There is nobody with a greater stake in the issue of youth employment than young people themselves. It is their lives; their future.
And with more than 600 million young people around the world who are not in education, employment or training, there are a lot of futures at stake.
So who better to ask about the social barriers a girl in Delhi has to overcome, or what having access to finance means for an aspiring entrepreneur in Uganda, than the very people who have lived it?
They are the faces behind the numbers; the living proof of the progress which is unleashed when young people have the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed in the world of work.
That’s why we did something a little bit different at this year’s European Development Days. We brought together young people from Brazil, India, Pakistan and Uganda countries for a Global Café, providing a platform for them to exchange and share their views and experiences on the challenges and opportunities they face.
Breaking down gender barriers
Bali Rani is one of Pakistan’s pioneering Pink Rickshaw drivers. Before joining the project she was a beggar of the streets. But with 2 young children to care for, she was desperate for a change in fortune. “My life was a struggle, it was very difficult,” she told us.
She jumped at the opportunity to take part in the Pink Rickshaw project, but those around her weren’t convinced. “When I started working on the rickshaw, many people were afraid I couldn’t do it. They didn’t believe I could drive the rickshaw,” she added. “But once I started and began receiving an income for it, their opinion changed. They were happy and supportive. Things are different for me now. There has been a remarkable change in my life, I now have an income and livelihood opportunities. My children are studying in school. We have a decent life.”
"We have shown that girls can succeed!"
Varsha and Chanchala, from Delhi, faced similar challenges as they pushed aside traditional ideas about what girls should and should not do when they joined the Saksham programme. “It’s not common for girls in my area to leave the house, especially not to get a job and earn money” explained Chanchala. “But we have shown that girls can succeed, and others have now joined the programme because they have been inspired by our success. We can be role models for our community.”
Strong support network
Gaining support of friends and family is not only important for young women like Varsha, Chanchala and Bali Rani, who are challenging gender stereotypes. As Vinicius well knows a strong support network is also crucial to ensure young men are able to pursue their goals. “When we finish high school it’s very difficult to get a job, because we are not prepared for it,” explained the 18 year old, who is part of Plan International Brazil’s EU-funded Bridges to the Future project. “I needed my parents support to become involved in the project.” he said. But the support network extends beyond family members. “The mentors who are part of the project were something new for me. They helped me with everything I needed during the project – giving me advice, listening to our questions and problems. The teachers provided us with the technical lessons and knowledge we need to be prepared for our jobs.”
Equal access to finance
Simply equipping young people with skills is not enough. They need to be provided with access to finance, such as bank accounts, loans and savings schemes, as Nololo, an entrepreneur involved in Plan International Uganda’s A Working Future project, informed us. “Access means young people having things that are affordable and manageable,” he said. “It’s important young people have access to finance, because it means a change in social status. Life at home will change, they will be more involved in decision making. They will be economically empowered, with capacity and power to take financial decisions.”
Dare to dream
Across countries and continents, these young people have something in common: they believe in a brighter future – not only for themselves, but for their families and communities as well. When asked about their hopes and dreams for the future, their answers come thick and fast.
Alessandra wants “to be financially stable”, while Bali Rani would like to own a small house and see her children “complete their studies and have a good life”.
Varsha and Chanchala, who have themselves overcome traditional gender norms, want to see “every girl in our community going out and working, helping their families”.
Vinicius sees himself working in a position which helps others in his community, to “make a difference in people’s lives”.
"Young people should be independent"
And Nololo? “I want to be involved in development, and make sure people are participating meaningfully. I want to help young people be responsible citizens by equipping them with skills to help community, and see them spearheading activities in their communities. Young people should be independent, and take up leading roles so they can help others overcome their challenges,” he told us, bursting with enthusiasm. And with his track record of success, you’d be wise to bet on him achieving what he sets out to – no matter how big the challenge.
Independence, pride, wings
"Never give up, always fight for what you want, and keep progressing."
Drawing our Global Café to a close, with the insights of these young employees and entrepreneurs ringing in our ears, we asked them one simple question: In one word, what does having a job mean to you?
“Pride” “Independence” “Wings”. Their answers speak for themselves. They remind us that behind the “youth economic empowerment” policy jargon, real people and real lives are being transformed.
So with renewed enthusiasm and determination, we too will take Alessandra’s advice: “never give up, always fight for what you want, and keep progressing.”