BALTIMORE, Maryland — There are 200 million people unemployed worldwide, and 75 million of them are under the age of 25, the World Bank reports. With such statistics, it is easy for youth to turn to violence and extremism in lieu of employment. The International Youth Foundation sees potential in underserved youth, as well as danger in not engaging them.
“Perhaps the most important national security investment we can make is in youth in so many regions of the world,” says Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.
IYF, founded in 1990, fosters a global community of organizations, business and governments that works to engage and empower youth.
In an article published in YOUTH magazine, Christy Macy, Director of Publications at IYF, stated that the dynamic of the world is changing. The past 50 years have seen the rise of local communities over top-down organizations. A natural consequence of the new pattern is the growth of global networks.
Macy describes a global network as a space “where diverse organizations work together around a single mission or shared commitment.”
IYF’s global network is made up of 224 partners in 78 countries and territories. The organization has a presence in East Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
In all of its locations, IYF brings together like-minded organizations across multiple sectors to provide the resources for the world’s marginalized youth.
IYF works in three broad categories: citizenship, learning and work.
The citizenship programs work to engage youth in their communities through volunteerism, social entrepreneurship and activism. IYF is driven by the conviction that, “young people are a powerful and untapped force to create positive change in their communities and nations.”
Its exemplary citizenship program is called YouthActionNet, which creates a network of action-oriented youth. The network connects 900 young social entrepreneurs in over 80 countries.
The learning programs derive importance from the fact that there are an estimated 125 million children worldwide not in school. The aim of IYF’s learning programs is to either improve the academic career of youth in schools or to teach practical skills to youth who do not have access to school.
Whether through alternative education programs for those not in school or improving rural schools with new technologies, IYF seeks to “build young people’s creativity, self-esteem, and vocational skills.”
More than 80,000 youth have graduated from IYF’s Passport to Success program, a curriculum that is designed to build life skills in youth that will contribute to a productive life as a student, worker and citizen.
In Mexico, the Passport to Success program reduced dropout rates by 50 percent.
The third focus of IYF’s programs is work. Similar to the learning-focused programs, this sector’s aim is to provide youth with the life skills and knowledge they need to engage successfully in the job market.
There are 400 million young people around the world without access to adequate jobs. One of the biggest reasons youth are not hired for decent jobs is a lack of skills. Entra21 is IYF’s work program in Latin America. 38,000 Latin American youth have benefited from the program, which bestows knowledge and skills relevant to current labor market standards.
The World Bank and USAID have recognized entra21 as an example for setting up disadvantaged youth for the job market.
IYF utilizes its vast network to gain knowledge and experience that is then capitalized on by institutions such as the World Bank. Robert Holzmann, Sector Director for Social Protection & Labor at the World Bank, has said: “IYF and its partners have so much knowledge that we can tap into.”
The network-based approach is not only useful for major organizations like the World Bank, it is also inspiring and empowering for those working on the ground level. Partners of IYF meet regularly to share what they know and give advice to one another. After one such meeting, a partner shared to Macy: “It’s what we learn from each other, in small groups and over drinks and coffee that makes this such an extraordinarily rich and meaningful experience.”
IYF and other network based organizations bring people together in cooperation in a competitive market. Two hundred million USD from various donors have been put into resources for IYF’s programs since its beginning in 1990.
IYF continues to gain worldwide respect, working in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to create the Global Youth Wellbeing Index. This index will be the first of its kind, measuring the wellbeing of youth around the world to determine where there are the greatest needs.
As the IYF grows, so does its impact, helping more youth to become engaged and active citizens.
– Julianne O’Connor