11 August 2017

International Youth Day

Empowering young people to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion

A young Costa Rican benefits from skills training through a programme established by SOS Children's Villages. Photographer: Maria Berenguer

This year’s International Youth Day (12 August) celebrates young people’s contributions to conflict prevention, inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.

As one way of meeting this goal, SOS Children’s Villages aims to empower young people around the world by strengthening their employment prospects. The federation is already working through a wide spectrum of programmes to enhance young people’s skills, help their transition into the workplace and adjust from alternative care to independent adulthood. 

This is a pressing task as the world’s young population is expected to grow, and employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young women and men remain limited. Moreover, many are employed in the informal economy as contributing family workers, subsistence farmers, or in the unskilled job sector. They typically earn low wages, are hired on casual or seasonal contracts and face unsafe, often exploitive conditions that compel many to migrate to urban areas.

“We owe it to ourselves to help equip the next generation with the opportunity to take risks, learn, shape their own future and find a meaningful career,” said Sofía García García, SOS Children’s Villages Representative to the United Nations in New York.

SOS projects promoting decent work and economic growth

SOS Children’s Villages has put the most disadvantaged children at the heart of its Strategy 2030. One of the strategic initiatives addresses youth empowerment and directly relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in areas such as poverty, inequality, education, health, social and child protection, as well as decent work. A caring and protective family is central to a child’s development, as recognised by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

One SOS Children’s Villages project in place in Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Somaliland teaches those growing up in poverty to develop digital and entrepreneurial skills. The Next Economy Project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, started in 2016 with a focus on career capacity building to increase an individual’s chances of finding sustainable employment. It creates internships or traineeships with scope for those undertaking them to gain permanent jobs on completion.

Another programme, launched earlier this year is the: YouthCan! global partnership, which assists disadvantaged young people to successfully manage the shift from school to the workforce. It enables them to join training schemes with partners including Deutsche Post DHL Group, AkzoNobel, and Allianz, and is supported by the Youth Career Initiative.

“We try to put children on the path to self-reliance. YouthCan! builds on this approach by providing children with exposure to a real working environment, and access to role-models and mentors,” said Stephen Miller, National Director for SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

By mobilising employees, activating their networks and providing expertise, YouthCan! is making a measurable impact in the lives of young people around the globe as well as reducing youth unemployment. What began as a pilot in four countries has expanded to 26 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Partnering up for sustainable development

By scaling-up similar schemes, SOS Children’s Villages aims to tackle the problems of insufficient access to development and education; limited access to resources such as land; and low levels of involvement in decision-making processes.

Young people have a significant part to play in meeting the targets set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular in advocating for the provision of quality education (SDG 4) and decent work and economic growth (SDG 8).

A Pan-African Youth Empowerment Conference, jointly organised by SOS Children’s Villages International and the African Union, is being held later this month in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The event will contribute to the realisation of SOS Children’s Villages International Strategy 2030 by giving young people from different countries across Africa a voice to share their future aspirations.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Dereje Wordofa, International Director of Eastern and Southern Africa for SOS Children’s Villages said: “Recognising young people’s role as process owners and social actors in their own development, young people participating will be core to the conference”.

Key facts and figures

  • 71 million young people worldwide are unemployed. Those without parental care or coming from families at risk of breakdown find it harder to gain a job.
  • Children without parental care or at risk of losing it are disproportionately excluded from formal education. Some 124 million children and adolescents were not able to enter or complete school in 2013.
  • The World Economic Forum projects that up to 65 percent of children of primary school age are likely to work in jobs that have yet to be created or imagined in a globalised and rapidly changing labour market.