When Thomas Tchtemi talks to people in his native Cameroon about his passion for creating a national youth policy, they frequently dismiss it as a “Western” idea. “But when I consider the problems that young people face today, from HIV to unemployment,” he says, “I say ‘this problem is our problem.’” A journalist and publisher, Tchtemi was one of 30 youth activists and entrepreneurs from around the world who met in Newton last month to plan for YES2002, the international summit on youth employment to be held September 11-16 in Alexandria, Egypt.
Modeled on earlier summits such as the Earth Summit in Rio and the Beijing Women’s Summit, YES2002 is intended to focus international attention on the issue of youth employment and to launch a campaign to create sustainable livelihoods for half a billion young people within the next decade.
Some 2000 people, half of them youth ages 18-30, are expected to attend YES2002, the product of two years work by Poonam Ahluwalia, her EDC colleagues, and a small team of committed youth. The project is working to create institutional alliances of every kind—from governments and NGOs to schools, international agencies, and private industry—to support and generate work opportunities for youth. It is also compiling a growing knowledge base of successful projects and practices, ranging from restoring the environment in Costa Rica to fostering mentor relationships between youth entrepreneurs and major banks.
With one in three people on earth below the age of 30, the prospect of widespread youth unemployment can seem intractable. But instead of dwelling in “gloom and doom,” says Ahluwalia, “We are trying to pose a paradigm shift. Let’s take advantage of the energy, initiative, vision, and capabilities of young people to clean up the environment, bring stability to nations, and so forth. There is so much work to be done.”
Fred Clark, media coordinator for YES2002, said that beyond sharing information and building alliances, the Summit would also look at some innovative financial tools. These might include initiatives such as a Youth Employment Fund, based on the Global Environment Facility (an outgrowth of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit) or using youth employment efforts to offset a nation’s debt.
In addition to planning the Summit, YES continues to be an active presence at youth conferences, gaining support for the Summit and supporting projects. YES youth leaders recently organized workshops on sustainable development at the UN Youth Forum in Senega, and at the Youth for Youth National Congress in Minneapolis. Earlier this month YES Advisor Bruce Kaiper led a youth empowerment workshop at the International Young Professionals Summit in Brisbane, Australia. Last month, with online and telephone training support from YES, Valeriu Popovic, a youth activist from Moldova, facilitated a workshop on sustainable livelihoods in Baku, Azerbaijan. This month Popovic will begin a training program in e-business as a self-employment tool for young people in Balti, Moldova.
Also last month, the newly-formed YES Coordinating Committee in Tanzania attracted considerable media coverage. The intergenerational committee, which has the support of Gertrude Mongella, YES Organizing Committee member and former Secretary General of the Beijing Conference, will bring young people into policy discussions about national affairs.
It’s the kind of group Thomas Tchetmi would like to see emerge in Cameroon, which today subsumes youth issues under a single Ministry for Youth and Sports. Young people must participate in his country’s social development, in its political, economic, and employment decisions, he says. “We need multidisciplinary connections so together we can create a real vision of what our nation wants to achieve.”
Originally published on October 1, 2001