Empowering youth as ‘the engine of transition’ in Yemen | Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed
22 Nov 2013
Yemen is currently facing an explosive “youth bulge”: the country holds the world's record for fertility rate (5.4 children born per woman) and about a quarter of the population is aged 10 to 19, with 46 percent of them under 16.
In that context, it is hard to think of a successful transition in Yemen without the participation of the country’s youth, and their innovative contributions for the future.
But Yemen’s investment in its human resources has been low — nearly 50 percent of Yemenis are illiterate in a mostly rural population of 25 million, more than 40 percent of the population is estimated to be “either hungry or on the edge of hunger", and 73.3 percent of working-age youth are jobless.
A recent study assessing youth’s needs in this important phase for the country revealed that young Yemenis feel they do not get the attention they deserve and that they lack a creative environment and opportunities for scientific, cultural and technical talents.
Chronic poverty, inequity and lack of employment opportunities are also causes and triggers for conflict, internal wars and insurgencies. Young people deprived of opportunities can turn to activism or fall into despair, and the active presence of extremists groups paying up to $300 monthly for youth to join them is an increasing source of concern in the region.
For us, it is quite obvious that increasing investment in job-oriented programmes is badly needed. That’s why we recently launched the Youth Innovation and Creativity Award (PDF) to mobilize the ingenuity and dynamic potential of young Yemenis.
Over the past months, we engaged thousands of young people around the country to come up with innovative business ideas that bring concrete solutions to the country's development challenges while making substantial and durable improvements to people's lives. We received thousands of applications and chose 16 winning ideas, each of which we will help implement and fund with $20,000.
Among the creative visions, who would have thought that used cooking oil could become a performing additive to diesel energy? That mixing dust and plastic could work both as soundproofing material and for heat insulation? Who would have thought those young engineers could build solar-powered greenhouses relying on 100 percent organic methods of production for fertilization and pest control?
Youth are the most resourceful agents of change. A national dialogue and electoral process without their participation could put the transition at risk. But to get their voices heard and help them build a better future, what Yemeni youth today need more than anything is to be given a chance.