China's nine-year compulsory education system covering primary and middle school must remain free and be non-profit making, according to a law passed by the National People's Congress on Novermber 7, 2016. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
China's nine-year compulsory education system covering primary and middle school must remain free and be non-profit making, according to a law passed by the National People's Congress on Novermber 7, 2016. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri

The Nobel Peace Prize events are well timed with the December holidays and the approaching New Year, when much of the world takes a collective breath to reflect on what’s most important in our lives. Both looking back and charging ahead, we resolve to do better and be better.

Because 2016 showed us that we live in volatile times: record breaking global temperatures, record numbers of refugees fleeing conflict, global security threats, political upheaval; the list seems endless. But the good news is that we already have a lot of the knowledge and resources needed to create solutions that could better our circumstances. And we have the largest single generation of youth the world has ever seen who want to do something about this. A powerful potential global force of nearly two billion young people, of which 60% live in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

This generation is often denigrated for being entitled, apathetic and detached, preferring to spend their lives in their devices rather than in the world. This is categorically false. While this army of more than a billion digital natives is indeed highly comfortable with technology, having grown up with mobile technology and social media, they are among the most engaged, outspoken, passionate and committed to making lives better.

They will be our key allies in the fight ahead, drawing on the power of innovation and digitization to create the solutions that we need.

All they need is an opportunity, a platform that allows them to bring their brilliant ideas and inspirations to life.

Providing platform for change

One platform that takes a special position this month has its roots in the Nobel Peace Prize. The Telenor Youth Forum, in partnership with the Nobel Peace Center, empowers youth to solve social issues through technology. Twenty-six delegates from across the world are selected from a pool of nearly 5,000 applicants to represent their countries and take part in events related to honoring this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

They will contribute to the Nobel Peace Center’s mission of inspiring peace by designing solutions to the five challenges chosen for this year’s program: “climate change is real”; “gender equality”; ”the mental health taboo”; “education for refugees”; and “unemployment and social instability.” These challenges represent the most pressing issues facing global youth, and may affect the greatest number of young people.

To provide some context, children or adolescents, which are the most vulnerable segment, make up a majority of the population in the world’s 48 least developed countries. More than half of the world’s refugees, or close to 50 million children have migrated across borders or have been displaced internally as the result of wars, climate change, and poverty.

Global youth unemployment is expected to reach 13.1% in 2016, with the global number of unemployed youth is set to rise by half a million this year to reach 71 million. Of even greater concern are the 37.7% of working youth who still live in extreme or moderate poverty (compared to 26% of working adults).

Gender disparity is also increasing with the 2016 labor participation rate at 53.9% of young men versus 37.3% for young women. This will be exacerbated by the increase in youth unemployment from 12.4% to 13.6% this year in South Eastern Asia and the Pacific.

The ideas they have

Based on the experience from past forums, challenges need to not only be relevant, but also engage the youth on a deeply emotional level. This results in some truly inspirational ideas that have gone on to become established platforms for change.

Asma Naksewee, who took part in the Telenor Youth Forum, is the founder of WO-MANIS, a social enterprise in Thailand that trains low-income widows to build embroidery and sewing skills to make an honest living for their families. The women then sell their handmade embroidered hijabs and scarves to customers all over the world, only made possible through messaging applications, the Internet, email and social media.

Another former TYF delegate, Heidy Quah, founded Refuge for Refugees, an NGO that aims to bring education to refugee children in Malaysia, by raising awareness about this cause and encouraging a generation of Malaysian youth to recognize the potential in them to create impact. In the past year, they have been working closely with refugee communities and refugee schools that require aid.

Looking to the future, one of this year’s delegates, Myanmar’s Phyo Thura Htay, was part of a team that developed a solution for tackling youth unemployment, and which was also chosen as best presentation. The team proposed the development of an online portal to address current joblessness and prevent future unemployment by helping youth make the right career decisions with projected workforce needs. It would be amazing to see what materializes at the end of the year-long program.

Often, people want to effect change, but lack the tools and opportunities to do so. It is our hope that the action-oriented youth forums such as these will provide the world’s youth with the support they need to help shape a better world for all of us. More so than perhaps any recent generation, this one feels the urgency and has the ideas to do it.

Ola Jo Tandre

Ola Jo Tandre is the head of Social Responsibility at Telenor Group, based in Oslo. He's been the Telenor Youth Forum guru since its inception in 2013.