Opening remarks by UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton on International Youth Day

12 Aug 2014

  • On behalf of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme, I’m delighted to welcome everyone to this year’s celebration of International Youth Day. It is a sign of the relevance of our topic that so many people have gathered here on a hot August afternoon.
  • I’d like to extend our special appreciation to Fatmir Besimi, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, for joining us. We know that youth is a topic close to the DPM’s heart, and we share the view that young people have a key role to play in European integration, and in fact are poised to reap great benefits from EU accession, in terms of travel, jobs and life experience.
  • You may be wondering why the UN devotes a special day to youth. The occasion was created by the UN General Assembly in 1999, and it thus represents a commitment by all the world’s countries. Since 2000, the day has been marked every year on 12 August. But this is not just symbolism: the topic of youth has been steadily gaining in attention and profile within the UN.
  • There are two main reasons for this. The first is that young people face threats and risks that are specific to their age group. Most important among these is unemployment. Globally, 73 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed.1  The young worldwide face a disproportionate risk of joblessness – young people now make up 37 percent of the global working-age population but constitute 60 percent of the global unemployed.2
  • The problem of youth unemployment is particularly acute in the Western Balkans. In this country, more than half of working-age young people are jobless. This is not a transitory phenomenon: 77 percent of the jobless have been looking for work for more than a year, and even those with decent jobs needed on average six years to find something after leaving school.
  • This situation is bad for the young people affected, but there is also a high cost to society as a whole.  Not only is the country deprived of the rich contributions of an entire generation, but also prolonged joblessness for such a large group of young people can create risks to stability.
  • The International Labor Organization, in a recent study,3  warned of the risk of creating a “scarred generation,” which is left marginalized, demoralized and impoverished by long-term joblessness.
  • And here we see an important local connection with the global theme for 2014 for International Youth Day: mental health.4 Joblessness takes its toll not just in terms of financial security but also in disappointment and reduced self-esteem. It’s important to note here that, according to the ILO study, the two primary goals that young people in this country set for themselves are “having a good family life” and “being successful at work” – and joblessness thwarts both.
  • The second reason why youth is getting so much more attention lately from the UN is a more positive one. Young people have a huge contribution to make, in terms of tackling both the challenges that plague their generation and the great global issues that face the entire world.
  • Young people tend to have more energy and more idealism than their elders. They also tend to be more technologically literate – 45 percent of the world’s Internet users are under 24 – and thus hold the key to the innovation that might solve problems previously thought intractable.
  • To ensure that young people have a chance to realize this potential, what is UNDP doing?
  • On the one hand, we are working to give youth people a greater “voice” in the issues that concern them, for example by supporting the preparation of youth strategies at the municipal level. These efforts have been greeted with enthusiasm by young people in many local communities and create a good foundation for the drafting of a national youth strategy.
  • On the other, we are working to support the Government in stimulating the creation of more high-quality jobs for young people. Fighting youth unemployment is very clearly a Government priority, and large-scale resources are being channeled to this effort.
  • For example, in partnership with the Ministry of Labor we are working to include more young people in our joint program to help unemployed people start up their own small businesses by providing training, coaching and small grants for infrastructure and equipment.
  • There is a clear and very direct correlation between years of education and quality of employment, and here we are helping to refine the educational curriculum so that young people leave school with the knowledge and skills they need to meet the demands of the marketplace.
  • “Professional” jobs in the public administration remain the preferred option for school leavers, but here we are encouraging a reorientation to the private sector, since this will not only provide a safer route to financial security but also give the young a chance to be truly self-sufficient.
  • And we are working to help young people gain work experience before they even start looking for full-time jobs, through internships, volunteering and part-time work. This is the point behind the “info-clubs” we’ve helped to establish at four universities, and it is the guiding idea of the prv.mk mobile application, which alerts young people to opportunities in their communities.
  • We see huge potential in the younger generation, it would be a shame for this potential to go to waste. That is why we are using today’s celebration to call attention to the need to provide young people with the tools and the “voice” they need to be masters of their own destiny.
  • “Giving a voice” means listening rather than talking, so we have designed today’s event to hear from young people how they see the challenges and opportunities, and what role they see for themselves in a European future. But first we’ll turn to the Deputy Prime Minister for his views.
  • We appreciate your participation and we look forward to similar discussions in the future.

 

[1] “Policies and programmes involving youth,” UN General Assembly resolution 68/130, 17 January 2014.

[2] United Nations Development Programme, UNDP Youth Strategy, 2014-17: Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future, 31 March 2014, page 14.

[3] Sara Elder, Blagica Novkovska and Violeta Krsteva, Labour market transitions of young women and men in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, International Labour Office, July 2013.

[4] See the Message of the UN Secretary-General for International Youth Day, 12 August 2014.