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Assets Lying Idle

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February 17, 2004—The youth of South East Europe are idle. Discouraged with current circumstances, they are clamoring for improvements in their countries. A consequence of a decade-long transition away from Communism and ensuing civil wars robbed these young people, who grew into adolescence during this period, from opportunities.

"We have nothing to do," a 20-something-year-old girl from the Balkans succinctly said about the state of local youth at a recent international conference where young people and World Bank officials talked about concerns of this generation.

In a rather stagnant economy, they compete against numerous unemployed adults for a limited pool of jobs. None are for them. Those who can afford to extend their university studies; they have no incentives to graduate and look for jobs that don't exist, or for which they have no training. The education system is antiquated, offering few skills sought in today's job market. Basic services, cultural and sports activities, once existent during Communism, have long been dismantled. Alcoholism, drug use, crime and other illegal activities, including human trafficking, have proliferated. Those who can find a way to emigrate, contributing to a significant brain drain.

Despite this picture with few opportunities, however, young people are eager to take active part to better their conditions.

As the region recovers and economic growth kicks into high gear, young people want to make sure they are part of these changes. They are prospective social and economic actors who can play a role in building prosperous and inclusive society.

 

"We need to support young people in their interest and enthusiasm to change these current circumstances and help propel the region out of its current slump," says Annette Dixon, World Bank Operations Director in the Europe and Central Asia Region, who herself is former Chief Executive for Youth in New Zealand. "It's important to include and integrate young people in all aspects of society."

"Young people see themselves as assets, as facilitators of a transition towards a better governance and new values that can turn around many constraints in the social, political and economic areas," says Gloria La Cava, World Bank Senior Social Scientist and Youth Coordinator in the Europe and Central Asia Region.

They are clamoring for improvements in education, looking for more work opportunities, and exploring possibilities to be involved in their communities and to participate in public policy processes.

"Youth are very unhappy with schools and want to help design adequate tertiary education. They are also requesting that more attention is given to non-formal education, which they find as important as formal education, to acquire livelihood skills and spaces to socialize," says La Cava.

That's why creating youth centers, outfitted for both fun and learning, is high on their list. Young people see these outlets as venues that could offer practical courses and activities, ranging from computer training to cultivating leadership skills, that could be taught by their peers. Developing these practical skills and competencies can make young people more attractive to prospective employers.

"Employers are often reluctant to employ young people, saying they have no adequate skills or employment record," explains Alexandre Kolev, World Bank economist working on youth labor issues in the Europe and Central Asia Region.

This pushes young people towards informal and low quality jobs that don't provide social security contributions, making them more vulnerable to becoming poor in the long run.

Options for young entrepreneurs aren't much better. "Current banking systems don't trust young people. Access to credit is a major obstacle for them," he adds.

These difficulties ought to be removed to support the development of small and medium enterprises (SME), which are the backbone of prosperous societies. Brimming with creative ideas, young people have the will to try a hand at their own business, and contribute to society.

The Bank is initiating several multi-dimensional programs in East Europe to help young people become active participants in economic and social spheres, as well as to integrate them in public policy processes.

A youth development project in Macedonia, is supporting the integration of young people from different ethnic communities through the government's Agency of Youth and Sports. "We hope to gather them into a youth council that would become an advisory body to the government to work together on longer-term issue," La Cava adds.

A forthcoming regional analysis, entitled "Youth in South East Europe from Risk to Empowerment," explores how to align public expenditures with investment in youth activities, which is necessary for these countries to prosper.

In Moldova, a new youth development project that has just been negotiated is focusing on creating social and economic activities for youth. The project has been connected to an existing microfinance project (RISP) to create links between the business community and youth. It will make young people, including those at risk, more attractive to potential employers by improving their jobs skills through internships and other training developed in partnership with the private sector and local authorities.

Additionally, the Bank is expanding its successful Peruvian Nuevas Voces program, where young people collaborate with staff on the Bank's work, to this region. Similar initiatives are underway in Macedonia, Moldova, Turkey.

Eventually, the Bank hopes to expand its youth outreach to other countries that fall within the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. "There is a tremendous need in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasuses, and we are beginning to focus on there now, " concludes La Cava.

Related Links:
Reaching Children and Youth in Middle East and North Africa
Young Timorese Take to the Airwaves
e-Discussion: Defining Roles for Youth and the Next Generation of Leaders
Nuevas Voces in Development
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