A priority group for UNESCO, youth are key actors and partners in its mission to “contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue”.

Youth have always been a major focus in UNESCO’s programmes. Since its creation -and its mandated mission regarding education- UNESCO was the first agency of the United Nations System to define and develop specific programmes for young people. Immediately after the Second World War for example, UNESCO -with only 20 Member States at the time- helped organise international youth-volunteer work camps to aid in the reconstruction of Europe.

UNESCO’s longstanding commitment to youth has taken a new impetus with the recognition of youth as a priority group for the Organisation’s action and the UNESCO Strategy for Action with and for Youth in 1998. UNESCO understands that young people are a heterogeneous group in constant evolution and that the experience of “being young” varies enormously across regions and within countries. Young people’s experiences are heavily conditioned by their environment (urban or rural) and degree of exposure to certain risks and related stigma, depending on sex, place of residence, socio-cultural context, economic circumstances and marital status.

The overall objective of UNESCO’s work on youth is to ensure that young women and men are engaged in policies and programmes affecting them and lead action to promote peace and sustainable development in their countries and communities. As such, the organisation promotes the civic engagement of young people as means of empowerment and preventing violence. UNESCO’s cross-cutting approach focuses on building skills for successful transitions to adulthood (including advocacy, employability and leadership skills); raising awareness of crucial issues for youth development (such as HIV/AIDS); and providing youth with opportunities to engage in development and building peace.

UNESCO encourages

  • Participation of young women and men in UNESCO and its various networks and partner organisations, to open up opportunities for all to listen to and engage in dialogue.
  • Partnerships between UNESCO and young people’s networks and organisations, to solicit and integrate their views and priorities and collaborate with them in setting up projects and programmes in the areas of the Organisation’s competence.
  • Integration of youth concerns and issues into the policy agendas of Member States in education, the sciences, culture and communication, in order to create spaces and opportunities for empowering young people and giving recognition, visibility and credibility to their contributions.

In the context of the preparation of its Medium-Term Strategy for 2014-2021, UNESCO has developed an Operational Strategy on Youth 2014-2021 which will be discussed at the upcoming 8th UNESCO Youth Forum (29-31 October 2013) and the 37th session of the UNESCO General Conference (5-20 November 2013).  The Strategy recognises youth as agents of change, social transformations, peace and sustainable development. Such vision embodies the different ways in which youth are concerned or affected by UNESCO’s work: as beneficiaries of services and activities; as independent actors; as partnersthrough their organisations.

The Strategy on Youth 2014-2021 proposes three complementary and transversal axes of work on which UNESCO’s work on youth will focus for 2014-2021:

  • Firstly UNESCO will accompany Member-States in building an enabling environment for youth development through the formulation or review of inclusive and integrated public policies on youth, with the participation of youth.
  • Secondly, and parallel to the upstream policy work, UNESCO will work with Member States and youth development actors, including youth organisations, young researchers, teachers and trainers, to contribute to building capacities and improving the educational and learning environment for youth to acquire skills and competencies for the transition to adulthood.
  • Thirdly, UNESCO will provide opportunities for youth to put their skills and competencies to practice for the benefit of their communities and their peers, by supporting youth civic engagement, particularly in terms of youth participation in decision-making and democratic consolidation, youth community leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as youth engagement in conflict prevention and in the consolidation of peace.

Strategy on African Youth

Youth as active citisens in Africa / Youth as partners in African society

Towards an enabling policy environment for youth development and civic engagement in Africa (2009-2013)

UNESCO has developed the Strategy on African Youth (2009-2013) as a means of mobilising key stakeholders around common goals, including the 10-year Plan of Action of the African Union for Youth Development and Empowerment.

Youth are key partners in Africa’s development. With its Strategy on African Youth, UNESCO, together with global and regional partners, including youth organisations, seeks to enable young women and men to drive change in their countries and communities.

The Strategy seeks to promote youth civic engagement and innovation in Africa as a way to empower young people as agents of peace and key actors in their communities, to assist them in making successful transitions from school to the workplace, and to prevent violence.

The three main objectives of the Strategy are to:

  1. Strengthen knowledge of, and promote research on, youth issues in Africa
  2. Foster the development of policies and frameworks, in line with the provisions of the African Youth Charter, to address youth issues in Africa
  3. Promote youth participation in decision-making, youth civic engagement and social inclusion From the start

The Strategy was conceived as a joint initiative of UNESCO and African countries. The Strategy was developed, and is implemented, in close cooperation with the African Union Commission, the Group of UNESCO African Member States, and through extensive consultation with key partners in the region. These include youth organisations, regional communities and organisations, global development and civil society actors and the United Nations system.

The Strategy fully aligns with the African Youth Charter and shares many common elements with the African Union 10-year Plan of Action for Youth Development and Empowerment in Africa 2009-2018, to which it contributes. It also takes into account the priority accorded to Africa and gender equality as global priorities.

Considering the continuing youthfulness of Africa’s population, it is clear that youth are Africa’s foremost social capital which presents the continent with an opportunity to accelerate growth, reduce poverty and build a sustainable and peaceful future.

The UNESCO Youth Forum

Bridging the inevitable gap between young people and a highly complex international organisation with its many partners and networks proves to be a challenging task. The UNESCO Youth Forum, an integral part of the Organisation’s General Conferences, has emerged as a very important tool in this respect.

The first UNESCO Youth Forum was held at the 30th General Conference in 1999. Since then, the Forums have gone from strength to strength and in 2003, the General Conference unanimously decided to make the Youth Forum a permanent feature of the UNESCO’s General Conference. Having institutionalised the Youth Forum as an integral part of all sessions of the UNESCO’s General Conferences makes UNESCO unique within the United Nations System.

The UNESCO Youth Forum, held prior to UNESCO’s General Conference, brings together young participants  from all over the world to exchange views, share experiences, reflect together and identify common opportunities and challenges. The event allows young people to voice their ideas and concerns and make suggestions directly to the UNESCO General Conference. Their discussions lead to a final report which is presented at the UNESCO General Conference, allowing for young peoples’ views, concerns and recommendations to be taken into account by the representatives of the Member States and the UNESCO Secretariat.

Today’s youth are raising their voices to shape the present and futures of their countries. They want to be heard, to be included in decision-making debates and to make change. Student engagement, social innovation, fostering democracy, youth employment, conflict and sustainable development are among the issues that have been discussed on the floor of the eight –so far- UNESCO Youth Forums.

The 8th edition of the UNESCO Youth Forum will be held from 29-31 October 2013

From 29 to 31 October 2013, around 500 young participants from all over the world will gather on the occasion of the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum,  at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, to exchange views, share experiences, reflect together and, above all, identify common preoccupations and problems.

As requested by young women and men themselves, the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum will be one of change and innovation! Taking up the evaluation of the 7th Forum (2011) and consultations with youth, this edition strives to improve their effective participation, ownership and co-management of the event, in order to build strong bridges between the Organisation, its MemberStates, youth and their organisations. Importantly, it also aims at reinforcing the competencies of young people as key actors driving change in their communities, and active partners in peace building and the promotion of sustainable development.

The 8th Edition is conceived to have more time dedicated to break-out sessions and space for exchange and dialogue, giving youth delegates, observers and other young participants, sufficient opportunities to exchange, to reinforce their skills, as well as to showcase their struggles, paths and innovative initiatives.

Building on the opinions and proposals of youth though an online consultation, the theme of this 8th edition will be “Youth and Social Inclusion: Civic Engagement, Dialogue and Skills Development”. As such, it will discuss youth civic engagement issues and the ways in which youth can engage in building democratic and sustainable communities. It will also look into the skills and competencies for young people to successfully enter the active life and to put their innovation, creativity and entrepreneurialism into practice. In addition, the debates at the Forum will include a focus on challenges related to social inclusion and intercultural dialogue.

As requested by UNESCO Member States, this global theme will be articulated around the Operational Strategy on Youth 2014-2021, that outlines the Organisation’s focus and vision in its work on youth, addressing them as beneficiaries, actors and partners, and aiming to empower them as change-makers for peace and sustainable development. The UNESCO-wide vision on youth operationalised through the Strategy is expressed through three complementary and transversal axes of work that will direct the Forum’s work:

  1. Policy formulation and review with the participation of youth;
  2. Capacity development for the transition to adulthood; and
  3. Civic engagement, democratic participation and social innovation.

Thanks to the input from young people through a second online consultation, the Forum presents two main innovative features, which takes it a step further in improving its methods to engaging youth as true actors and partners:

  • In addition to strategic recommendations, the Forum will identify a series of action projects, to be implemented by and for young people and relating to the Operational Strategy on Youth. Following a call for proposals launched on 15 July 2013, the youth participants will select 15 action projects (three by region), which will receive the label “8th UNESCO Youth Forum”.
  • Another key innovation consists in providing the youth delegates with multiple and varied tools to reinforce their capacities, thereby allowing them be more operational upon their return to their countries. Thus, during the Forum coaching and mentoring sessions will be organised by diversifying approaches and modalities, in particular through face-to-face exchanges and consultations with UNESCO staff, private sector

UNESCO and the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)  in Africa

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a challenge for all countries in Africa. In most countries the enrolment rate in formal TVET at secondary level is 5 percent or less. Only a few governments in Africa are able to finance TVET at a level that can improve responsiveness to the demand from the labour market and individuals. The mismatch is enormous, as three out of five unemployed in sub-Saharan Africa are young people, mostly surviving in the informal economy.

UNESCO Dakar works to keep TVET high on the political agenda of African governments, regional economic communities and financial partners through upstream policy advice, capacity building and advocacy.

Two videos showcase examples of youth training that works: (in french): The videos were presented during a regional meeting on youth employment organised by UNDP in Dakar, Senegal from 3-4 june 2013. “The hope is that these videos will inspire other countries”, says Juot-Marchand.

1. The Songhai Center in Benin: is a sustainable micro-enterprise that trains young Africans. It is considered a best practice model for rural development, sustainable development, employment and training for young people, and the self-financing of business creation.

2. The recognition of skills acquired in informal training in Senegal:is an initiative that cater for the numerous young people who are being trained in the informal sector, such as car mechanics, tailors etc. The aim of the initiative is to put in place structures for this training to be recognised at the same level as formal training.

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