Youth as critical agents in a post-pandemic society

By Judy Njino, 

More than a year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is still grappling with how to build back and recover better from its multi-faceted effects.

Young people’s livelihoods have been drastically disrupted by the pandemic, widening inequalities. It has imposed strong limitations on autonomy and sociality, by reducing the spaces for youth participation and engagement due to the containment measures, inevitably leading to the emergence of a lockdown generation.

Particularly critical is the need to create jobs and opportunities for the ever-growing young generation. The International Labour Organization estimates that 470 million more jobs will be needed to absorb new entrants to the labour market by 2030.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), an estimated 1.7 million Kenyans in 2020 lost their jobs in the first three months of the pandemic. Alarmingly, over a third of Kenya’s youth qualified for work have no jobs in an economic landscape where the government is seeking to resolve the country’s persistent unemployment crisis.

Despite a strong buy-in from government and non-government actors, combined with widespread awareness of the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a variety of factors contribute to why we are still falling behind.

Indeed, it would be easier to hang the substantial lag in achieving the SDGs on the pandemic. However, progress was already slow before COVID-19 due to societal challenges including lack of access to health, quality education, increased inequalities, and environmental degradation. The 2020 Social Progress Report revealed a surprising prediction, that the SDGs could not be achieved until 2082.

What is clear is that business as usual is not a model that fits our current society and the current crises we face. Traditional business models do not have what it takes to meet the needs of the billions around the world who face the challenges presented by the SDGs daily.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a diverse and ambitious agenda for global and local action on sustainable development. The scope of the SDGs promotes technological innovation, higher levels of productivity, and sustained economic growth.

Business leaders consider youth unemployment as one of the major global risks today, but also recognize investing in young people as one of the best opportunities for business growth and development.

Given that young people will undoubtedly experience the long-term effects of the pandemic, how can we still meet the SDGs and enable millions of youths to thrive in a post-pandemic world? The strategies for post-pandemic recovery and achievement of the SDGs are intricately linked, and youth is the nexus between the two.

Innovation is the accelerator to achieve the SDGs by leveraging new ideas and technologies that shift the way we view these problems, solve problems, and shortening the timeline to deliver solutions.

Investing in youth will win the battle for sustainability. Young people continue to break ground with the ambition to tackle societal issues of our time such as climate crisis, poverty, and structural inequalities.

The United Nations Global Compact recognizes the need to invest in the next generation of leaders. The Young SDG Innovators is a programme for any company that is interested in investing in the long-term sustainability of their business and its ability to meet the demands and needs of the future. The programme provides a platform for enterprising and committed young professionals to come together and co-create potential breakthrough solutions to meet specific SDG needs within their companies with potential market value.

Additionally, the UN Global Compact encourages businesses to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in which they can engage, innovate and support youth around the world, through work-based training, bridging the skills gap, and investing and empowering young entrepreneurs.

Public-private collaboration is key to tackling Kenya’s high unemployment rate. Now is the time for the Government, the private sector, and other stakeholders to build more resilient and sustainable models that will be able to weather crises, present, and future, that can create the biggest impact to achieve the SDGs.

The writer is the Executive Director of Global Compact Network Kenya. She can be reached at info@globalcompactkenya.org 

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