Keynote Address at the Youth Livelihoods Alliance Launch

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
October 2, 2012

Date: 10/02/2012 Location: Washington, DC Description: Under Secretary Otero delivers remarks at the Youth Livelihoods Alliance Launch held at the Department of State. - State Dept ImageThank you, Zeenat, for that kind introduction. And thank you, Bill, for your remarks, and for the important work of the International Youth Foundation to improve the lives of young people around the world. IYF is one of the leading and most innovative organizations working on youth, and we all appreciate its leadership and deep understanding of this key issue.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for joining us today. The Department of State is proud to be the first government agency to join this new Alliance, led by I-Y-F. Our aim is to bring together leaders in government, business, and civil society to develop practical and innovative solutions to the global challenge of youth unemployment.

Today we are sharing the stage with corporate members who have dedicated time and resources as commitment partners as well as will multilateral donor institutions such as IDB and MIF. I would like to acknowledge their essential contribution and congratulate them for joining our Alliance.

I’m also pleased to see so many of you here today representing the private sector, non-governmental and multilateral organizations, and academia, as well as our colleagues from the other agencies. A special thank you to our panelists joining us today.

As Secretary Clinton highlighted in Tunis earlier this year, we believe it is critical to engage and empower youth. Globally, 60% of the world’s population is under 30. With swelling numbers of youth populations and with young people driving global events to an unprecedented extent, we cannot afford to adapt slowly to this new landscape. Just in the last year and half, we’ve seen how young men and women – the leaders of tomorrow – have changed the course of nations.

The Alliance brings to this issue a well-deserved sense of urgency to youth unemployment and calls for a collective response.

We note that in countries where young people have opportunities for advancement in business, civic participation, and education, societies are more stable. Global youth are creative, connected, and energetic – increasingly powered by new technologies – and represent one of the foremost potential drivers of economic and social progress. We know that the growing youth demographic around the world presents an opportunity for stability, progress and growth, but also a threat. We need to elevate two things: first, how we are interacting with young people, and second, how we are implementing policies that empower them as change agents.

Indeed, lack of opportunity for youth will result in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called a “scarred generation;” young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious working conditions.

Many events on the margins of UNGA included a youth dimension, including the selection of the first-ever U.S. Youth Observer, a talented student from Boston College with a passion for water security issues.

The statistics tell a troubling story. According to the I-L-O, one in eight young people between the ages of 15 and 24 will be unemployed around the world this year alone. The youth unemployment rate stands at 12.7 percent, a full percentage point higher than before the global financial crisis in 2007. This rate is only rising. More youth are poor or underemployed than ever before: some 309 million young people work but live in households that earn less than the equivalent of $2 per day.

So, what can be done? Here at the Department of State, we are committed to fostering opportunities for young people around the world. While our sister agency USAID develops job programs on the ground, here are State we are in the business of using our diplomacy to foster a more peaceful and prosperous world. We want to give youth the tools and and we want to help create an environment in which they can succeed – but ultimately, the journey is theirs. So we understand that we cannot tackle this challenge alone.

That is why we’re here today. To show that by joining forces with industry and civil society, we are stronger and better able to address the challenge of the global youth unemployment.

Our new alliance will strengthen our approach in three key ways. First, it will ensure we exchange best practices in several areas, including workforce and skills development, job creation through entrepreneurship, and corporate social responsibility. Companies will highlight successful solutions they are putting into practice and will disseminate them for all to see and learn from.

Second, our alliance will enhance global awareness of rising youth unemployment and the consequences of inaction. Through an expanded membership of large and small companies, NGOs, governments, and others, we will work together to promote increased hiring of young people, skills development, and quality job creation through entrepreneurship.

Lastly, we will build on key existing programs to reach our goals. The State Department is a founding member of this alliance because we have long understood the need to help the next generation realize its full potential. Indeed, for decades the U.S. government has put resources into many skills development programs for young people around the world.

For example, we partner with local implementers to teach English to talented 14-18 year-olds from disadvantaged sectors in 85 countries around the world. More than 85,000 alumni of this program not only have learned the English language, but have gained confidence and leadership skills, and are better prepared to compete successfully in the socio-economic development in their countries. I visited just such a group two weeks ago in Honduras. It was incredible how well the students spoke English, and how committed they were to their studies. They knew that learning English was their ticket to getting a job and supporting their family, and they were determined to see that happen.

TechGirls is a three-week international exchange program designed to empower young girls to pursue careers in the science and technology sectors. Announced by Secretary Clinton in July 2011, the program encourages innovation and promotes the spread of new technologies to give women and girls from the Middle East and North Africa the support that they need to become leaders in this field.

And through the work of USAID, the Youth:Work program implemented by nearly three dozen local organizations to date aims to improve livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged young people around the world by focusing on organizational capacity-building and implementation of activities in civic engagement and employability.

We are developing new initiatives, too, aiming at those especially gifted. This November, the Department’s GIST initiative will bring 16 young technology developers from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to the United States. The young entrepreneurs, who are winners of technology entrepreneurship competitions, will engage with experienced American entrepreneurs during their stay. They will also participate in mentoring and training programs in their area of expertise.

I met with several such entrepreneurs at the Polytechnic University in Nairobi recently. The young people there were designing creative inventions to help people in their daily lives. One promising young man told me he had developed a program for his mobile phone that would notify him and his friends when their cars were getting stolen!

And at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai this December, the Office of Global Youth Issues will highlight youth entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region.

All of these programs show that economically empowered youth equals increased productivity, more innovation, enhanced prosperity, and a safer world. And partnerships such as the Youth Livelihoods Alliance are key to creating these opportunities so that youth can find dignity through decent work.

So, I am pleased to be here to launch this exciting initiative, and I look forward to helping the Alliance grow and prosper in the months and years to come. I know the rest of the morning will help us chart that path. Thank you.