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Recognizing young people as key to change

Under the theme: “Resourcing and Financing Youth Development: Empowering Young People,” the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting (9CYMM) brought together government officials, stakeholders, and young leaders from 32 Commonwealth countries. The meeting that took place in Uganda’s capital Kampala 31st July to 4th August 2017 ended with commitments to harness the power and agency of young people to achieve the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

In his remarks, at the Youth Leaders Forum, UNFPA Uganda Representative, Mr. Alain Sibenaler said empowering youth is critical because it ensures that young people have the right and freedom to define their lives, pursue education, join the labor force, and create wealth. The demographic dividend can only be harnessed through strategic investments in young people, he said.

“Young people need sexual and reproductive health information and services to make informed choices about their sexuality, and hence family planning is one of the key pillars critical towards accelerating the demographic dividend,” he added.

Discussions at this forum rotated around institutionalization of youth-led organizations, investing in youth, human resource development, and the role of media, ICT and creative industry. The meeting also called for more intergenerational dialogue and partnerships to scale-up the respective youth initiatives.  Youth leaders also demonstrated their eagerness to lead and change the current youth development architecture for social impact.  

In her presentation at the Youth Stakeholders Forum, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth nations, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland said investing in young people is especially important for a country like Uganda with the youngest population among the Commonwealth member states is a smart choice not only to achieve the demographic dividend, but also the Sustainable Development Goals.

She expressed support for evidence-based approaches to young peoples’ development and encouraged skilling of young people in innovation and entrepreneurship, backed up with reliable structures, strong leadership and funds in place.  

“As the young population in Uganda is growing, rapid digital technology advancement is significantly influencing youth, who have the power to influence socio-economic advocacy and decision-making,” she said.

Representative Mr. Sibenaler concurred, underscoring the strong links between demographic dividend and digital dividend: “We are living in the digital age, where online resources and shared information can influence decision-making. With appropriate data and evidence, embracing the digital dividend can contribute to harnessing the demographic dividend,” he said.

The Forum acknowledged young people as strategic partners in development and a powerful force for democracy, rule of law, social cohesion, community empowerment, social transformation, economic growth, peace and security, and sustainable development. 

While delivering his speech at the Youth Ministers Meeting Mr. Sibenaler asked the ministers to “open space to have young people speak and hear young people’s voices.”

Reframing the development 3Es (education, empowerment, and employment) to new 3Es: economics, evidence, and ecosystems, the Representative said investing in young people is a key to poverty eradication.

“There is a strong economic cost when you don’t invest in young women to stay in school,” he said.

One of the panelists, Professor Bruce Ramussen from Victoria University in Australia concurred: “You will get substantial benefits from investing in education and health of young people, particularly girls. This will not only transform the lives of adolescents in resource-poor settings, but will also generate high economic and social return,” he said.

The Forum acknowledged young people, especially young women, as strategic partners and encouraged the public-private sector to develop youth-centered development plans. It also re-emphasized the importance of investing in youth health and education to maximize their potentials.

The 9CYMM meeting came at a time when UNFPA Uganda is revitalizing and putting young people at the center of its work. The meeting also brought to prominence the urgency for Uganda to invest in young people in order to harness the demographic dividend. 

-Story by Mina Nozawa