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Panel explores the untapped potential of integrated investments for youth

October 06, 2015 —

Include young people in decisions. Understand their unique challenges and contributions to society. Invest in their health, education and job skills. All of these actions will be critical to the success of the new global development agenda, according to panelists at FHI 360's recent discussion, "The Next Generation of Development: Integrated Investments in Youth." 

"What's going to be really important is that, at the national level, as we're implementing and trying to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), youth are a big part of it," said Tony Pipa, U.S. special coordinator for the post-2015 development agenda at the U.S. Department of State. "It's a 15-year agenda, so in some respects, it's their agenda. … It's often youth who are the major drivers of change in their communities and in their countries." 

Meeting the 17 wide-ranging goals outlined in the new agenda will require innovation and more evidence on effective integrated models of development, Pipa said. However, he and other speakers also emphasized that taking an integrated approach to empower the world's youth and spark economic growth in the SDG era won’t be easy — or always the right solution. 

"(Integration) isn't a panacea, but it is important," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women. "It should be used wisely. It needs planning. It needs buy-in from the people whose activities are being integrated."

The discussion marked the third in FHI 360's Does 1+1=3? The Integration Hypothesis series, which convenes global thought leaders for provocative conversations about the potential of integrated development to make a more enduring difference in people's lives. The series is just one element of FHI 360's US$4 million commitment, funded by the FHI Foundation, to build the evidence and advance the global conversation on integrated development approaches. 

Along with Pipa and Mlambo-Ngcuka, other participants at the standing-room-only discussion on September 23 in New York City included Gregory Beck, FHI 360’s director of integrated development, and Katja Iversen, chief executive officer of Women Deliver, both of whom provided opening remarks; Eliya Zulu, executive director of the African Institute for Development Policy; Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, chairman of the Uganda National Planning Authority; and Dakshitha Wickremarathne, a social worker, Women Deliver young leader and youth representative on the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. The conversation was moderated by Femi Oke, an international journalist.

Throughout the evening, speakers stressed the importance of engaging young people, investing in local communities and holding governments accountable in efforts to empower youth over the next 15 years. Better support for the needs of adolescent girls was a reccurring theme throughout the conversation. 

“Youth can be critical engines of change if the proper investments are made to empower them," said Zulu, who explained that when countries invest in family planning, child survival and education — especially for girls — they can help create a greater population of working-age people, including young people. And, Zulu continued, by better investing in jobs for those youth, countries can experience significant economic growth, or a demographic dividend.

Indeed, Wickremarathne stressed the value of shared stories about the contributions of young people in his native Sri Lanka and called on governments and the development sector to involve youth in the processes and policies that affect their lives. "There have to be sustainable mechanisms — committees, platforms — so that young people are constantly engaged," he said.

“Most youth are fed up with being tokens,” Wickremarathne said. “Give them the opportunity to inclusively and meaningfully engage in decision making.”

Follow #IntegratedDev to learn more about upcoming discussions, including the FHI 360 integrated development summit in June 2016.

Homepage photo credit: Rebecca Lader/FHI 360