Mary Sherman l Palladium - Jul 24 2023
Youth Leaders Push for Youth-Led Solutions

In parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, young people under 30 make up over 70% of the population, yet young people worldwide are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions. In the United States, only 2.6% of congressional representatives are between 25-35 years old, and the African Union has a Panel of the Wise comprised of elder leaders but lacks a youth equivalent. It should come as no surprise that many youth are calling for more inclusion in decision-making bodies and a meaningful seat at the table.

To advance youth leadership, young leaders and youth allies gathered at the Global Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) Summit held in Silver Spring, Maryland this past May. The Summit brought together over 200 representatives to present challenges, successes, and opportunities for youth and youth programming.

The Summit highlighted how greater youth leadership, climate awareness, and purposeful inclusion of marginalised populations can contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8: inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all.

To dive deeper into these topics, Palladium, in collaboration with USAID, led a panel discussion titled “Defining, Creating, and Preparing Youth for Green Jobs: Leaders Speak Out.” Panelist Daniel Kayemba, a collections manager at Eco Brixs, a plastic recycling company in Uganda, and a youth environmental activist called for youth to get involved in addressing the problems youth see in their own communities and encouraged young people to view challenges as space to create opportunities and innovative economic solutions. Daniel further called for adults, governments, and donors to be allies and bring youth into leadership roles as partners.

As a youth ally, Palladium partners with and supports young leaders like Daniel and companies like Eco Brixs through the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) program. CFYE currently works with 72 companies in 11 countries to create a prosperous future for 230,000 young women and men in the Middle East and Africa. The program supports youth employment initiatives that offer youth, particularly young women, opportunities for decent work that delivers better prospects for personal development and provides a stable income, social protection, and safe working conditions.

“This year’s Summit really highlighted youth voices and youth-led solutions more than in past years,” notes Katy Vickland, Palladium’s Director of Youth, Education and Workforce Development. “Daniel and other youth leaders emphasised the urgency of climate solutions and showcased important advances and innovations.”

“Daniel and the other social entrepreneurs are creating 3,000 Resource Recovery Agent jobs in Uganda, addressing poverty and recycling hundreds of tonnes of plastic waste. Young people are making it happen,” she concludes.

Supporting youth leadership goes beyond advancing youth employment opportunities. It also means giving youth a meaningful voice at the decision-making table. Within CFYE and many of the projects Palladium implements, Youth Advisory Boards and Youth Champions are organised to ensure youth engagement and empowerment are integrated throughout the project lifecycle and beyond. Youth Advisory Boards promote and move forward gender equity and diversity, as well as offer critical insight into the views of the next generation.

Participants of the event received information on best practices in each panel learning from youth serving organisations and youth leaders. “We were particularly excited that some of the research that we have been supporting under the CFYE has been taken forward in some of the other sessions during YEO2023,” notes Whitney van Schyndel, Communications Manager for CFYE. “We are very proud of the amount of interest and hope our learnings inform other initiatives.”

No one understands the challenges youth are facing better than youth themselves. By involving them in decision-making, we can enable innovation, increase inclusivity, and create space for positive deviance. The opening plenary at the YEO Summit said it best, “If you have the same leaders, you have the same decisions; however, if you have a young person sitting in a position of power […] you will see a difference in decisions.”

This was similarly echoed from Taibat Husain, a youth leader at the YEO Summit. "It is better to work with a youth-led organisation directly because you’re saying to them, ‘We trust you. We believe in your capacity. We believe in your ability, and we are here to support you.’”

Through amplifying youth leadership and creating formalised structures for youth decision-making, Palladium, civil society organisations, businesses, and even a country can more adeptly and appropriately address the challenges youth face. The future cannot be envisioned, governed, or decided upon without youth.

The YEO Summit was an opportunity to learn and share Palladium’s Youth and Workforce experience specifically on green jobs and youth engagement. Palladium panel discussion on green jobs included speakers Daniel Kayemba, Collections Manager for EcoBrixs; Jane Lowicki-Zucca, Senior Youth Advisor for USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security; Christina Kwauk PhD., Research Director at Unbounded Associates and Head of Climate; Manuela Radelsboeck, Programme Specialist, UNICEF Generation Unlimited and moderated by Katy Vickland, Director, Youth, Education and Workforce Development, Palladium. For more information, contact