Note: This page is intended to be viewed as part of a larger report.
> Return to Network of Global Agenda Councils 2011-2012 report

Global Crisis, Global Opportunity: Investing in the Challenge of Youth Unemployment

The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment is charged with tackling one of today’s most explosive issues. The challenge of youth unemployment must not be underestimated: half the world’s population is under the age of 27 and young people make up an estimated 40% of the 200 million people unemployed worldwide.1

Youth unemployment knows no boundaries: Sweden tops the Nordic youth unemployment rate at 25%. In Britain, 20% of youth are unemployed and a staggering 40% in Spain. In Cambodia, 32% of the total population is under 15 years of age. In the Middle East, youth unemployment tops 25% despite substantial public investment in higher education. The Arab world is overwhelmingly young, and recent events across the region have amplified the social and economic disconnect between skills, jobs and opportunity.2

This crisis, if ignored, will have a seismic social and economic effect on future generations.3  Realizing the untapped potential of young people is crucial for countries with ageing populations in which the next generation will bear an ever larger share of the social costs. It is equally critical for countries with young populations, where lack of opportunity can feed social unrest.

There are no simple answers to the challenge of youth unemployment, but this report demonstrates how working together – across geographic, sectoral and generational borders – can play a positive role in the quest for solutions. Work developed by Council Members has already influenced the Forum’s agenda at the Annual Meeting 2012, where youth joblessness was a burning topic.4

When Peter Mandelson, Member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom, was interviewed on youth unemployment at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2012, he said: “I’ve not been in a meeting or heard a speech where the subject didn’t come up. Why? People recognize that it is a massive waste of resource, a ticking time bomb and a loss of consumer demand. It is one of the most important issues this year.”5

In Istanbul in June, youth unemployment was again a key issue on the table for participants from the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia,6  and leaders were urged to take action. This report will detail how the work of Council Members and their partners provides a steady stream of action and ideas that continues to inform the Global Agenda on Youth Unemployment.7

The report will detail three priority working areas and explore some ongoing obstacles. Readers are encouraged to follow the links at the end of this report to online appendices that will provide a more in-depth look at the Council’s programme of work.

Identifying Obstacles

The Council’s last year has been defined by collaboration and action. Work has focused on addressing the mismatch between the supply of skills provided by educational systems and the labour market’s demand for qualified professionals. While the Council has set many programmes into motion, key obstacles have also been identified. As millions of youths enter the global workforce annually, countries either fail to generate enough jobs or do not prepare youth with the education and training needed to meet the labour demand. Though a lack of financial resources is often the root of the problems, there are many systemic failures as well.

The disparity of access to sufficient education across the globe is one of the largest hurdles in the fight against youth unemployment. Young people need exposure and access to basic education, entrepreneurial skills, vocational training and higher levels of education to both fill the job market and create more jobs.

Educational reforms and policies are vital to ensure that countries have the right curricula to provide adequate skill sets and training for local labour demands. Jobs are not always created in the sectors in which young people are prepared to work and companies seeking young employers are not always linked to the universities and other educational institutions.  Few countries have in place a system for monitoring the availability of job seekers and the specific assets they bring to the workplace.  Many opportunities that exist in small- and medium-sized enterprises do not scale up as the enterprises lack the business skills to make the transition. Young entrepreneurs have few opportunities to get their ideas heard and the financial support to start up; few have the skill to put together an effective business plan.

Setting Three Priority Areas

This past year, the Global Agenda Council focused on a three-pronged strategy to address the unemployment crisis:

  1. Convening Stakeholders: To build awareness, alignment and commitment to collaborative action. Information was disseminated through relevant publications, dialogue and seminar series
  2. Job Creation: In response to job scarcity, one solution was the creation of the Ten Youth, a programme calling on companies to hire ten young people and training them as the next generation of the workforce
  3. Entrepreneurship Development & Supporting Innovation: By engaging in a business plan competition to select winning proposals by Global Shapers (Youth Innovation Challenge) and creating access to markets for goods and services for young entrepreneurs – YouthTrade.  By providing small grants to support new ideas from young entrepreneurs and from organizations with creative programmes for supporting youth – the Financing Innovative Capacity Development (FICAD) instrument in Africa

Convening Stakeholders: The Power of Intergenerational Dialogue

A diverse group of cross-generational leaders from the private and public sectors gathered at the World Economic Forum’s New York offices on 21 September 2011 to discuss youth unemployment.  The meeting was organized by Council Member, Jennifer Corriero, and included participants from the Global Shapers New York Hub, Young Global Leaders from various parts of the world and members of the Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment. Please see Appendix 1 for more details.

The goal was to gather information that could inform the work of the Global Agenda Council for Youth Unemployment and to foster ideas that could be agenda contributions ahead of the 2012 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. A broader intention was set to model how an intergenerational dialogue approach could effectively serve to create a valuable process of learning and understanding.

The guiding questions of the dialogue included:

  • How do we tackle rising youth unemployment on a regional and global level?
  • What is the role of business, government and civil society?
  • How can we address intergenerational inequity and skill divergence?
  • How do we foster a culture of entrepreneurship to promote job creation?

Some of the insights shared:

  • The importance of empowering individuals to create their own future, by nurturing risk and entrepreneurship
  • The power of networks also emerged as a significant factor, as did the importance of intergenerational skills sharing and guidance
  • The need to foster exchange between senior and junior employees to ensure the transfer of knowledge and skills
  • The importance of education and technology

The Council was pleased to see that the themes explored throughout the discussions on 21 September were expanded to contribute to the agenda of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos.  Not only was the topic of youth unemployment featured in such sessions as “Leadership Models across Generations” and “Overcoming the Youth Employment Challenge,” but the success of the intergenerational dialogue highlighted the importance of using this platform, proving the validity of this approach in working to effectively overcome cross-generational challenges.

The Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos welcomed new members of the Global Shapers Community to participate in the Forum alongside established leaders, thereby acknowledging the importance of collaboration and mutual understanding. The inclusion of Global Shapers marked an important step in bridging generation gaps by demonstrating how a shift in process can lead to reducing the levels of youth unemployment around the globe.

Jacqueline Bhabha developed two action-research projects, collaborations between Harvard University and local stakeholders (from the public, private and NGO sectors) to enhance adolescent agency, to empower adolescents to have a voice in their future and to increase access to secondary and tertiary education for excluded groups. On 8-9 December 2011, Jacqueline organized a large international conference at Harvard on the issue of adolescent rights and challenges, Conference on Adolescent Rights, and is editing a book, to be published by Pennsylvania University Press in its well-regarded human rights series entitled “Coming Of Age: Reconceptualizing the Challenge of Adolescent Rights”.

See all World Economic Forum session summaries on youth unemployment: 

Jobs Creation: Ten Youth

Driving job creation requires social and environmental solutions that are sustainable and adaptable to different sectors. One such solution is Ten Youth, which encourages employers to train, hire and mentor ten young people between the ages of 18 and 24.

The Ten Youth programme arose from collaboration between the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils on Emerging Multinationals and on Youth Unemployment.  The concept is intuitive but powerful: in each of the major cities where they have operations, leading and emerging multinational companies commit to hire, train and nurture 10 unemployed young people.  See Appendix 3 and also the attached Ten Youth information document.

Eligible Ten Youth candidates are first-time job seekers, who are demonstrably reliable, hard-working, adaptive and self-motivated.  Companies commit to hiring the young people as full-time employees in career-track positions, providing them with three to six months of training and at least two years of formal mentoring.

These young people are to be employed in areas where they can gain valuable work skills and build long-term careers. The goal is for these young people to continue their careers in the companies that have mentored them – the programme has set a target of 80% or more retention after two years – but even if they leave for another firm, they will leave with a marketable business competence that enhances their career prospects elsewhere.

The Ten Youth initiative is an opportunity for multinational corporations to leverage their vast capabilities and resources to meet the global challenge of youth unemployment.   The programme will help participating enterprises acquire loyal and productive young employees at a fair wage, develop a non-traditional approach to recruitment and improve their capacity to systematically mentor and train talent.

Entrepreneurship Development & Supporting Innovation: Youth Jobs Innovation Challenge Report

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Forum partnered to include the voices of young people in the discussion on how best to meet the global challenge of youth unemployment and also in the action required. See Appendix 4.

Through an essay competition on the subject of The Youth Jobs Innovation Challenge, the IFC and the Forum sought to capture the ideas and recommended solutions of young people around the world about how they and the global community can create jobs for their generation.

The Youth Jobs Innovation Challenge was consistent with the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2012 theme “Great Transformations: Shaping New Models”, which aims to bring new models, bold ideas and personal courage at this historic inflection point.

The essay competition focused on the Global Shapers,8  the Forum’s community of emerging leaders between the ages of 20 and 30, and ran from 21 December 2011 to 19 February 2012. The contestants addressed the following question in a 2,000 word essay:

“What Can I and the Global Community Do To Create Jobs For My Generation.”9

The Youth Jobs Innovation Challenge received submissions from 45 Global Shapers from over 16 countries. The winner was a Shaper from Dubai – Ms. May Habib – who recommended online and free-lance self-employment to leverage the flexibility, collaborative mindset and resourcefulness of young people.10

The best ideas from the top essays will potentially be published and used in the development of Ten Youth, Youth Trade or the country programmes in Tunisia and Cambodia. The implementation of the best Shaper ideas will require additional funding, coordination and continuity in the multistakeholder commitment demonstrated this year.

IFC will potentially use some of the ideas from the essays to inform its study on job creation ( inclusion of a young adult member on the Global Agenda Council and implementation of the best ideas from the Youth Innovation Challenge are recommended for next year’s Council.

Simple Ideas: Big Solutions

Through the various efforts of each Council Member, the goals of the Youth Unemployment Council have been addressed around the world. While initiatives vary in their progress and category, they all focus on the global youth unemployment epidemic.

One such project has been the result of efforts by Council Member Poonam Ahluwalia, global activist and president and founder of ‘Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability (YES).’  YES has set up a global action network of over 30,000 youth leaders around the world and has identified major gaps. One of its projects is Youth Trade™– designed to help build markets for products by entrepreneurs under the age of 35.

The YES approach is consultative and co-creative, and will result in job creation and renewed confidence in young people across the globe. Youth Trade™ is carried out in partnership with Conscious Capitalism Institute11. It is built on a simple yet powerful idea – creating markets for goods and services of young entrepreneurs by certifying their products as YouthTrade, and aggressively building the demand side. You can read more about YES and other partner projects in Appendix 2.

Youth and Unemployment is a major challenge in developing and developed countries alike. Globally, youth are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. The mismatch between the supply of skills provided by educational systems and the labour market’s demand for qualified people is a major issue.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment has taken an initiative to address this at a global level and the Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency (Sida)12 has helped form a multistakeholder taskforce. For more about the pilot project in Cambodia, please read Appendix 5.

The Council is also working with its partners to address the skills and jobs gap in Tunisia. Following the events of the Arab Spring, tacking youth joblessness is an urgent priority for a wide range of partners. The Council hopes it can help facilitate a pilot project in Tunisia – for more details, see Appendix 6.

Continuing the Momentum for Change

The jobs challenge has resulted in a loss of confidence in young people that can lead to political instability and social conflict. Lack of work can lead to crime and strengthen the informal economy.  The challenge is pressing, but so too, are the potential opportunities if key obstacles are recognized and managed effectively. The Council has shown that working together across sectors and generations can help overcome restrictions and lead to sustainable and effective solutions. The following issues remain crucial to tackling the problem of youth unemployment:

  • Buy-in and participation of all stakeholders, including employers, private and public education providers, civil society and not-for profit entities, government, donors and youth
  • Mobilization of adequate resources to increase the level of private education providers in the tertiary, university, vocational, work-readiness education and training space
  • Coordination among the various initiatives, donors and international financial institutions  bringing resources to the challenge
  • Timely intervention to stem the growth of the youth bulge challenge and bring down the level of youth unemployment which threatens to exacerbate political and economic realities

There is no single solution or model to address the youth unemployment challenge. The Council’s priority has been to focus on three areas of work and to design a range of long-, medium- and short-term solutions that are adaptable and sustainable. Addressing youth unemployment begins with engaging the ideas and actions of young people to develop new approaches to the design of job training, education, mentorship, entrepreneurship and talent development.

In the short term, governments must do something concrete about youth employment, in collaboration with business and civil society. In the longer term, the idea to adopt is employment creating growth, not growth creating employment.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.


Youth Unemployment Challenge 2012 

Youth Unemployment Tunisia 2012

Youth Unemployment Ten Youth Initiative 2012 

Youth Unemployment Solutions Africa 2012 

Youth Unemployment Intergenerational Dialogue 2012 

Youth Unemployment Cambodia 2012