Youth Series Part III: The Role of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) in Empowering Youth
Youth Series Part I here
Youth Series Part II here
For international multilateral organizations that are funding billions of dollars annually for a wide range of initiatives aimed at improving the socioeconomic conditions in developing countries, the challenge these organizations should undertake is to ensure a youth-centric focus within their funding for programs. According to the Pan-African Youth Union, youth empowerment is defined as, “a structured process where young people gain the ability and authority to make real economic, social and political decisions. [They] believe this is the process that builds capacity to implement change, in young people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.”
A key takeaway is that problems and solutions are best addressed when they are self-defined. The problem that has been most adamantly professed revolves around employment and educational opportunities for so many youth who feel that they are not adequately prepared for the demands of the modern labor market. As a result, we propose that international development organizations fill the institutional void that exists in many developing countries by focusing their programming on solving problems such as poverty, unemployment and education with what has also been identified as an empowering tool in the modern era: technology. The most comprehensive solution that involves all of these aspects is greater Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills training, listening, and using this medium as one method for combating the development challenges youth face in today’s world.
By orienting many youth development initiatives towards ICT skills, there is no doubt that developing youth with have much greater advantages to propel their capacity to be prosperous members of society. This is because, “equitable access to information, knowledge (or know-how) and education is one of the most vital principles in the emerging global knowledge economy. ICTs are practical tools in narrowing knowledge gaps between countries, regions and also people by providing new frontiers in the areas of information exchange, intellectual freedom and online education.” Additionally, “in the knowledge era continuous education and training is the only way for job security, especially if the education and training is in ICT-related skills." The role of international development organizations should be to enable this type of progressive skills training both just for such access but also as a means for listening to our clients through mobile, Facebook, Yammer, Twitter and other applications. Also by improving access to ICT education programs to youth cohorts, they are more competitive in a global market that is increasingly demanding of workers with advanced ICT skills. These programs must tackle the “widening digital divide” between developed and developing countries to ensure a more sustainable and balanced development scheme.
To this point, the Executive Secretary of the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, gave a statement at the 2011 African Press Organization (APO) forum themed 'Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development', which highlighted the fact that human capital is key in facilitating growth, and with greater education and training the African youth can contribute more to development and growth for the continent. Nonetheless, he could not go without saying that, "several commitments, policies and programmes on youth education and employment have been prioritized at national, sub-regional and global levels to improve the livelihoods of young people in Africa. However, these initiatives have yet to translate into the desired outcomes. Thus, concerted and innovative efforts are still required especially at a time when the youth population continues to increase." Again we see the trend that current policies have thus far failed to provide the circumstances necessary for youth empowerment to become realized in many African counties, which means development is happening too slowly for the millions of African youths who could be contributing invaluable skills to their societies – if they only had the means- and we were listening and funding their priorities!
An example of a good ICT4D training program is the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) in Nigeria, which was a two-year program implemented by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Microsoft, to “to improve the employability of disadvantaged African youth in Nigeria between ages 16 to 35. The program, with support from Microsoft, worked with LEAP Africa and local partners to provide demand-driven training in information and communications technology (ICT), life skills, entrepreneurship and employment services.” Over two years, the program addressed the inadequacy of technical skills and lack of labor market information in the Nigerian youth by providing training to “improve the employability prospects of 2,500 young people throughout the country,” in an aim to place 70% of the program participants in jobs, internships, self-employment or community service opportunities with greater capacity in education and training. Six months after project completion, the project was evaluated by interviewing a sample follow-up cohort of 69 participants:
· “All together, 55% of the respondents were employed, self-employed, participated in an internship or community service, or continued their studies after the training.” (This number is thought to be low, primarily because of the few employment opportunities in Bauchi, where the follow-up participants were from. This is typical in many cities where demand far outstrips employment opportunities)
· “Over 78% of the respondents in the sample follow-up cohort confirmed that the ICT training had improved their employment prospects." They indicated that this was because ICT skills are important selection criteria in the job market,” and there was also a significant increase in the follow-up cohort’s use of computers.
Unfortunately there was no data on employment that was using these new ICT skills; more data is needed to compare those trained versus untrained regarding employment using these skills used, and how much more 'development' was fostered by such trainings. Yet given our dependence on technology, technical illiteracy seems a logical barrier. IYF has identified eight high-growth sectors for ICT-enabled youth employment, in fields such as, “Banking and Financial Services, Telecommunications, Information Technology, Oil and Gas, Education and Training, Media, Marketing and Advertising, Hospitality and Tourism, and Healthcare Services.”
The Arab Spring movements have proven that power in numbers and influence aided by the technological spread of ideas will not allow the youth cohort to be left behind in the push for development. Rather, they are demanding to be heard, and they are calling for greater capacity to be major contributors in their development goals. By funding ICT training programs that would allow youth to address the institutional weaknesses that hinder their demographic, international development organizations could find that the solution lies in shifting the goals of development towards sustainability – a sustainability that necessitates the empowerment of youth. By funding such training, youth can be heard, employed, and inform the development agendas for their countries.
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