Youth Series Part III: The Role of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) in Empowering Youth
Youth Series Part I here Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development
Youth Series Part II here How Technology Enables Youth Participation
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.
We Value their Voices, and yours. What else is missing?
Youth Series Part II: How Technology Enables Youth Participation
See Youth Series Part I: Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development
After discussing the various challenges youth face that inhibit their potential to be fully integrated, effective members of their societies, an analysis of some factors that enable their participation is also necessary to construct a complete picture. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) article, Youth in the Balance, elaborates on the specific challenges created by the economic crisis that spread around the world in 2008, and the subsequent responses by empowered youths – the Arab Spring. The article also notes the role of modern technology in the uprisings, stating that, “amid the turmoil and the uncertainty about their economic future, young people, more than any other group, have turned to new media for information and to communicate with their peers and beyond. Widespread access to the Internet has raised their aspirations, in part by making the young aware of the vast differences in standards of living within their countries and around the world. It has also made them more conscious of the extent of corruption and injustice and how that affects their lives” .
Thus, expanding access to technology has allowed for greater communication and awareness of issues, with a disproportionately higher percentage of youth using these technologies as compared to their older counterparts. As a result, there has been a surge of uprisings and political movements, spearheaded by disenfranchised youths, in response to the injustices they face, with technology being a key tool in the success of these movements in promoting change. “Whether it’s the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement in the United States or the mass rallies of the Arab world, young people have been jolted into action and are leading the response to diminished opportunities and unfulfilled aspirations,” a trend of empowered self-determination that has been facilitated immensely by access to technology . Modern technology also aids the infectious nature of these political movements.
In cases such as the Arab Spring, youth populations have made the loudest cry for sociopolitical change, and this should come as no surprise, since the high level of unemployment most heavily affected this group in particular. As the IMF states, “youth have a huge stake in bringing about a political and economic system that heeds their aspirations, addresses their need for a decent standard of living, and offers them hope for the future,” and furthermore, “the absence of such a system is a potent recipe for conflict—especially now, with the availability of cheap means of communication such as smartphones and social media” .
Despite the catastrophe of youth unemployment that the global economic crisis exacerbated, technology provides a great opportunity for youths to become empowered, enabling them to participate in finding new solutions to the socioeconomic problems that plague them. As Bloom claims in Youth in the Balance, “young people will inevitably play a key role in the recovery thanks to their dynamism and willingness to relocate from labor-surplus to labor-shortage areas, and from low-productivity agriculture to higher-productivity industry and services. Their up-to-date training and education is also often a plus—although too often the education system imparts skills that are out of date or unneeded. Insofar as the expectations that education typically creates are not satisfied, youth can also power a decisive impulse to change institutions and leadership” . With the heightened empowerment that access to the Internet allows, youth can take advantage of a wide variety of technological tools to achieve their own self-identified development solutions and to enable the spread of ideas.
Change is infectious, and the discontent from the ongoing Arab Spring movements is beginning to take root in other regions as well, namely Sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa and the Middle East, “idealistic young protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless and well-resourced political strongmen on the planet,” and the conditions that led to this massive uprising are mirrored in Sub-Saharan Africa, where, “many of the underlying realities are the same. As food and fuel prices rise, inflation is driving millions of Africans below the poverty line…Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings, and it will play a major role in shaping African politics for years to come” . With marginalized, impoverished youths demanding new forms of government and representation, better economic policies, and greater social justice, technology plays a key role in spreading these ideas globally. Regarding the youth bulge in Africa, “their resentment is only heightened by the tools of the information age, which remind them that they have been excluded from feeding at the trough enjoyed so blatantly by the nouveau riche – a lifestyle that is showcased by the newly minted wealthy on television, Twitter, Facebook and the Web in infuriating detail. Globalization has changed the aspirations of the poor, and their expectations will follow” .
The feeling of inequality, or at least a perception of inequality, is a recent development challenge that the world faces, and this is a direct result of the role technology has played in highlighting the existence of inherent societal inequalities. For instance, for informed youths, “resentment of the president’s son’s Ferrari, more than envy of Europe and America’s comparative wealth, is driving young Africans into the streets to challenge their kleptocratic governments… consequently, the struggle to mitigate inequality, rather than “making poverty history” through debt relief has become the most urgent task [of development]” . We live in a unique moment in development history wherein empowered youth suffrage movements were able to force the political change of the Arab Spring to a global movement. The root cause of this outrage is that, “the Arab Spring occurred at a moment when economic development had outpaced political development in much of the region; ossified political systems no longer satisfied a population yearning for modern freedoms. The explosive democratization in the Arab world, therefore, is a result of development’s success, not its failure. An authoritarian country cannot grow itself out of its fundamental underlying political contradictions. Eventually, a democratic deficit sets in” . For countries that are in the midst of drastic societal change, there must be a balance of economic growth while still addressing the deeper issues that will determine the ultimate success or failure of that economic growth; these determining factors include basic freedoms, mitigating inequalities, and addressing the youths’ demands .
Technology has the power to harness the collective desire for youth empowerment that can bring countries out of economic crisis and into a new, more prosperous era. Central to the success of technology in aiding development goals is the transparency that it evokes, allowing cell phone and internet users to hold institutions accountable in a previously unheard of way. The challenge that remains, however, is ensuring that equal access to technology proliferates throughout all developing nations, thereby enabling citizens to communicate their ideas freely and without government interference. After establishing this holistic understanding of the ‘youth picture’ as it exists today on an institutional level, what is the challenge to development organizations that hope to combat the factors that hinder and encourage the factors that enable?
What do you think will help this movement to spread?
 Bloom, D. E. (2012, March). Youth in the Balance. Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2012/03/bloom.htm
 Roos, J. (2011, July 30). Growing poverty may push Arab Spring into Africa. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20150225214042/https://roarmag.org/2011/07/growing-poverty-may-push-arab-spring-into-sub-saharan-africa/
Bringing Mandela to grassroots evaluation
After South Africa's Nelson Mandela died, accolades flowed as did deep sorrow for a passing of a man of such forgiveness and peace. I too was one of millions who went to anti-apartheid rallies and rejoiced when he too stood before us after he was freed.
What struck me most were the posts that looked at how we could continue to manifest him: 1) South African business leader and head of GAIN, Jay Naidoo "…our beloved Madiba, our founding father of democracy… pledged 'Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…'
Madiba exuded the same serenity which in his life had filled the hearts of everyone he touched – the billions of the poor, marginalized and oppressed in the world…. even in death he was able to call out the humanity within each of us; to care, to embrace our people with integrity, humility. Leaving this solemn shrine I sensed the disciplined determination. We connected back to his fiery commitment and vowed not abandon dream of a better life for all. As we descended the stairs the helplessness and the fear evaporated. The streaming column of humanity was united by a single-minded focus on reclaiming the legacy of Mandela. They are reclaiming our shared past. And we were unafraid again.
We should not be looking for another Mandela. This week is an opportunity for us to search for the Mandela within each one of us. We want our leaders to live up to the morality of Madiba. We want our leaders to be honest. And to do what the father of our nation did so well: listen. Listen to the people before they stop listening to you; because the people have found the courage and fearlessness of Mandela to demand the promise of freedom now."
Secondly, amidst the chorus of accolades, a practical suggestion appeared, one which speaks to me about the longing for Africans to evaluate Africa. A leading member of AFREA (the African Evaluation Association), Issaka Traore suggested: "What about a Nelson Mandela Award for all upcoming AfrEA Conferences starting with the next one in Cameroon. We can do this in two ways:
1. Nelson Mandela Award for ‘Made in Africa approach to Evaluation’. With this Award at every conference AfrEA will give an Award to any Evaluator or group of Evaluators including Scholars, who have produced an Evaluation Paper or Evaluative Research Paper on ‘African communities knowledge, know-how or practices/skills in Evaluation’.
2. 7th AfrEA Conference Nelson Mandela Evaluation Prize. The organizing committee could launch a Prize for any Evaluator, group of Evaluator, National Evaluation who/that will compile all messages on Madiba following his death, pointing out content of these messages related to: the Relevance of his struggle, the Impact of his fight in South-Africa and Worldwide and finally the Sustainability of his vision."
Yes! How do we do this? There are newly appreciated participatory methodologies and studies such as Empowerment Evaluation and “Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics.. New ways to understand development project participants includes 6,000 participants on aid impact research Time to Listen, plus other research that is fundamentally shifting the focus to “customers, clients, co-creators, or my current favorite, constituents”.
We need to incorporate their voices more strongly now — international development projects can use national evaluators to independently evaluate projects with communities, even if that adds a few days to current evaluation timelines. There is encouraging evidence that international projects are prioritizing the use of national evaluators, as Eval Partners' VOPE (a pairing of international and national evaluators) promotes, and a recent SIDW/ Charney review of USAID-funded developmental evaluation attests to. We can use mobile text/SMS technology to crowdsource feedback from participants on project impact and sustainability throughout current project implementation, as non-profits such as CRS, Mercy Corps and the CORE health consortium are successfully doing.
For as we try to manifest Mandela, we need to hear the voices of our participants. A Tanzanian friend reminded me that "we Africans have a saying. 'Until Lions have their own historians, the history of the jungle will always glorify a man'." So we need to support country-led evaluation, locally-led impact determination, designing and shaping their own development and history.