SDG Roundtable: Youth Employment

Equipping Young Peacemakers connects MENA youth with Ambassador Rooseboom to talk about jobs and sustainable economies amidst COVID-19

“Equipping Youth Peacemakers: Using Evidence to Promote the SDGs” is a people-to-people diplomacy initiative providing young leaders with training to create a robust network of collaborating changemakers. Youth from the Netherlands, Middle East, and North Africa are creating an online community through a series of digital workshops and virtual discussions.

photograph of Tijmen Rooseboom

On 18 February, Tijmen Rooseboom – the Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – hosted a conversation with the young peacemakers about “Getting the Job Done: Youth Employment amidst Instability”. The discussion highlighted the Netherlands’ Youth at Heart strategy, successful initiatives by MENA youth groups, and existing challenges for job opportunities, gender equity, and sustainable peace in the region.

After Ambassador Rooseboom’s opening remarks, which showcased the Virtual Forum and a youth-led report on “Building better education and work for young people in a post-pandemic world”, three of the EYP Changemakers highlighted sustainable job-creating projects in MENA. Ghassan Halawa shared the work of PARACHUTE16, a collaborative platform connecting Arab entrepreneurs and changemakers. Meemz, a youth-led organisation establishing an arts-based creative economy in Yemen, was presented by Shaima Bin Othman. Sadeer Issa then shared the model of MyBeeBee, providing home-based employment for refugee women creating children’s toys for sale in ethical international markets. (Read more about these initiatives as part of the EYP blog series!)

After the presentations, EYP participants examined questions about the Netherlands’ work in promoting youth employment in the region; the role of young people in contributing to sustainable economies; and inequalities around gender, youth, and opportunity in today’s world. 

photograph of Walaa Ahmed

by Walaa M Ahmed:

I am the Founder and Director of Better World Organization for Community Development, an independent humanitarian non-profit in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The organisation works to empower and protect women and youth; to improve people’s psychosocial and economic situation; and to advocate for social cohesion and peace.

During the Roundtable Discussion, I asked about how the Dutch government was supporting youth through policies (the macro level), institutional support and policy implementation (the meso level), and direct partnership with communities (the micro level).

I asked this question because I believe we as young leaders need to be aware of how different governments are supporting youth, so we can coordinate in a better way and use the resources available to create positive change of our communities. During our conversation, the Ambassador gave a comprehensive answer how the Dutch government is supporting sustainable development at each of the three levels. He included very good examples to share how the Netherlands works. Though I believe Dutch support is more visible and impactful in some countries than others, the “Youth at Heart” strategy is a very important initiative, and I believe it will help expand the partnership between the Netherlands and youth throughout the MENA region.

I also asked about financial support for youth-led initiatives. I have worked closely on the Youth, Peace, and Security agenda, participating in the UNAOC Fellowship on Fostering Youth Resilience on Promoting Peace and Preventing Violent Extremism. One of the recommendations of the Progress Study Report of UNSCR 2250 is to increase support, but many youth groups find it difficult to access funding due to administrative hurdles and regulatory barriers. Even despite the commitment made by governments and goodwill from the donor community, there remains a huge implementation gap. My team at Better World has experienced this directly ourselves: we are all young, motivated people committed to our mission and vision, but we have yet to receive adequate funding when competing against established INGOs for donors who expect years’ worth of financial audits. We need systems in place to build capacity and help us meet donor requirements. I was thus interested to learn about how the Dutch government is responding to the UNSCR 2250 report recommendation.

In answer to my second question, Ambassador Rooseboom affirmed the concerns we youth have and confirmed his acknowledgement that donors are not fully responding to this need. He shared that the Dutch government is aware of the issue and is trying to find ways to increase their support for youth-led initiatives. Orange Corners is one of the programmes trying to help.

photograph of Mohammed Zaid

by Mohammed Zaid:

I am a twenty-year-old changemaker from Libya who serves as Goodwill Ambassador for the European Union in Libya. I lead a robotics program operating nationwide. I asked this of Ambassador Rooseboom: “Many young changemakers are passionate about youth employment. We put a lot of effort into capacity-building and educational empowerment for young people in our communities. But how can we respond to the reality that, many times, there just aren’t enough jobs?! What can activists do to support young people, when the biggest barrier isn’t a mismatch between skills and opportunities, but a more widespread economic problem?”

I believe this question is very crucial because it directly addresses the reality we are living in. Since the announcement of the Sustainable Development Agenda, many empowerment and employment programs have been organised globally. However, big changes haven’t yet happened. A gap remains between the number of skilled youth and the jobs offered. 

This question launched a robust discussion between myself, the Ambassador, and my EYP colleagues. We talked about changing cultures of work, and creative ways to approach the job market. We acknowledged the need for more training – for youth in terms of job skills, yes, but also for communities and employers around career expectations and new ways to work. As our conversation unfolded, very important issues were raised about how COVID-19 is exacerbating the gender gap in employment and equity. I thank my fellow changemakers for raising these issues, and I applaud our work to continue improving ourselves and our communities.

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