Aug 26 2021

Youth Voice Matters

BYLC-USAID’s webinar on the role of youth in economic growth and ways to overcome the impacts of COVID

How has the global pandemic affected young people’s contribution to economic growth? How can the youth of the country be engaged in community development? How can youth be represented when designing interventions for a post-pandemic economy?

On International Youth Day 2021, BYLC and USAID jointly organized a webinar to address some of these concerns pertaining to young people. The webinar hosted government representatives and experts from the public, private, and civil sectors. Speakers included Md. Aminul Islam Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Education; Dora Plavetic, Director, Program Office, USAID; Rizwan Rahman, President, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI); Ejaj Ahmad, Founder and President, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC); Bipasha Hossain, Managing Director, Shujog.xyz; Shahadat Hossain Shakil, Environmental Specialist at USAID; and Rumana Amin, Governance and CVE Advisor at USAID. The webinar was moderated by Mahmuda Rahman Khan, Mission Gender Advisor and Youth POC, USAID. 

The theme of the webinar, Youth Voice Matters, focussed on the role of young people in economic growth, the impact of COVID-19 on them and ways to overcome challenges of a post-pandemic world. While appreciating the contribution of young people in creating social impact despite the pandemic, speakers at the webinar discussed how youth can accelerate change in every sector of the economy. “Youth can be change agents when they have access to education, information and technology,” said Dora Plavetic in her opening remarks. She urged young people to ensure that they are inclusive in their pursuit for social impact, stating, “Progress lies in moving forward by not leaving anyone behind.”

The pandemic has given rise to a whole new slew of challenges for young people but it has provided them with a chance to learn new skills to survive the demands of a changing world. As Bipasha Hossain aptly put it, “COVID is being called the great reset. This has given us the opportunity to redesign the curricula in colleges and universities, and introduce skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communications, public speaking, all of which will be very important for the youth of today.”  

While addressing the persisting gap in skills development opportunities for young people, Ejaj Ahmad commented that skills training programs are much more widely available now than ever before. However, unless quality skills education is ensured, it will be difficult to make full use of the youth dividend that Bangladesh enjoys at present. This sentiment was echoed by the chief guest of the webinar, Md. Aminul Islam Khan, who stressed on the need for education that focused on 21st century skills, as he remarked, “We need to focus on quality education that contributes to making the students more socially responsible, instills in them traits of humanity and inclusivity, and helps them lead a productive society and economy.” 

Speakers urged for the inclusion of young voices in matters pertaining to them. They stressed that without youth representation in public forums, it will be impossible to understand what issues most affect them or find effective solutions to these challenges. There is a prevalent mindset in our country that young people don’t have the maturity to come up with solutions to problems and that they cannot lead social change, said Rizwan Rahman. “This perception can be altered if there is special reservation for youth representation in policy discussions. Their ideas can thus be heard and implemented on a policy level,” he added.  

Young people who have dropped out of educational institutes should not be forgotten when designing skills development initiatives, said Shahadat Hossain Shakil. “To ensure that all youth gain equal access to skills education, USAID has initiated ‘Compass’, a project that focuses on training young people who have had to drop out of school, college, or university to ensure that they are given the opportunity to succeed in a changing world,” he added.

When youth issues are discussed, there is a tendency to lump all youth in one group, regardless of the uniqueness of their concerns and challenges, said Rumana Amin. “Youth cannot be treated as a homogenous group. Every young individual has different needs and circumstances. Thus, it is important to have development programs that enable them to build their skills at their own pace and understanding,” she clarified. 

Youth have the potential to create significant social impact; all they need is a platform from government, civil, and private sectors where their voices will be heard, supported, and uplifted. This, the speakers of the webinar agreed, is how they can be motivated to become changemakers of today and leaders of tomorrow.