Sima Bahous:Statement on the occasion of the Launch of the UNDP Youth Strategy

Mar 31, 2014

Statement of Sima Bahous,
UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director,
Regional Bureau for Arab States

On the occasion of the
Launch of the UNDP Youth Strategy


Tunis, Tunisia


It is my pleasure today, on behalf of UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, to launch UNDP’s global youth strategy, Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future. Its theme, youth empowerment, is especially timely at this moment when over three billion people on Earth are under the age of 25.

Today youth make up over 60 per cent of the population in many of the programme countries where UNDP is present. And this generation is like no other. Young people today are more connected, more creative, more informed and more persuasive than any previous generation. All around the world they are responding to the challenges of the day with innovative approaches. They are contributing fresh ideas. Building bridges. Creating the world they want and driving human development for themselves, their communities and their societies.

Yet the progress of youth is incomplete. Still too many young people are frustrated, with educations that are not quite good enough for the world of today; out of work or with insecure jobs that leave too much beyond their grasp; or with too few opportunities to express themselves, share their values and take part in the decisions that affect their lives.

This is a tragedy.  It is a tragedy because, for young people, there is nothing worse than the feeling of being held back. Of having ambitions unfulfilled. Dreams unmet. Promises broken. But it is also a missed opportunity for societies at large. Productive and peaceful societies need the energy of young people in order to thrive. Young people are the most precious resource. Empowered youth are the engine of the progress we all seek.

Excellences, dear colleagues, dear friends,

As the Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, I am honored that UNDP and the Government of Tunisia have chosen to launch this report together here in Tunisia. An inspired choice.

Today there is no country in the world that better reminds us of the potential of youth to shape their destinies. Three years ago Tunisian youth stood up, stood together, and stood with all to demand a new contract between state and society. A contract of dignity, of justice, of fulfillment. A bond of progress for the many, not only for the few. A covenant of mutual responsibility and collective effort.

It was a movement that inspired the Arab region, as is well known. But it also inspired the world.

I am sure that many of the young people in this room remember well the feeling they had when they saw their brothers and sisters In Tunisia taking initiative on behalf of their country. The feeling of determination. The feeling of possibility. The feeling, of hope.

Our thanks go to the youth, the people of Tunisia for setting this high standard, and for inspiring us all.

And our thanks go to the government of Tunisia as well for carrying forward the important and vital task of continuing to engage with youth. For creating new opportunities for all across all spectrums of life, and for taking steps, along with the Tunisian people, towards the dream we all share, the dream of a democratic, and prosperous heartbeat in the heart that is our Arab world. Thank you, your Excellency Mr. Prime Minister. Alf Shukran. Aishak. Merci.

In a broader sense I also celebrate that we are holding this event in the Arab region. The Arab world is one of the most youthful regions in the world. Fifty-four percent of our population is under the age of 25. By 2050, 200 million young people will call this region home.

For some this is cause for concern, but let us be clear that youthfulness is opportunity. History has proven this. Indeed, it is precisely at this point in the demographic arc, when the proportion of young people reaches a peak, that regions and countries, around the world, have achieved positive transformational change.

And Excellences, colleagues, friends, I am sure we can agree: the signs are many that we are in the early stages of just one such transformation.  But only if we work together to create much more opportunity for our young people than they enjoy today.

Excellences, dear colleagues, dear friends,

UNDP has long been engaged in promoting opportunities for youth across all spheres of development. Over the years we have learned valuable lessons about what does and does not work. We’ve made adjustments and spread best practice, andscaled-up when we can.

But this new strategy takes our engagement to a whole new level. It builds on all of our lessons, magnifies the scope of our effort, and outlines a frame for our work that is relevant, well-thought-through and ready to implement for results.

The strategy is also in line with UNDP’s new strategic plan, and grounds all of our work in a drive to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities in a sustainable, resilient manner.

Accordingly the strategy calls for three outcomes:

  • Strengthened sustainable development pathways through enhanced economic empowerment of youth;
  • Youth civic engagement and participation in politics and public institutions strengthened;
  • And strengthened youth engagement in disaster preparedness, crisis response, and resilience building in crisis or conflict contexts.

These are the critical issues of our day. And these are the areas in which young people show the most desire to advance.

But perhaps just as important that what we will do, is how we will do it.

Our first principle is that we are not going to carry out development activities only for young people. Rather we will work with young people: as initiators and collaborators; as partners in development; as vital agents of our collective, shared progress.

And second, our work will be grounded in the protection of young people’s human rights. Our approach will strengthen the skills of young people to claim and exercise their economic, political, social, civil and cultural rights.

In other words, this is not a traditional, top-down youth development approach. It is a youth for development approach.

This spirit is also evident in this room today. In this hall we have an excellent cross-section of youth experts and youth development leaders, young men and young women, from all over the world, as well as experts working on youth issues representing governments, the private sector, civil society and the media. This is a group that knows what youth for development means, and this is a group we need if we are to achieve the results we seek.

But we must also draw on voices that are not present in the room. That’s why we are live tweeting the event and covering it on facebook and other social media, in the hopes that young people from the region and the world join you here and tell us what is important for their development, for their rights. And that they can tell us, loud and clear, not what we can do for them, but what we can do with them. And they can show us how empowered youth can take us all to the future of shared, sustained development that today’s young people will create for their children, their grandchildren, and so many generations to come.

Excellences, Colleagues, Friends,

If there is one thing I would wish for you to keep in mind over the course of this meeting, it is this: We all have had aspirations and dreams for ourselves and for our societies. Some of these have been met, and some have not. But youth have an opportunity to build on our successes and make progress where we faltered. Let us welcome them, let us support them, let us join with them as they show us all they can do for our shared future.

Thank you.  I wish you a very successful meeting, and you can count on my commitment carrying forward this agenda with you.

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