Youth: An untapped source of resilience
January 23, 2013
Sarah Noble, Interpeace Director of External Relations and Chief of Staff, is currently attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, as a member of the Global Shapers Community.
Sarah shares her thoughts on youth’s great potential to contribute to solving some of the challenges the world is facing and appeals for a greater inclusion of young people in decision-making:
Recently I had the opportunity to meet up with young people at a vocational training center in Guatemala City. Being part of a high-level delegation, we were accompanied by a lot of security guards with rather large and visible guns.
These men with big guns caught my interest and I watched them closely. When we got to the center, the body language of the security guards conveyed that they were thinking of our young hosts as potential security threats. I then started to wonder why young people like myself are so often perceived as a risk, not only in Guatemala, but in most parts of the world.
As our visit progressed, the young people at the vocational center started to demonstrate their hairdressing and mechanical skills and then showed off their creative gifts through theater. I could see that the security guards were beginning to relax and smile. I saw them start to recognize the potential, the energy and the abilities of these young people.
I tell this story because it represents something that is being replicated on a global scale. Young people represent over 50 percent of the world’s population. But quite often, instead of being viewed as a source of resilience, young people are viewed as a risk and are excluded from decision-making.
Is it because young people question and challenge norms and behaviors that have been taken for granted for so long?
When young people are excluded, this results in frustration, a lack of belonging and sense of identity. It is only then that young people can become a destructive force.
What is often overlooked is that young people are an untapped source of resilience: young people are forging creative solutions, are innovative, dynamic, connected, and see beyond the boundaries of the old ways of doing things.
We need to harness this energy of young people as catalysts of positive change.
A first step to tapping into the huge potential of young people is to include them. On the one hand, governments, business and civil society need to listen to what young people have to say. On the other hand, young people themselves need to seize opportunities to participate. If youth are taken seriously, their enormous problem solving capacity is unleashed and the decision-making process becomes more legitimate.
Despite the fact that young people’s needs and concerns are often shaped by the context they live in, there are global issues that are common problems around the world: employment, the desire to be included and recognized and make their voices heard. So we need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue around these issues.
No generation by itself can resolve the enormous challenges that our world is facing. It is only by working together, and across generations that we will be able to collectively develop innovative solutions and ideas for a common future. And I think we can do it, together.