymasters.

    Commenter
    LiamH
    Date and time
    April 27, 2012, 9:37AM
    • Start a union then.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 2:23PM
    • @David. I already have. It's called Australian citizenship. I also pay union fee's although you might know them better by the name "income taxes". Last time I checked, these fees were supposed to buy me the same level of representation as everyone else (including those in the ACTU).

      That's the larger point. Union members shouldn't be able to buy favours from the Labor govt... but they do. Think Fair Work (which made unions 10's of millions in corrupt money) in exchange for their funding of the anti-workchoices campaign.

      Commenter
      LiamH
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 2:34PM
    • Read the article her about Abbott being in support of importing skilled labour from overseas.

      Well if that includes IT worker and if they are prepared to work for less than you do then you are out of a job.

      Keep it in mind.

      At this time a lot of workers lose their jobs. What should they do? Emigrate to find work elsewhere??

      Funny way of looking at things by the politicians.

      Commenter
      caledonia
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 4:15PM
    • @caledonia. Currently those on 457 visa's have to be paid Australian rates so it wouldn't affect the bargaining power of Aussies too much. Also at least people physically based here spend some of their earning in Australia while they live here so not all is lost. If it's a choice between 457's and outsourcing, 457's are by far the lesser evil. I suspect that's what Abbott is getting at and I agree with him.

      Commenter
      LiamH
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 4:21PM
    • Well, there aren't too many unions around these days.

      Which means you have to fight for yourself rather than as part of a collective.

      Even businesses get together to push their causes. They don't call it unions, they use the name associations.

      It is the same thing, working as a collective. more means more power.

      Unions are disappearing but employer associations are growing.

      Perhaps employers have more brain to recognise the advantages of operating as a collective than the workers.

      To be a member of an association also requires that you pay member fees.

      As I said you need brain to see what is good for you.

      Commenter
      caledonia
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 4:23PM
  • A clarion call to action. Well done!!!!

    Commenter
    Lesm
    Location
    Balmain
    Date and time
    April 27, 2012, 9:46AM
    • Why do they have so many kids when the parents have nothing to offer them? But if the parents stopped at one child then maybe that child could attend school and make something of themselves. Hopeless.

      Commenter
      pooh
      Location
      oz
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 11:08AM
      • Maybe we should be trying the same thing in our slums. Such as the euphemistically named Aboriginal communities in the Norther Territory. Or, closer to home, in Department of Housing areas in Sydney's west and south west.

        And Pooh @ 11.08 am, how do you stop having babies when you can't afford the pill (you have to eat) and your husband/partner/bed buddy won't have a vasectomy?

        Commenter
        Colin2114
        Location
        West Ryde NSW
        Date and time
        April 27, 2012, 12:36PM
      • @Colin2114. I'm not sure why you disagree with pooh. People who can't afford kids shouldn't have them. Seems simple to me. Why should anyone be forced via taxes to pay for someone elses kids? I myself put off having my first child until 35 as I wasn't sure I could afford it until then and didn't want to bludge off other taxpayers. That means at most I'll be able to have 2 kids when I would've preferred at least 3. Given I've sacrificed, why should I have to pay for someone else to have kids? Simple answer. I shouldn't. Everyone should pay their own way. You want more kids. Work/study harder so you can afford them first.

        Commenter
        LiamH
        Date and time
        April 27, 2012, 4:10PM
    Comments are now closed
    Featured advertisers