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9 May 2012

ECOSOC’s First Youth Forum addresses Empowerment and Employment

Under the theme “Empowering Youth with Better Job Opportunities,” the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held its first Youth Forum to give young people a platform to voice their concerns, experiences and ideas to tackle youth unemployment. Since the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, youth unemployment has increased considerably in both developed and developing countries. For example, today’s young people are three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. At the end of 2010, there were an estimated 75.1 million young people searching for jobs – a distinct increase from 70.5 million in 2007. Moreover, underemployment and vulnerable employment are on the move, meaning that an increased number of youth face precarious short-term contracts, or are trapped in low-skill and poorly paid jobs.

At the event, held on 4 May at UN Headquarters, Luis Alfonso de Alba, Vice President of ECOSOC, underlined the importance of involving young people by noting that “Young people are the future of our societies. As such, they should also be part of solutions.” He called attention to the significant participation of young people, present in New York, joining the meeting through videolink from universities in the Republic of Korea and in South Africa, and participating through social media outlets including the official Twitter hashtag, #UN4Youth. He hailed this meeting as a step towards the openness ECOSOC seeks as a defining characteristic of its work.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro added specific exhortations and possibilities for youth, noting “Young people can drive the global push for green growth. As entrepreneurs, consumers and leaders, they can adopt new lifestyles that respect our planet. They can promote trends that encourage sustainable development.” Referring to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), she reminded participants of the Youth Blast event, free and open to all participants under thirty years of age. The DSG concluded her remarks by highlighting the UN Youth Volunteers programme and the global youth music contest on the Road to Rio, encouraging young people to participate by voting at global-rockstar.net.

Ronan Farrow, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and Director of the Global Youth Issues office at the State Department (United States), also made welcoming remarks. He described widespread youth unemployment, “no greater unifying frustration,” as simultaneously a “great opportunity when it comes to our global economy.” Involving youth in the decision-making processes that address this and other global issues will contribute to creating enabling environments for business, including youth entrepreneurship, Mr. Farrow stressed.

During two highly interactive dialogues, the young delegates and entrepreneurs, students and representatives of youth NGOs discussed the issues of education and training, as well as the creation of green jobs and the conditions needed to enable them.

The first session, on training and education to facilitate access to the job market, was moderated by Mr. Rishi Jaitly, programme director at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Young people voiced their concerns over lacking the appropriate skills and experience to match job market requirements; insufficient information on job opportunities; and a fear of racism, discrimination, and/or language barriers in looking for jobs. They recommended that educational institutions integrate stem and management concepts, while partnering with employers to clarify regional needs, with the assistance of governments.

Secondly, Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University moderated the session on promoting youth employment and creating jobs for a more sustainable future. Participants stressed that all jobs ought to be “green” and mindful of social and environmental considerations, and that governments should support these jobs through integrated policies at every level, including addressing education. Young people openly worried about their future, and affirmed their willingness to make sacrifices in terms of the problematic consumption patterns that have contributed to environmental degradation. They exhorted the UN to open itself as a “global microphone” for the voices of youth and marginalized peoples at an intergovernmental level, and took on the responsibility to shape their own future.

A closing address was made by Danielle Fong, chief science officer and co-founder of LightSail energy. Sharing details from her own nontraditional approach to education and entrepreneurship, Ms. Fong emphasized that networking, innovation, and determination form key ingredients for young people’s efforts to make a difference in our interconnected world.

Finally, Sha Zukang, Secretary-General for Rio+20, stated during his closing remarks that ensuring employment for youth goes hand in hand with sustainable development. “There is a growing convergence of views on the importance of creating green jobs. By training our youth in the skills needed to transition to a green economy, we can address both unemployment and sustainable development issues. This is the approach that will secure the future for the youth of today and generations to come,” he explained.

For more information on the employment challenges faced by youth, see the World Youth Report 2012, prepared by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), and the Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 update of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Read the official press release on the ECOSOC Youth Forum here.

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