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Franklin D Roosevelt once said: “We cannot always build the future of our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. I would like to believe we can do both.
On the 8th of June, ahead of the OECD’s Annual Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM), the members of Youthwise, the OECD Youth Advisory Board, met for the first time in person at the Organisation’s Paris headquarters, coming from as far as Japan, Chile, Costa Rica…and as nearby as Amiens. It was extraordinary to hear young voices from diverse societal and geographical realities, and with a common purpose: work for greater equality and inclusiveness of youth in policy-making processes.
Along with representatives of youth organisations and young OECD experts, they came together to develop a vision for “The Future We Want”. This was an historic and important milestone for youth engagement at the OECD, seeing as it was the first time young people were invited to participate face-to-face with ministers in the Organisation’s most important institutional gathering.
To fully understand the reasoning behind this focus on and interest in youth, we need to go back in time.
Crisis after crisis, how can youth thrive and not only survive?
The OECD’s work on and with youth dates back to many years ago. We raised the alarm about the severe negative impacts of the global financial crisis (GFC), which particularly affected young generations. Indeed, youth labour bore the brunt of this. Experts began to pay close attention to the phenomenon of “scarring” impacting the cohort of youth emerging into the labour market just as the crisis shut it down. Such an experience at the very start of a working career, brought with it the equivalent of scars, long-term adverse effects on future employment opportunities, earnings and quality of life.
To find solutions to these challenges we renewed our efforts to engage with this diverse and multifaceted demographic. Back in 2011, we hosted the European Youth Forum's annual conference on youth employment to identify best practices to improve the employability of young people and effective career guidance. We also increased our engagement in international youth fora, such as the Y20, in the context of which we organised an awareness campaign on youth well-being and helped inform their deliberations.
Today at the @y20sumit, we discuss why quality education, work-life balance & civic engagement are essential elements of youth #wellbeing. Make your voice heard and create your #BetterLifeIndex ➡️ https://t.co/Vynvj23GYe #Y20Argentina pic.twitter.com/8EHMfk7zGm— OECD ➡️ Better policies for better lives (@OECD) August 13, 2018
OECD campaign on well-being in the context of the 2018 Youth20 Summit in Argentina
Moreover, we began to invite youth voices systematically to the OECD’s annual global gathering, the OECD Forum.
By 2019, we had also launched the “I am the Future of Work” campaign and embarked in a listening exercise in the form of a road show to consult young people and connect them with employers and policy makers. Through the campaign digital platform, we share with young people OECD insights that will help them navigate a rapidly changing world of work and forge their career paths.
The employment situation for youth had still not fully recovered from the GFC, when, in 2020, humanity was confronted with the first global pandemic in over a century. The turmoil generated by COVID was another wake up call for policy and decision makers around the world, who saw how, young people, were once more falling victim to economic and labour market scarring. COVID was a catalyser for the Organisation.
It was at this moment that the penny definitively dropped: we needed to go beyond the ad-hoc and establish a direct and regular space to engage youth at OECD so as to include their voice, understanding, intelligence and creativity in the design of policies that would have a direct impact on their present and future. As the OECD played a central role in helping governments respond to the pandemic and start shaping the recovery, we had a unique opportunity, and a responsibility to do this.
OECD’s first Youth Advisory Board: Youthwise
And so, it was in the second half of 2020 that we sought to properly harvest the seeds sown over the previous decade to achieve this goal. After proposing the creation of a Youth Advisory Board to OECD Member countries in January 2021, in just a matter of weeks, Youthwise, came into existence. The first class was composed of 23 young people aged 19 to 30 and coming from 24 OECD member countries, selected out of over 600 applicants. In our selection, we strived for gender balance on the board and were pleased to receive applications from varied professional backgrounds as reflected by the final composition of the group, with 11 already in the labour market, 9 students and 3 unemployed.
The philosophy underpinning this initiative was to give young people the opportunity to put forward their ideas to the OECD, and for the Organisation to integrate diverse perspectives on issues affecting youth and beyond.
In quick time, Youthwise members were engaged by the OECD to feed into high-level substantive discussions on issues at the top of the Organisation’s agenda. At the invitation of OECD Ambassadors, they participated in the discussion on the Organisation’s revised Vision Statement, to reaffirm the OECD’s core values, its commitment to addressing present and future challenges, and provide a refreshed outlook. We asked them to contribute to the OECD’s Youth Action Plan requested by OECD Labour Ministers.
Further Youthwise participated at major events including a debate on the “dual anxiety” of youth: saving the planet and finding a job, organised in the context of OECD’s contribution to the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. They enriched the debates of OECD’s Youth Week on how private and public partnerships can mobilise young entrepreneurs for the recovery.
The group’s first steps were very challenging as they took place in the context of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The first class of Youthwise was never able to meet in person, all interactions had to be virtual. However, despite and perhaps because of these limitations, their contribution was all the more remarkable.
Virtual meeting of Youthwise 2021 with OECD Ambassadors
The Youthwise Class of 2021 set a standard in terms of youth engagement at the OECD that would be a hard act to follow by the class of 2022.
When stars align
Fortunately, early in 2022, certain stars began aligning to allow us to collectively aim higher still. Italy, the chair of the forthcoming Annual MCM, garnered agreement on the theme “The future we want: better policies for the next generation and a sustainable transition”. A visit by Italy’s Minister for Youth policies Fabiana Dadone and her team on Valentine’s Day in February, proved to be the catalyst for plans to place youth literally and physically at the centre of the forthcoming Ministerial meeting. So began a process of collective brainstorming on how best to harness the potential of OECD’s Youthwise and Italian youth organisations, many of whom I was able to meet with first hand at the Italian launch of the EU Year of Youth in Rome in April.
Minister Dadone asked that we use the OECD’s convening power to bring together young delegates in a workshop was organised on the 8th of June in Paris on the eve of the MCM. Youthwise members and representatives of youth organisations debated in roundtables sharing their views on three central topics:
- Ensuring youth participation in policy decisions
- Elaborating future-proof policies
- Supporting policy action for the preservation of the environment
After hours of exchanges, members of the different working groups in the Workshop were able to present the fruits of their labours in a session involving Minister Dadone, former OECD DSG Laurence Boone, and my colleagues Stefano Scarpetta, responsible for Employment and Labour Affairs and Elsa Pilichowski, responsible for Public Governance. This de facto reverse mentoring process was a tangible illustration of the benefits to be derived by governments and international organisations to place youth at the centre of their activities.
Elsa Pilichowski, OECD Director of Public Governance and Farah Youssef, Journalist
Reliable information, trust and intergenerational justice: keys to youth empowerment
Participants of the workshop discussed the ways in which governments and public organisations are integrating youth in their policy-making endeavours. They highlighted the fact that meaningful participation in these processes is closely linked with civic education and access to reliable information. In other words, an engaged citizen is first and foremost an informed citizen.
Francesca Borciani, from Italian youth organisation Orizzonti Politici, underlined how important it was that since their early ages, individuals should enjoy access to comprehensive and educational information on how to vote, lead, and engage in the civic life of their communities. Access to easily digestible information is necessary to help increase youth voter turnout and trust.
In 2021, on average only 36.9% of people aged 18 to 29 tend to trust the government against 45.9% of those aged 50 and over. Low public trust hinders policymaking and governments’ ability to address social and economic challenges, further increasing dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracies. Youthwise member Marine Marty reminded us that “democracy cannot be taken for granted—it only works if people participate”.
In order to address this problem we should identify and overcome multiple barriers including mis- and disinformation.
Given the cross boundary nature of this threat, international co-operation is key and involves particularly youth as the main users of this digital public fora. The 2022 edition of the Reuters Digital News Report, revealed how independent public media are struggling to captivate the attention of younger generations, or "social natives (18-24s)". Further, 39% of them across the studied markets have turned to social media as their main source of news.
Minister Dadone insisted on the need to renew efforts not only to listen to younger generations but also to actively involve them in the decision-making process: "It's ultimately about giving them a seat at the table with political decision-makers […] I believe that policies work best when people outside politics take an interest on what happens on the inside”.
The Group also addressed the need to privilege effective intergenerational dialogues when designing policies, to ensure public action is sustainable and has an eye on the future. Young people are exposed to complex global challenges including climate change, rising inequality and high levels of public debts, these issues raise questions about intergenerational justice. Institutionalising youth participation and making governments accountable is the best way to ensure a systemic integration of youth perspectives in policy decisions.
Recommendations aimed at professionalising their involvement included assigning a minimum percentage of national parliament seats to youth, creating ministries for youth or assigning senior counsellors for youth in each ministry. Beyond professionalisation, they insisted on the need to empower youth by building the capacity and resources of youth organisations so that they become more structured and able to drive real change. We need look no further than what the classes of Youthwise have accomplished so far for proof.
Offering equal opportunities to youth also entails giving a voice to socio-economically disadvantaged youth and ensuring a more equitable intergenerational distribution of resources. Participants emphasised the need to fight against inequalities, increase corporate accountability and make pollution no longer profitable.
They also insisted on the need to empower people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles through education, but also by taking into account the environmental impacts of our actions when buying food, clothing or choosing a mode of transportation.
All eyes on youth
Jack Peplinski and Ilaria Foroni, reporting to Ministers at the OECD 2022 MCM
These brief snapshots illustrate how change can happen with ambition and motivation and reinforce our commitment to help empower youth and do our part for fairer, inclusive and more sustainable policies.
Youthwise members Ilaria Foroni and Jack Peplinski were chosen from among the workshop participants to represent the views of Youth in the Ministerial session dedicated to “Creating Better Opportunities for Young People”. They engaged directly with Ministers on the conclusions of the workshop and their draft manifesto. On this occasion, it was all the more appropriate that Ministers adopted a series of Youth Recommendations with the inputs of the Youthwise 2021 class. The richness of these recommendations is proof of how much young people have to offer, not only as advisors but also as active change makers in policy-making spheres. But there is a long road ahead...
This Ministerial was an historic step for youth participation at the OECD but much more will be required to ensure that the quality of life and well-being of younger generations is a policy priority. A crucial task, since as Ilaria Foroni reminded us: “Young people might be a third of population but we are 100% of the future”.