Rebecca Barbary l Palladium - Aug 10 2022
Harnessing the Youth Bulge: Why Cross-Generational Support is Critical for Youth Development

In Guatemala, the Palladium-led Health Policy Plus project helps strengthen the capacity of advocates across generations and cultures. Credit: Health Policy Plus

With an estimated 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 worldwide and young people under the age of 30 making up 70% of the population in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the result is that a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults creating a demographic youth “bulge”, whose transformational potential cannot be underestimated.

Channelling the energy, leadership, and creativity this youth bulge brings can have enormous positive implications on economic growth, democratic participation, peace/security, and climate resilience but only if youth receive the support they need to reach their full potential. Young people need more than resources and skills at the individual level to succeed, they need an enabling environment and community that supports and encourages them to be leaders and positive change makers.

This year, International Youth Day focuses on the imperative of intergenerational support and the challenge of ageism. Ageism, or the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination directed towards others or oneself, based on age often inhibits the rights and participation of young people in health care systems, the workplace, legal systems and as leaders in their community. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The UN Global Report on Ageism identifies intergenerational support as one of the three key strategies to address ageism and enable youth to thrive.

As the global community invests in programs that support youth in civic engagement and entrepreneurship, there must also be a deliberate emphasis on intergenerational support to fight agism and create the environment needed for youth to succeed.

Supporting Youth Success

Youth development isn’t one size fits all. From 14 to 29 years old, young people are at various stages of development and have intersecting gender and racial identities that may affect their challenges and opportunities. But there are a few key principles that can improve and support youth development worldwide.

It starts with giving youth meaningful opportunities to engage and lead in policies and strategies.

By developing mutually respectful partnerships between youth and adults where power is shared and contributions are valued, we can design approaches that authentically reflect the needs of youth instead of prescribing solutions for them. For example, Palladium’s Youth Advisory Board, on the Ethiopia Market Systems for Growth project, provided recommendation to make the program’s workforce skills training activities more accessible to youth. Involving and promoting youth leadership early on contributed to the project exceeding its job training and placement goal.

Bringing youth into the planning process, whether at the local community level or national strategies, gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities to an older generation of leaders.

"There must be a deliberate emphasis on intergenerational support to fight agism and create the environment needed for youth to succeed."

It’s also critical to recognise that youth live within a system and that increased youth agency in an environment where they may be disregarded can generate animosity and stall progress. In planning and design of youth development programs, there should be consideration for the family dynamics, community organisations, faith-based organisations, private sector, and government stakeholders that make up the system within which youth operate and strive to create safe spaces within that system where youth voices are heard.

Youth-adult power dynamics, social norms, established expectations, and perceptions fuel ageism and limit opportunities for young people. But facilitating meaningful relationships between generations, where adults and youth work together toward a common goal and learn from one another can build trust and address ageism and stereotypes.

Mentorship as a Tool for Intergenerational Support

Mentorship opportunities between generations is an important tool for building intergenerational relationships. By creating a two-way dialog where both parties openly share their personal goals and struggles, youth and adults can build trust and understanding.

At a recent event, Palladium teams from Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, and Belgium shared how their mentorship experience built their confidence and changed their views and their work.

Umar Abdullahi, a Nigerian Youth Champion for the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment program, explained that while his mentor was older and more experienced, she gave him the space to make decisions for himself and decide how he wanted to reach his goals. “Since we met, I have developed myself in a better way especially in the way of confidence and self-esteem as well as the area of communication,” Abdullahi shared. “I can now communicate and network with different kinds of people, not only from my own ethnic group or from my area, but I have been guided on how to interact with people on different levels.”

Cross-generational mentorship not only contributes to the confidence and agency of youth themselves but brings new perspectives and understanding to the adults who serve as mentors.

Nuradil Raimbekov, Kyrgyzstan Country Manager for the Future Growth Initiative program shared that he was most surprised by the different perceptions of life between himself and his mentee, who was 15 years his junior.

“My generation seeks only the comfort zone, and the new generation, which she belongs to, tries to get out from the comfort zone to have these new feeling and experiences. I learned a lot from my mentee, I learned to see things differently from different perspectives as different challenges shape the person in different ways,” explained Raimbekov.

“Thanks to our mentorship program I managed to revise my goals and now I try to adapt my attitude to really focus on the challenges of the new generation to provide better future solutions. This is translated in my work, when we work with the young generation of entrepreneurs, I think I manage to understand them better thanks to this mentorship program.”

This International Youth Day, we can remember these stories and how cross-generational mentorship propels youth forward. By facilitating relationships between generations, we can continue to create the enabling environment in our own communities and the programs we support to foster youth development and guide the next generation to be positive change makers.

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