Interview: Youth

What’s lacking, is work

Ahmad Alhendawi, born in Jordan in 1984, is the first UN Envoy on Youth in the history of the world organisation – and as such, living evidence of the changing demographic landscape.

Friederike Bauer

[caption caption="United Nations' Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi (Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten)"] Ahmad Alhendawi[/caption]

You are the Envoy of some 1.8 billion young people around the world. That sounds like a massive responsibility. How do you manage to represent this diverse group in a fair manner?
Being the Envoy of the largest generation of young people ever is indeed a great responsibility. I do not claim to represent all of the 1.8 billion because it’s technically impossible. But I try to represent their interests because this generation should receive more recognition, be better represented and better heard. My job here is to make sure their issues are included in the work of the United Nations. I see myself as megaphone, helping to get their messages across. And in turn I am opening up venues to increase their participation in international affairs. For example, we have  just hosted the First Global Forum on Youth Policies, bringing together 700 ministers and youth experts from 165 countries. Before that we developed a Global Youth Call, to which 1,700 youth organisations subscribed. They endorsed a consensus on what they would like to see included in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. That has never happened before.
Young people are struggling with unemployment and a lack of economic opportunities. Do you agree with the idea of a ‘lost generation’?
Yes I do. This is a lost generation in the sense that young people nowadays are denied the opportunities they need to realise their full potential. They particularly suffer from a lack of employment opportunities. And they are struggling everywhere with the transition period from pursuing education to gainful employment. Globally we have 75 million unemployed young people, but we estimate that around 500 million are underemployed. So, in the next 15 years we need around 600 million jobs for young people. This is a big number – and a big challenge.

Different unemployment situations

Some see education as a possible solution, others entrepreneurship. How could we provide young people with better prospects?
There is no single solution to this. The profile of unemployment is different from region to region. If you talk to education experts they will tell you the solution is education. If you talk to financial experts they will talk about access to credit. If you talk to labour representatives they will talk about the need to restrict labour laws. If you talk to the investment community they will talk about the need to support small businesses, etc. And I think: It’s all of that but it has to be adapted to different unemployment situations. In Africa, for example, more investment in agriculture and infrastructure could create millions of jobs. Thus, governments all over the world must take the lead here. They have to prioritise youth and investment in youth.
In Germany we tend to think that vocational training could be a solution.
I truly think that the German model is one of the best in the world. You have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates, also because of that dual system. I am convinced that this model could be replicated in other places. However, it’s not about copying-and-pasting, but rather requires a lot of hard work. It entails strong investment and a long-term commitment from the public and the private sector, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Education, employment, participation

What are some other challenges young people are facing around the world?
Next to education and employment, the third big challenge is participation. The young are interested in politics but not necessarily in political institutions. They are living in the digital era while the political institutions often remain in the analogue age. Their lifestyle is so different from those in power. Just to give you one example: they feel it’s a waste of time to stand in line for eight hours to vote when they could do it electronically within a few seconds. So the tools should be modernised in order to get young people engaged. They are drivers of change, and we need change to meet the diverse global challenges.

published in akzente 1/15

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We are many

Infographic: Youth

Never before has the world had such a high youth population.