Young people across the decades and across the world have always been instrumental in helping shape domestic and foreign policy and driving change from the outside in. Different times have seen youth mobilization on a range of different topics ranging from the global anti-war and anti-apartheid movements during the 1970s and 1980s and in recent times, the Arab Spring, decolonization and closer to home the Fees Must Fall movement. Young people need to realize the power of their voice in identifying issues that affect them and must believe that they can be a powerful force for change.

What is the struggle for youth of today and why should young people be taken seriously? The youth of today are the workers of tomorrow, voters and customers of the future. Social media and the rapidly changing technological landscape and access to digital tools give young people a reach which was previously unthinkable. Governments, employers and big business must include the youth at the center of their decision making, be it in the design and delivery of government services, development of goods to be consumed or the creation of new jobs which will be required in the future. These three groups will need to keep their fingers on the pulse of what matters most to the youth if they are to claim any success. The youth of today care deeply. However, when promises are not kept, they leave. They leave jobs, they will change political parties and they will switch brands.   

In the stakeholder engagement frameworks of both corporates and governments alike, young people are often overlooked as an important “interested and affected” stakeholder grouping. Now more than ever, the youth should be given a seat at the table. They should be respected, engaged and collaborated with in order to have their interests considered and advanced in decision making. The youth should not be stereotyped by their folly, but instead viewed in terms of their future value both socially and economically.   

High global youth unemployment makes for potential social upheaval if young people are not constructively engaged in finding pathways out of poverty and into employment, or into entrepreneurship opportunities. Young people who do not have the appropriate skills for the future and are not able to access new jobs created as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) face a very bleak future and will put strain on any social safety net. 

Africa has the highest youth population in the world, and Africans have much in common with their counterparts in the global South. Whilst young people around the world are digitally connected, how do they collaborate, leverage best practice and propel themselves into the kind of future where they are economically active and contributing to creating strong communities? 

Firstly, young people must feel included. Young people must intrinsically believe in their own power and the power of mobilization. Be it in at school and in colleges, at university campuses, on sports fields or in their communities youth need to be supported to mobilize and engage activity in civic structures and other areas where their voices can be heard. In 2020, we no longer need physical spaces for youth engagement. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tiktok provide youth with opportunities to align to issues and causes that are close to their hearts. Aligning by common interest allows the youth opportunities to see what is happening around the world, how other youth are solving problems and give them options to voice their opinion and learn from a global audience of young people who are not divided by time and space but who are hyperconnected despite their geographic location. 

One of the issues where young people have proactively engaged on, is decolonization. What started out as Rhodes Must Fall, led to Fees Must Fall movement and serious engagement in respect of the prohibitive costs of higher education. However, this also led to shedding light on other educational barriers such as the cost of student housing and accommodation, lack of access to devices and appropriate learning tools, student hunger and the broader issue for the need to decolonize educational curriculum. This local movement had a global ripple effect, leading to students across previously colonized territories, including colonizers to introspect about the way curricula are designed and the extent to which it should be decolonized. Today, across the world, universities are focusing on change, bringing for example the importance of the preservation of local languages to the fore. Once again, the South African youth are leading with many students graduating with PHD thesis written in local and indigenous languages.  

Climate and the environment is the second area where the voice of young people has brought the urgency of climate change into the mainstream. Climate change discussions were always dominated by government, big business and NGOs and climate discussions often excluded the voice of youth. Voices of young people such as Greta Thunberg and many other climate youth activists have demystified climate issues so that it is more relatable. Young people around the world are starting to see how the decisions of governments will affect not only the planet but their future- and are now demanding that they be heard, and rightfully so.   

Finally, one of the areas young people should be more proactive on is the issue of high youth unemployment. The youth must engage government and the private sector in a meaningful way in order to solve this deepening global crisis. Failure on the part of government and the private sector to create opportunities for meaningful dialogue will impact not only young people, but the future of creating an inclusive economy and a stable thriving society of happy citizens. 

Opinion piece by Suraya Hamdulay, Executive Partner at Tsa Rona Insight & Analytics 

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