Why put off to tomorrow the youth we could empower today?

“Too often we regard our young men and women as the workers, entrepreneurs, parents, citizens and leaders of tomorrow,” write two World Bank staff members in Friday’s special report in the Financial Times: “Investing in Youth.” It is inspiring that the leading global economic daily has recognized the importance of this issue, and presented it in such a comprehensive way. Particularly in today's lean economic times, there is a risk of already marginalized groups suffering disproportionately. World Bank contributors Wendy Cunningham and Justin Yifu Lin point out that "young people’s hopelessness in the face of the crisis is reflected by dropping out of the labour force altogether at three times the rates of adults." Here in Nablus, we witness the same phenomenon cited by Jay Knott, USAid's Jordan director: "leading universities are not producing people who are ready for the workforce." Our volunteers from An Najah University are eager to work at TYO in order to gain experience, whether in their field of study like IT, art or physical education, or as teachers and administrators in a real educational setting. Many past TYO volunteers attribute their success finding full-time work after graduation to the skills they learned at TYO, including time management, teamwork, leadership, problem solving and professionalism.

We commend the comprehensive approach promoted in the report, including personal and professional training, and health, nutrition, education and access to technology as equally valuable ingredients for improved employment outcomes for young people. Ms. Cunningham of the World Bank makes the important point that:

“Early child development programmes have been found to affect youth behaviour. They seem to reduce the incidence of youth violence and the incidence of youth unemployment, and they increase the earnings of young people – so there’s a whole range of outcomes that seem to be linked to investing in years zero through five.”

This high-level and public support for such a continuous, comprehensive approach to youth development is an important message in a context of donor-driven development that has tended to isolate program sectors, to their own detriment. Richard Lapper closes the report with another valuable point: the potential and inclination of young people to promote more open and democratic societies. He highlights the extent to which empowering and engaging youth as entrepreneurs and economic actors can lead to positive social change, even in the most difficult environments.

"Investing in Youth" was published immediately following the launch of TYO's new project, "Fostering Women Entrepreneurs," sponsored by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. We hosted a knowledge-sharing workshop on Thursday, January 28, marking the official start of this initiative, which will engage 25 unemployed female university graduates in an intensive training in business skills and entrepreneurialism. Each participant will create a business plan, 4-6 of which will be incubated by TYO. Our goal is that at least one business will be launched, leveraging youthful creativity and dedication to establish a small enterprise that can provide purpose and revenue for traditional craftswomen from Nablus as well as the founding young women. Our project model engages youth as resourceful catalysts not only for their own livelihoods, but also for their communities' well-being.

You can learn more from the opening of the workshop (in English) here, and participants' presentations (in Arabic) here. The gathering included grassroots societies with experience in a variety of women's projects, including artisan and agricultural cooperatives, international donor organizations, and public sector representatives. An important message that emerged from the discussion was that, particularly in the donor-driven economy of the West Bank, there has been too much emphasis on limited-term, ad hoc projects. These initiatives may build skills, or generate revenue, but they do so only for the term of the grant provided by an international donor. What is needed is a more rigorous, profit-driven approach to building sustainable enterprises - of course, without neglecting the importance of social development. We are confident that targeting young participants is an important first step in making this transition, particularly in combination with the comprehensive approach promoted by the authors of "Investing in Youth" and practiced by TYO.

You can read more about the project here, and we invite you to stay tuned as the project develops, with participant selection and training expected to conclude within February.


Nell is the International Director of Tomorrow's Youth Organization.