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Youth and Development: Learning the Lessons of the World Development Report 2007

Time (GMT +00) 12:30 14:00


Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP - Secretary of State for International Development
Andrew Mitchell MP - Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Ann McKechin MP

Andrew Mitchell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Andrew Mitchell MP began his speech by outlining how Peace Child International got its name. He then described the ambitious policy programme of the Conservative party in international development being led by the Globalisation and Global Poverty Group set up by David Cameron.

Mr Mitchell states there are many opportunities and challenges ahead with regard to the global youth population. There has been progress over the last 50 years, with growing wealth, improved life expectancy and literacy levels, and young people are at the heart of many of these improvements.

There are currently 1.3bn young people in the world and their talents, energy and dynamism need to be harnessed in order to help lift nations out of poverty. The youth population has implications for all aspects of development policy.

Improved education means both getting more kids into school and providing a better standard of education. Achieving this is to make a political choice to invest in young people. DFID should be praised for abolishing school fees and making education compulsory, however the state does not have to be the only provider of education. It has been suggested that private schooling, specifically with reference to a scheme in India, could drive up standards. This would involve working with private schools and subsidising fees. Peer-peer teaching is also an alternative to state-provided education, for example HIV education in Jamaica.

On economic growth and employment, one out of every three young people is unable to find employment. This relates to property rights, the rule of law, health, education and investment. Many young people are unable to secure loans to start their own businesses. To help this situation, microfinance could be extended.

Young people in the UK also have a role to play. For example, gap year students do real work in the developing countries which they visit/volunteer in.

Effective policy in this area needs more research. If policy is wrong, a huge amount of potential will be wasted. The young generation can drive forward growth and development.

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State (SoS) for International Development

Hilary Benn started his speech by saying that the young people of today, in both developed and developing countries will be the leaders of tomorrow, and will be making the big decisions of the future. It is imperative, therefore, for them to understand the world and its problems.

He explained that he had met many young people from both the UK and developing countries on his travels. He said that the lives of young people in the developing world need serious reflection: are we doing the right things to improve them? There is an unparalleled amount of potential in today's global youth population, and yet still 5000 children die every day through a lack of clean drinking water; women are still dying in childbirth; malnutrition claims the lives of countless children; and diseases such as malaria, TB and AIDS claim those of countless others.

In 2010, there will be 700million young people of working age. It will be an enormous challenge to provide them all with a living. This could result in high levels of migration, both within and between countries. 50% of young people in developing countries are currently unemployed and literacy levels amongst 15-24 yr olds are not where they should be. Progress on this is possible but the scale of the challenge is huge, and together with population growth over the same period, there is a risk that basic needs will not be met.

What can we do about this? Make Poverty History was an expression of recognition by people that we have a moral choice to address these problems. Poor countries are often affected by conflict and it is difficult to get foreign investment in order to provide education, healthcare and other basic services. In these situations, good governance is fundamental.

This is a practical challenge too. Education is paramount and the Gleneagles aid commitments, which include monies saved as a result of debt cancellation, will go towards achieving these services in countries which lack the resources and capacity to provide them themselves.

Often the poorest, conflict-ridden countries are those with the worst problems of disease and survival rates from disease. Malaria, TB and AIDS means that many young people lose their parents and become orphans. This is why treatment is important, in order to help people to live longer. School is also a good social vaccine against AIDS, as it results in a deeper knowledge of the disease, which asserts power, and therefore protection.

Unemployment is a huge problem affecting young people. Economic development is needed in order to both help solve this problem and create jobs, as well as to create revenue in taxes to help pay for services such as education and health systems. For this, there needs to be peace, stability and good governance.

DFID contributes to the development of young people in the developing world through a number of channels. It has programmes which tackle infant mortality, for example, as well as practical programmes, such as in Sierra Leone, where young people are being encouraged to participate in the democratic process as voters. DFID also funds radio programmes, educating young people about youth law issues.

Despite this, there is a need for much more progress on issues affecting and surrounding young people, and there is much for DFID to learn from other actors working on youth issues, as well as from young people themselves. Today's young people really will be running the world tomorrow and they need to get to know their fellow global citizens, who have the same hopes, fears and aspirations as them, in order to understand common humanity. They will then be in a better position to tackle the problems and issues affecting young people all over the world.


The chair, Ann McKechin MP said she would take questions/points from the audience during the discussion on three major themes affecting young people - education/schooling; health and social issues; and employment and economic growth.

On education and schooling, the following questions/points were raised:

- Are there alternative models for when the school system fails in developing countries, such as peer-to-peer education and local library systems?
- How can research organisations concerned with youth issues, and young people themselves become actively involved in the policy-making process?
- What can be done about the politicisation of educational institutions by political parties, which occurs in some developing countries?
- Education is denied to many marginalised groups - how can small NGOs involved in informal/'street corner' education initiatives get involved?
- DFID does provide free education but how can very poor people access this?
- The WB report said that investment should be concentrated in the 12-24yr age group to give young adults a second chance, but DFID's response concentrates on the early years, specifically on healthcare. Will there be any newer initiatives aimed at older age groups as a result of this?
- How can young, marginalised people in the UK get involved?
- There is now much momentum around youth as a result of this report - how can the recommendations of the report be implemented and how can DFID play a part in realising this?

On health and social issues, the following questions/points were raised:

- Though DFID has involved young people in policy-making previously (with the 2004 action plan on young peoples' involvement in decision-making and extra funding for the development awareness/education), there don't seem to be any similar, new schemes or a continuation of those which were implemented previously.
- Whilst DFID's treatment plans for HIV/AIDS are good, are there any plans for work on prevention and how best to confront anti- attitudes to prevention?
- Regarding global citizenship and local communities, there have been no evaluations by other stakeholders. What mechanisms will DFID use to help bring about change in South Africa?
- What role can young peoples' participatory groups have in development? Where is the contact point in DFID for youth interested groups?
- Young people in the UK and in the North also need to feed in.
- Alcoholism as a problem in child-headed households? Has DFID done any work on this?

On employment and economic growth, the following questions/points were raised:

- What is the role of the private sector beyond charity and philanthropy?
- Is there a place for youth self-employment?
- Is there anything to be learnt from UK government youth initiatives which could be applied to developing countries?
- The impact of conflict, especially on youth exclusion and the incidence of conflict. How can these energies be channelled into peace-building?
- Young peoples' problems stem from ineffective aid and development. DFID funding is influenced by indicators of good governance.


On education and schooling, the SoS replied that DFID works with consortia of groups who work with, for instance, the media on transparency and with organisations working with streetchildren. Abolishing school fees was a good thing but there are still hidden costs which need addressing. Primary school education is a priority for the MDGs, but just as important is how to keep young people in education. Such strategies are lacking in many developing country governments. They need to take responsibility and people need to make them accountable. DFID will be working with the WB to turn the commitments (e.g. primary education funding) into reality. Youth involvement is a big question for all societies.

On health and social issues, the SoS emphasized that DFID can't fund everything. They currently spend a quarter of a billions pounds on civil society in both the UK and developing countries. Their development awareness work does focus on the school sector and schools could link with people/organisations outside the sector in the work that they do in this arena. With regard to HIV/AIDS prevention, abstinence does not always work. DFID have a different view from the Americans and they distribute many condoms. They also monitor impact, in order to hold governments to account and build accountability. They work hugely with NGOs rather than governments. DFID don't fund the Zimbabwean government for example, but they do help to feed the population and have an HIV/AIDS programme run by civil society. In Tanzania for example, they do give funding directly to the government, for it to deal with education. The Minority and Rights team in DFID is the team to contact for youth organisations and on young peoples' issues. They like to talk about substance, rather than process.

On economic growth and employment, the SoS emphasised that the private sector does have a fundamental role to play. It is a source of funding, and economic development will provide the answers to some questions. It is already core business for DFID, but the investment climate needs to be improved in many countries and the UK was one of the first funders of the Investment Climate Facility. There are lots of lessons to be learnt from UK government approaches to young people but education is the key - it provides aspirations and self-confidence. On youth and conflict, he admitted that DFID could do more.


The aims of this public meeting were to explore whether the critical issue of youth is high on both the government and donor agenda and how it is being pursued as both a global and local issue. Also to explore how youth concerns are being supported by policy and how the wider development community, including researchers, NGOs and young people themselves, can more effectively address the problems raised by the report.

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2007 was published in September. Entitled ‘Development and the Next Generation,’ it focuses for the first time on youth and development. The report states:

‘With 1.3 billion young people now living in the developing world - the largest-ever youth group in history - there has never been a better time to invest in youth….’

‘Developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their record numbers of young people between the ages of 12 and 24 years of age, could produce surging economic growth and sharply reduced poverty…’

‘Most developing countries have a short window of opportunity to get this right before their record numbers of youth become middle-aged, and they lose their demographic dividend…’

‘With youth unemployment running at up to twice the adult rate, failure to seize this opportunity to train them more effectively for the workplace, and to be active citizens, could lead to widespread disillusionment and social tensions.’