Youth Series Part II: How Technology Enables Youth Participation


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” [1].

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 [1]. 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” [1].

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” [1]. 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” [2]. 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” [2].

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]” [2]. 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” [2]. 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 [2].

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?




[1] Bloom, D. E. (2012, March). Youth in the Balance. Retrieved from

[2] Roos, J. (2011, July 30). Growing poverty may push Arab Spring into Africa. Retrieved from


Youth Series Part I: Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development


Youth Series Part I: Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development


My most recent research has been focused on global youth and their capacity (or incapacity) to be integrally involved in their own development process. With such huge youth cohorts in developing countries, collectively referred to under the term “youth bulge”, there is no doubt about whether the power of this demographic should be harnessed to achieve development goals, but rather how. This first installation of youth blogging will thus focus on the question: what are some of the key factors that hinder youth advancement and participation in their societies? In other words, what is holding youth in development back?




Here are some key facts:

  • Roughly 85 percent of global youth live in developing countries, with half living in low-income countries.
  • Around 238 million of these youth are living in positions of extreme poverty, surviving on less than one dollar a day [1]. No where is poverty felt more extremely than in Africa, because despite a sharp reduction in global poverty over the past thirty years, this percentage has not significantly fallen in Africa, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where, “over 40% of people…[still] live in absolute poverty” [2].
  • North Africa especially, has the highest (exceeding 25 per cent) youth unemployment in the world — significantly higher than the 17.3 per cent of the OECD area. Indeed, North Africa (with the Middle East) is the only region where youth unemployment exceeds 20 per cent globally, showing that unemployment is particularly acute among the youth (15–24 years) [3].

The overall absorptive capacity of African economies is weak, which has heavy costs for the increasingly desperate youth cohorts who are unable to find suitable work.

  • In Tanzania, about 800,000 people enter the labor market each year,” yet the government is only able to absorb 40,000 or only about 5 percent of the newly available workforce.
  • In places like Egypt, the majority of new jobs being created are either poor-quality or low productive waged jobs [4]. This is very discouraging for the youth there who have the highest levels of educational attainment as compared to all the past generations.
  • Even among some of the fasted growing economies in Africa, such as Ethiopia, which has annual growth averaging above 10% the youth demographic in particular faces formidable employment prospects especially in urban areas where it is estimated to be 20.6%.

Across the entire continent of Africa, “youth are faced with bleaker life prospects and are disenchanted with policies and established institutions for failing to provide them with opportunities to fully reach their potential and to live in dignity” [5]. The result of this disenchantment has dismal repercussions, such as in Zimbabwe, where, “young people are losing interest in being educated because wages and salaries are low an unattractive” and jobs are so hard to find [5]. The consequences of youth choosing not to receive an education, because even if they do they can’t even acquire a good job in today’s market, poses a threat to the ongoing social development and poverty reduction of nations.

Further, the scarcity of quality job opportunities for youth is credited to the lack of preparedness for youth transitioning from school into the workplace. “In Zambia and Tanzania, young people attributed the skills mismatch currently faced in the labor market to the poor flow of information regarding skills demanded by potential employers” [5].  In other words, without a system in place to facilitate in-demand skills training that takes into account what employers are actually seeking, youth are unable to adequately prepare themselves for the realities of the job market they wish to enter by getting relevant skills training. This is due to the systematic lack of communication between the key institutions that youth interact withincluding universities, vocational schools and skills development/training institutions, because “schools and universities [in Africa] provide mass education rather than quality service. There is a general deterioration of infrastructure, and a lack of collaboration between the educational system and potential employers, as well as poor accessibility of training services, in many countries in the region” [5]. Without competitive, up-to-date skills training, these institutions are perpetuating the existing challenges that the un/underemployed youth face, making their levels of preparedness insufficient for the market and further contributing to the circumstances of poverty that keep youth disenfranchised and unable to participate to their fullest potential in the socioeconomic development of the region.

International development needs to align itself with the issues that developing youths most directly face – lack of skills and jobs, disempowerment and disillusionment. With this basis in understanding about the inhibiting factors that disempower youth in developing countries, stay tuned for Part II of this analysis to see which factors actually serve to enable youth participation, and what some potential solutions could be.



[1] Advocates for Youth. (2005). Youth and the State of the World. Retrieved from

[2] Our Africa. (n.d.). Poverty. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from

[3] Anyanwu, J. C. (2013). Characteristics and Macroeconomic Determinants of Youth Employment in Africa. African Development Review, 25(2). Retrieved from

[4] Barsoum, G., Ramadan, M., & Mostafa, M. (2014, June). Labour market transitions of young women and men in Egypt. Retrieved from

[5] International Labour Organization (ILO). (2012, June). Africa’s Response to the Youth Employment Crisis. Retrieved from–en/index.htm