Youth: The Biggest Missing Voice at the Table

Photo Courtesy of Mishimoto.


Nothing tells the story of successful stakeholder pressure better than the A World at School’s Global Youth Ambassadors (GYAs) petitioning for their right to education. In less than a year, more than 500 youth collected more than 1 million signatures for the largest petition on education in the world. They rallied a movement so large that more than eight million people have signed the #UpForSchool petition. Business leaders have signed it, celebrities have endorsed it, and, now, world leaders cannot ignore it.


Children and youth have the most to gain from access to quality education programming. In many contexts their futures, lives and communities depend on it. Like the GYAs who rallied support for the petition, they’re not afraid to claim their stake, yet ironically youth perspectives are often ignored in the process of creating programs that benefit them the most.


The most successful ventures however are well informed of all stakeholder needs — perhaps especially those they hope to serve. According to a 2012 McKinsey & Co. survey, more than two-thirds of executives from successful companies had taken the time to understand and prioritize their stakeholders’ values. For those focused on education however, that stakeholder engagement often ends at outreach involving governments and regulators, leaving a critical voice missing from that conversation: Youth. This year’s International Youth Day seeks to mend the severed communication between youth and representatives of the public, private, and social sectors under the theme ‘Youth Civic Engagement’.


Engaging youth as community stakeholders is critical for companies identifying communities and marginalized populations in need of education investments. Targeted outreach to youth can also help companies build a more rigorous social impact assessment method by identifying risks early on that would have otherwise been missed and ensuring programs have the necessary resources and buy-in to be sustainable in the long-term.


The examples below exemplify how amplifying youth voices and perspectives has transformed the impact of business education investments.


Youth as the advocate: India Working Group


In the spring of 2015, GBC-Education’s India Working Group led a roundtable on skilling the next generation. Twenty-one representatives from public policy, the private sector, and the education sector came together to discuss how business can better support human capital and skill development through national initiatives and within curriculums. This time, though, a new voice was brought to the table: A 22-year-old A World at School GYA from India was invited to inform business leaders on real life causes of increased school drop outs like child labor within his home country. As a result, business leaders agreed to champion relevant and contemporary skills into national syllabi and better target the most marginalized with their CSR programs. Without the youth perspective, the attendees might have lacked both the youth perspective and the subsequent emotional connection linking — and fortifying — their work to their impact. But, because they took the time to hear the perspective of someone from the population they’re targeting, corporate representatives from powerful multinationals were able to ground their cause not in short-term, conditional results, but in deeper multi-dimensional analysis. Business must listen to youth voices as a critical part of informing program and advocacy decisions.


Youth as the consumer: ECONET


By 2050, Africa (and the world, for that matter) will be inundated with a new wave of laborers entering the workforce as its under-18 population increases by two-thirds. The influx of able bodied laborers would be easy for employers to tap if educational infrastructure was accessible and learning tools were robust. However, Africa is also home to the largest out-of-school population in the world. In Zimbabwe, for instance, the likelihood of a student graduating from primary school is as low as 55 percent and even of those who do graduate, only 50 percent go on to pursue secondary school. However, even in countries with some of the lowest literacy rates where as much as 12 percent of children cannot read or write, a significant percent of the population still owns a mobile phone. This fact led Econet, a multinational telecommunications group, to gear its commercial investments in education towards its largest growing consumer demographic by leveraging its core business expertise: mobile technology. Launched in Zimbabwe in 2013, Econet’s EcoSchool improves access to educational content for learners through formal and informal learning, with the goal of impacting the lives and opportunities of its customers through increasing their connectivity to mobile devices like tablets and cell phones. This targeted strategy enabled Econet to reach more than 320,000 students and community members and have trained more than 1,000 technology developers.


Youth as program contributor: Standard Chartered


When creating programs to impact youth, it is valuable for business leaders to incorporate their feedback into the program design. This small step was enough to transform Standard Chartered’s female empowerment initiatives. Despite major progress towards gender equality, girls still account for more than half of the out-of-school children across the world. This despite the fact that an educated female population with equal pay could fuel economic growth by as much as 14 percent by 2020*. Standard Chartered designed Goal to empower females to unlock economic growth through sports, piloting Goal with a small population of 70 girls in India in 2006. As the program grew (to date, over 145,000 girls have been reached across 24 countries), the approach evolved as did the curriculum. In 2014, Goal introduced an employability pilot with 110 of its brightest girls in New Delhi. Working with its Commercial Clients, Standard Chartered generated full time entry level jobs for the girls in the program. But things didn’t go quite as planned. The girls had strong opinions about their careers and futures; their expectations didn’t match with reality, and the program stalled.


Through reflection and adaptation, the pilot has successfully started a second phases with more work dedicated to understanding the girls’ aims, skills, and expectations. The small pivot in the program has allowed Goal to place nearly 50 percent of the girls in the first pilot into exciting full time entry level jobs and the second phase of the program is already achieving smoother success.


*In 15 developing countries.