The potential of Young India in driving growth and effecting social change
The evidence of a strong return on such investment is clear; adolescence is established as the second window of opportunity for investing in children; young people have proven their ability to drive innovation
The world is home to over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 — the largest generation of young people in the history of the world. India, with more than 300 million young people, has the world’s largest share and will continue to do so for the next 20 years. Imagine what our world could look like if every young person were supported and empowered to fulfil their potential.
Unless we invest in young people’s learning, skilling and economic opportunities, and, crucially, make space for them at the decision-making table, India will not fulfil its aspirations of social, economic, climatic, and political transformation. If we make the best use of this opportunity, the results will transform India and the world.
Three points drive this belief: The evidence of a strong return on such investment is clear; adolescence is established as the second window of opportunity for investing in children; young people have proven their ability to drive social change and innovation.
Investing in young people’s education and training increases lifetime earnings, life expectancy, and wellbeing. There is a 16% average yearly return on investment for each additional year of secondary education. For the private sector, there is a 200% overall return on funds invested in worker training.
The most significant part of brain development happens in early childhood, and scientific evidence tells us that the human brain can also undergo rapid change and modification in early adolescence. In its report, the Learning Generation, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity flagged that a learning crisis is unfolding around the globe. Of the 1.1 billion children in school today, by 2030, barely half will learn the minimum secondary-level skills.
As our experience during the Covid-19 pandemic has proven, young people are fearless innovators, change-makers, creators, builders, and leaders towards the development of their communities, helping to eradicate poverty and inequality, and fostering a culture of peace.
Across India, more than 1.5 million adolescent girls and boys are engaged in the prevention of child marriage and gender-based discrimination, voicing their concerns at grassroots governance levels.
Madhav, a former child labourer working on a sugarcane farm, now volunteers to support a programme to address seasonal migration in Maharashtra.
Young volunteers like Madhav have helped leverage $6.5 million for education in their communities. These young people have the potential to be India’s leaders in the future. We must ask ourselves: What practical action is needed to prepare young people to be responsible adults, skill them for jobs that are yet to be created, for technologies not yet invented, and solve problems not yet anticipated?
In 2018, as part of the United Nations Youth Policy, 2030, UNICEF launched the global Generation Unlimited movement to expand learning, skill development, employment, and engagement opportunities for young people. The India chapter of Generation Unlimited — YuWaah — was launched in 2019.
The goal is to enable young Indian girls and boys — wherever they may be — to realise their full potential. Recently, the #YoungWarriorNXT initiative was launched to empower five million young people with essential employability and life skills through inclusive, equitable, and interactive learning platforms.
To all young people I say, it’s your time: Your generation has the potential to bring about positive change, spark innovation, create economic growth, and design the jobs of tomorrow. To girls and young women, celebrate that you live in a country where women have broken many glass ceilings, succeeding in every walk of life. I say to you: Speak up — and don’t give up until you’re heard.
The time to support and nurture Young India is now. The need is urgent, and the stakes could not be higher. Investing in young people provides a crucial opportunity to transform the future of India. Everyone — both young and old — has a role to play in ensuring this.
Yasmin Haque is UNICEF representative in India and co-chair of the board of YuWaah
The views expressed are personal