Young people around the world are told by authority figures, the media and possibly by themselves at some point that they are causing a problem—that they are the problem. We live in a world where the growing youth population worldwide is painted as a threat to stability, and where the challenges we face today are because of young people.
Policymakers and government institutions charged with providing education, health services and other assistance can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of today’s youth population. Countries with limited resources or weak economies face additional challenges to meet the rapidly growing demand for jobs and income-earning opportunities for the millions who are approaching employment age. It is easy for young people to be perceived as part of the problem, when in reality they are vital to the solution.
There has never been such an abundance of young people and never again will there be such vast potential for innovation, accelerated development and meaningful social change. Today’s young people are in a stronger position than any generation before them to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice and combat climate change. Young people are the world’s most powerful and untapped resource to ensure sustainable development.
There are currently 1.8 billion young people ages 18–25 on this planet. This number is only expected to increase as 2030 approaches since over 25% of the world’s population is 15 years of age and younger. It is not only their remarkable numbers, but also their traits and experiences that position them as a critical component for creating a better world. Each new generation is more digitally connected and tech savvy, more educated and exposed to the broader world and more comfortable in a collaborative and changing environment. At the same time, young people are becoming more ethnically diverse and with that generally more respectful of individual fundamental rights. These factors contribute to their inherent drive to be agents of change rather than passive spectators.
Over the last decade, the world has witnessed how these qualities have led to an increase in young people driving change and demanding freedom and respect for their rights. They have taken to social media and the streets, demanding improved conditions for themselves and their communities, while also leveraging opportunities to learn, work and participate in decisions affecting them. Today, young people are growing up with a global mindset allowing them to better understand their important role and responsibility to make the world better. However, according to the AIESEC Youth Speak report, which surveyed over 150,000 young people, only 56% of respondents worldwide volunteer their time, resources and energy toward a particular cause. While many wish and expect 100% of youth to volunteer, JCI recognizes that young people are looking for opportunities beyond traditional volunteer experiences. These individuals desire to take concrete action that creates direct impact within their community and the world. While they understand their power and expect engaging opportunities, many face obstacles to making the difference that they desire in the world; they face greater under-employment and are earning less than previous generations. If the desire to effect change is not matched with the opportunity to do so, young people may take part in nontraditional civic engagement, turn away from civic participation completely or pursue more dangerous measures as we have seen evidenced by the recruitment of disenfranchised young people by extremist groups.
So how can communities, nations and the world at large harness this untapped resource and channel the energy of young people toward positive change? The answer is through providing opportunities that engage, empower and activate young people to become active citizens of their community. Active citizenship has been described as: empowering citizens to have their voices heard within their communities; providing a sense of belonging and a personal stake in society; and instilling values of democracy, equality and diverse culture. It is this same sense of belonging and personal stake in community that young people desire when they turn to extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram or al-Shabaab. Through diverse programs and experiences, active citizenship can be cultivated within individuals and communities, empowering people to become active citizens who take responsibility for local issues and find targeted, sustainable solutions that benefit the community and the world. Each day JCI empowers young people with the opportunities that transform them from ordinary individuals into active citizens who take extraordinary action for sustainable development. By developing active citizens and fostering active citizenship in grassroots communities, we empower the next generation of young people to be actors effecting the positive change they want to see in their community and country, rather than causing negative change or passively witnessing and accepting the status quo.
Young people are set to inherit chronic social, economic and political challenges that businesses, governments and civic organizations are unable to solve without engaging youth. They must collaborate with all sectors to make progress. To devise solutions to these problems, young people need the skills, knowledge and confidence that harness their power to change the world.
Young people are not the problem. Young people are the solution.
This article was originally featured in the 2017 JCI Impact Report, which showcases the immense impact that JCI members created around the world last year. From grassroots projects to grants for youth-led programs advancing the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and international events to media coverage, read more about how the JCI Movement values the opportunity of youth. After all, young people are the answer to a prosperous and peaceful world!
“The Power of 1.8 Billion Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future: State of the World Population 2014.” United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 2014.
“World Population Prospects: 2017 Revision.” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. New York, 2017
“Youth Speak Global Report 2016.” AIESEC, 2016, issuu.com/aiesecinternational docs/report_youthspeak_2016.
Hoskins, Bryonny. “Measuring Active Citizenship in Europe.” Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, CRELL Research Paper 4-EUR 22530 EN. 2006. ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/jrc-coin-measuring-activecitizenship-2006_en.pdf.