Move over. We are adding a seat to the table

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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There is no time more apt than now for world leaders and multilateral institutions to re-examine their approach to youth policy and include young leaders at the table. COVID-19 has made one thing clear: we are at a point in human history where we are truly inseparable. That which connects us is not simply economics and supply chains, but the shared human experience of living through these tumultuous times. The youngest academics and professionals are grappling with the fallout of not one but two major economic declines as well as a pandemic in just over ten years. Despite these setbacks, young leaders continue to promote inclusive and ambitious policies to safeguard the future for humanity. There was already a lack of investment in youth opportunities after the 2008 financial crisis, and now we face a financial and political environment fatigued by investing heavily in just keeping the lights on during this pandemic. Youth cannot be at the bottom of the policy “to-do list.”

That which connects us is not simply economics and supply chains, but the shared human experience of living through these tumultuous times.

In April of this year, youth unemployment hit a staggering 19% average across the OECD, with some countries nearing 30%. These statistics should have sparked a drive for a specific and tailored approach to youth, but instead blanket programming and a patchwork of targeted policies was implemented. It is important to note, however, that youth concerns are so much more than professional attainment. Youth policy exists in every area being debated in the halls of government and leading multilateral institutions. Leaders must start viewing youth as constituents of change, not as a demographic to be placated with summertime job opportunities or improving data on education. Young people are so much more than that. The lack of consistency and a sense of purpose in policy makers regarding uplifting young citizens is alarming because it means today’s policies are for the short term. They lack vision to accomplish the necessary work of creating inclusive communities with smaller inequality gaps.

What we need is for youth policy to be at the centre of our recovery agendas. According to UNESCO, 50.5% of people worldwide are under the age of 30; such an overwhelming share of the world’s population means that our voices need to be amplified and listened to. The future should be shaped by young people with policies that reflect our needs, based on an intergenerational exchange of ideas. If the aim is to safeguard our future and create a more sustainable world, it is crucial to address the needs of those who will live with the consequences of the policy decisions made in the name of building back better. We risk a forgotten generation of young leaders if heads of government do not meaningfully engage one of the most economically and socially disadvantaged demographics the world over. The Saudi Y20 secretariat and United Nations have noted that 1.2 billion youths face significant obstacles to socioeconomic empowerment. It is a phenomenon that is not confined to OECD countries; it is a pandemic of a different kind that has been simmering under the surface for decades, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated these pressing issues.

If the aim is to safeguard our future and create a more sustainable world, it is crucial to address the needs of those who will live with the consequences of the policy decisions made in the name of building back better.

Young leaders value a multilateral approach to global issues — recognising the intersectionality of policy and the importance of uplifting communities worldwide — so that we may one day say we left no one behind. The Y7 and Y20 represent the highest levels of youth diplomacy, and it is the work of their delegates that help inform a more inclusive and sustainable communiqué at the leader’s level. As we all grapple with the difficult task of safely reopening our economies, our leaders would be wise to listen to a diverse set of voices and perspectives in implementing policies to improve the lives of all those affected by the virus. We need to pay more attention to the structural barriers that keep young people from accessing resources that would create meaningful opportunities. A post-pandemic world needs more inclusivity, more reliance on data and science and more young people at the table, to usher in an age of multilateralism that dusts off past communiqués, declarations and policy papers and puts those words into action. Even though the pandemic has taken up the majority of our attention in recent months, we must not forget we are in the final run-up to 2030 and that many of the goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement have slipped through the cracks. A post-pandemic world should turn the status quo on its head and prompt discussions about how to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders responsibly.

Also on the Forum Network: A lesson from discussing the COVID-19 job crisis with young policy makers: Listen! by Nicola Brandt and Nadja Nolting, OECD Berlin Centre

The policy proposals outlined in the 2020 Y7 communiqué reinforce the need for solidarity among nations. It is clear that we have lost our way at a very fundamental level at this point. World leaders need to rely on science and facts when implementing a policy that will affect generations to come in a post-COVID environment. It is no surprise that young people feel lost and left out. If we do not collectively address and incorporate youth voices in our formula for a post-COVID world, we run the risk of a lost and forgotten generation of talent and minds. Young people know what it means not to have a seat at the table. We have the lived experiences of being at the bottom of a long list of government priorities. Youth call on world leaders and policy makers to acknowledge that we are sometimes marginalised while also recognising that we are members of almost every part of society. The unfortunate assumptions about our age are, in some cases, compounded by poverty, lack of access to services and inadequate infrastructure to amplify our perspectives and ideas. Youth are looking for a renewed sense of commitment from those at the top to recognise that young professionals in governmental and multilateral spaces have much to contribute and valid policy recommendations to make. There are few opportunities for formal policy responses created by young leaders to be disseminated in leading forums, so world leaders must actively seek opportunities to engage and consult young people. Adding a seat to the table does not take power away from those already there; instead, it is the first step in responsibly building back better.

Related topics

Tackling COVID-19 Intergenerational Solidarity New Societal Contract

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Rahul Pallan

Policy Advocate , Young Diplomats of Canada

Rahul is a policy advocate, helping amplify young voices and ideas across several international forums and institutions. He represents Canada to the G7 as a Y7 delegate for the 2020 US and 2021 UK presidencies. His participation on panels at the Civil Society 20, Unite 2030, and Youth 7 summits are an extension of his engagement at the highest levels of youth diplomacy. From 2016-2018 he served the OECD as assistant for outreach to Canada and support staff on the OECD Secretary-General's official engagements. During his time at the OECD, he had the opportunity to engage diplomats and policymakers from around the world, on delegations to the United Nations, World Bank, IMF, and G20, among other leading forums and institutions. His experience has also allowed him to engage parliamentarians in his efforts to promote inclusive youth issues in Canada's Parliament and on Capitol Hill in the United States. He understands the importance of inviting stakeholders across several policy areas to the table, to create a sustainable and inclusive road map for the future and is committed to helping pave the way for young leaders in multilateral spaces. From 2018-2020, he worked for 'University of Calgary International', supporting the Office of the Vice Provost International. Rahul is a master's candidate in International Affairs and Global Cyber Security at King's College London. He earned his BA in International Relations and Political Economy from the University of Calgary in 2016.

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