A record high global unemployment rate among today’s youth, further exacerbated by the continuing world economic downturn, is the impetus behind a global effort announced today by the International Youth Foundation (IYF).  IYF, a global nonprofit organization supporting youth development programs in 78 countries, unveiled its three-year, worldwide action plan to mobilize  US$155 million in youth-focused investments that will help alleviate the growing crisis of youth joblessness. IYF also announced significant early support for the cause from both public and private donors totaling US$30 million.

The announcements at the Foundation’s Youth Leadership & Livelihoods Conference in Washington, DC, were made against the backdrop of the recent UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals—which sidelined the problem of youth unemployment. Today’s gathering brought together over 200 leaders from business, government and civil society organizations, from the United States and nearly 50 countries.

Under the plan, IYF and its global network of 175 organizations hope to make a significant, lasting impact in the lives of young people ages15 to 24 through initiatives designed to improve their prospects for education, employment, and active citizenship. The plan targets regions suffering from inordinately high rates of youth unemployment, including Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

Organizations that have already joined the effort include USAID, Microsoft, and The MasterCard Foundation with specific programs in Egypt, West Bank/Gaza, and throughout Africa.  The funds raised from these public and private sector sources will enable young people to gain the skills and opportunities needed to obtain employment, or help young entrepreneurs start businesses and create homegrown employment opportunities. 

Laureate Education Inc., also announced its own commitment to IYF’s YouthActionNet®, a program that supports young social entrepreneurs who are working to develop innovative solutions to urgent local community challenges. Through the Laureate commitment, IYF will be able to expand YouthActionNet® to nine new countries, reaching 500 additional young social entrepreneurs, and in turn benefiting 600,000 community members. 

“These efforts will help young entrepreneurs not only solve egregious social injustices in their home countries, but start businesses and employ their neighbors,” said Bill Reese, the IYF President and CEO. “These highly motivated young people are taking huge risks and solving chronic problems with great creativity; they deserve the support of businesses, governments and civil society organizations the world over.”

World Leaders Call for Increased Action

IYF’s day-long conference focused on identifying new strategies and best practices to tackle the growing youth unemployment crisis. It featured speeches from Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, and included two panel discussions with executives from the United States Agency for International Development, World Bank, Microsoft, Starbucks and others.

“I challenge government leaders everywhere to invest in and pay more attention to what I call the ‘orphan cohort’—teenagers who are all too often left out, or get the very short end of health, education and other governmental investments,” Ahtisaari said in remarks prepared for his keynote address. “Governments must provide incentives to create and support multi-sector alliances around major issues such as youth employment, education and health…. Even in these difficult times, young people remain my greatest hope for the future.”

Queen Rania called for leaders in all sectors to mobilize and ensure today’s youth are healthy, productive and engaged citizens.

“Poverty, ignorance and despair take a toll no young person should bear,” she said. “We have to do more. Our future – and theirs – depends on it.”

Report Finds Youth Unemployment at Crisis Levels

In 2010, global youth unemployment reached 13.0 percent—its highest level on recordand it is expected to increase, according to a report released by the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency focused on social justice and labor rights. It is estimated that from 80 to 100 million youth worldwide can’t find workifindings that underscore the importance of IYF’s campaign and the focus of the conference.

The ILO report, Global Employment Trends for Youth, was released to coincide with the launch of the UN International Year of Youth and warns of the risk of a crisis legacy of a lost generation of youth who have dropped out of the labor market, “having lost all hope of being able to work for a decent living.”

It points out that in developing economies, where 90 percent of young people live, youth are more vulnerable to underemployment and extreme poverty, and often survive on less than $1.25 per person per day.