Celebrate the World’s Youngest Majority!

Welcome to the Global South of today. Entrepreneurship is on the rise. Innovation is blossoming. Opportunities are endless, if we can harness the power of youth. This March, we have brought young activists together with policymakers, social entrepreneurs, and development practitioners for the 6th Annual Frugal Innovation Forum (FIF) – rethinking and co-creating solutions that scale opportunities for youth.

This is a unique moment in history. Young people between the ages of 15 and 29 have reached their peak, now numbering at 1.8 billion. This is set to decline in the coming decades. Now is the time to focus on harnessing the power and potential of youth around the world. 85% of these young people live in the Global South, and they face some daunting statistics and barriers:

  • 60% of young people between the ages of 15-17 are not in school.
  • Global youth unemployment is rising, and underemployment has left more than one-third of young working people living in poverty.
  • More than half of all refugees are under 18 and unable to make a firm plan for their futures.

Despite these obstacles, young people have made it clear that they are ready to take up the reins in driving sustainable development, economic growth, and peace-building. From groundswell movements to individual endeavours, they are demonstrating an unwillingness- to accept the status quo, and wait for change to be formally delivered from channels above.

For International Youth Day 2018, the UN has chosen the theme “safe spaces for youth,” calling on partners from around the world to create the right conditions for empowering young people to develop their full potential- in learning, training, activism, and social engagement. Here in the Global South, the youth are carving out safe spaces for themselves. From physical to digital, public to civic, they are claiming the present for a better future.

Take Indian rapper Sofia Ashraf, who at 28, created a rap video called ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ aimed at holding Unilever accountable for toxic mercury pollution in the local community. Her creative approach captured 3.5 million views on YouTube, and drove international attention to a 15-year-long campaign, forcing the company to take action.

Or Saddam Sayyaleh, a young refugee in northern Jordan, who did not have the opportunity to participate in formal education. His dissatisfaction with the status quo led to the design of I Learn– an organisation that leverages the capacity of university student volunteers and young professionals to deliver continuing education and life skills training to adolescent refugees.

Or consider 23-year-old Brian Bosire, who designed a new technology to help 200,000 small-scale farmers in Kenya to improve their productivity..  His company, UjuziKilimo, develops handheld electronic sensors that analyse soil quality and assist in field-level decision-making to maximise crop yield.

On a daily basis, young people like Sofia, Saddam, and Brian are rising above challenges unique to this part of the world to craft a new narrative for their generation – one of activism, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship. International Youth Day 2018 serves as a reminder that we should look to young people for inspiration.

It must also be a call to action: now is the time to equip this peak youth generation with the tools and resources necessary to claim safe spaces for themselves, and develop into the leaders of tomorrow.  On March 3 & 4, BRAC is brought young activists together with policymakers, social entrepreneurs, and development practitioners during the 6th Annual Frugal Innovation Forum (FIF) in Dhaka, Bangladesh to rethink and co-create solutions that scale opportunities for youth.  They shared lessons learned from the Global South, explored the transformative power of youth activism, and brainstormed creative solutions that tap into the dynamism of this population.


Writer: Jane Alex Robinson; Innovation, Ecosystem and Partnership Lead, Social Innovation Lab, BRAC