You’ve probably heard us throw around the phrase “youth development” a lot lately, and it might have you wondering what that is or why it’s important. And in this day and age when jargon is more common than a simple explanation, we realize that you deserve better.
So, to put it quickly and concisely, youth development is:
…the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to (1) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful… and (2) to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.
(Pittman, 1993, p. 8.)
Don’t worry, there’s more: Youth development, in a broader sense, is about ensuring a young person has the people, places, support system, opportunities and services that he or she needs in place to allow him or her to grow up and be an actualized adult that pays their taxes, puts their garbage out on time, does their own laundry, etc.
A “youth”, incidentally, is any individual between the ages of 15 and 24, but is sometimes expanded to individuals from the ages of 10 to 29.
There are several factors that indicate a need for youth-targeted development. The first indicator is basic demographics; the median age in Iraq is 21 years old; 60% of the entire population is under 25 years old. To put it simply, there are a lot of young people in Iraq. This “Youth Bulge” has huge potential if these youth are properly empowered and given meaningful skills. They could become an influential source of positive, constructive energy and leadership.
The second indicator is a fragile security situation. Once youth development can begin, it actually increases security because it prevents further strengthening of violent elements and can ease tensions by bringing ethnically diverse youths together to learn from one another.
The third indicator is economic instability. In Iraq, up to 23 percent of males and 21 percent of females aged 15-24 are unemployed, which is why our efforts need to function in tandem with youth-oriented job creating efforts from the Iraqi community and government.
We’ve seen it work in the smiling faces of the kids that participated in our Iraqi Youth Hike. We took 9 young men from diverse ethnic groups of Iraq into the a safe part of Iraq where they learned about nature, wildlife, photography, conservation, and each other. They gained fresh perspectives, friendships, and new skills. Our future youth-targeted programs will continue to being together young people of diverse backgrounds to build their confidence, improve their self-esteem, and empower them with skills that could make a difference in their lives.
In another example of positive steps in Youth Development: this weekend, USAID will convene a Conference for Arab Youth in Development. Built from youth input and feedback, the conference will include facilitated discussions, working groups on specific topics such as education, economic growth, environment, and youth participation and policy, and propose visits with relevant development programs. The goal of this conference is to provide young participants, some of USAID’s most valuable partners, with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue on community development priorities, have their voices heard regarding key areas of USAID involvement and development in the region, and to build networks with other youth.
We at EPIC and our Partners in Change at USAID recognize the importance of youth participation, wish to meet basic developmental needs, build youths’ competencies and skills, engage their contributions, involve mentors, family, and the community, pursue gender equality, and harness technology to do so.