September 18, 2003—Large-scale consultation with young people is probably not what comes to most people’s minds when they think of World Bank operations. Yet the idea of actively engaging the world’s unheard yet largest population group is one being championed by, among others, the Bank’s president, who this week traveled to Paris for a working conference on development and peace with 100 young people from 70 countries.
Bank President James Wolfensohn, joined by its Managing Director Mamphela Ramphele and project staff, gathered input from participants who represented youth organizations worldwide, many of them actively engaged themselves in development programs on the ground.
Wolfensohn assured participants in the Youth, Development and Peace Conference that the Bank is ready to engage them more substantially in its work. But, he cautioned, youth and youth participation don’t exist in a vacuum but are part of a larger, global framework, which is currently neither balanced nor equitable.
Young people in developing countries make up the fastest growing segment of world population—and in most of these countries, more than half the population is under the age of 25. Yet, they are the most vulnerable member of society, because their voices are least considered when the global community discusses strategies and implements projects designed to improve future standards of living.
“Unless a balance between developed and developing world is changed,” Wolfensohn said, “youth issues can’t be properly addressed” because everything goes back to the limited pool of global resources earmarked for development.
Education and unemployment were the topics singled out as the areas of most concern among young people, regardless of their background. They also expressed frustration that many governments regard them as an invisible part of society, instead of including them in the shaping of the countries’ present and future.
The conference was also a useful forum for review of the Bank’s Child and Youth Strategy, currently in draft, and to discuss in concrete terms what the partnership between the Bank and this audience could be. As a networking opportunity, it was idea for sharing development innovations across continents.
Wolfensohn committed to advocate for broader participation of young people in poverty reduction strategies on national levels.
“We believe in the need for a change of the international institutions in order to make them more democratic, transparent, and participatory,” said Giacomo Filibeck, President of the European Youth Forum. “We therefore share the vision of President Wolfensohn calling for a more balanced world. We are ready, as youth organizations, to contribute to this process of reform.”
Wolfensohn urged participants to work to get domestic electorates to understand that the issues of global youth and youth participation can’t be separated from other global issues.
“We do not want the World Bank just to give money,” said Richard Amalvy, spokesman of the World Scouting. “We both want to promote a youth empowerment strategy which makes a real change in the long term.”
Wolfensohn said that the “the Bank is keen to deepen its engagement with youth organizations and this conference is an important step along the way.” This conference was organized as part of consultations for the upcoming World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in Dubai, and Wolfensohn said he will relay the youth’s message and concerns to the financial community and four representatives of youth organizations will attend the Annual Meetings.
The Youth, Development and Peace conference was co-organized by the Bank, the European Youth Forum (on behalf of the Regional Youth Platforms) and the World Organization of the Scout Movement (on behalf of the “Big Seven”). EYF and WOSM designed the program, selected participants, and facilitated the sessions. The conference was conducted in English, French and Spanish. The EYF represents about 20 million youth and includes 93 national and international organizations; and the WOSM gathers more than 28 million scouts youth and adults, girls and boys, in 216 countries and territories.