Taking young people seriously is a matter of giving them a voice and actually listening. By Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein and Norec Director General Jan Olav Baarøy.

Sixty percent of Africa’s population is younger than 25, and on a global basis this age group accounts for 30 percent of the population. Every year ten million people prepare to enter the job market, but only three out of every ten succeed in getting a job. That leaves seven million young people – with the sole responsibility for making a living and a future for themselves.

2021 marks 20 years since Norec (the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation) started work on mutual exchange. Over these 20 years we have concentrated our focus on young people below the age of 35. Why is that so important?

In large areas of the world, young people are excluded from working life and from democratic processes. They are rarely given a voice in national decision-making processes, and they remain at the back of the queue in the labour market. Paradoxically, they are better educated than ever before, while at the same time topping statistics in unemployment and under-representation. The voices of young people are easily drowned out in the noise generated by colleagues with a wealth of experience.

Every year, about 700 young people go on exchange organised by Norec, to Colombia, Malawi, Vietnam or to 20 other countries. They are young professionals and they travel in order to work, influence and learn. They are given responsibility, contribute to decision-making processes and are given space to exert an influence. In other words: they will be seen, heard and given an opportunity to contribute at the same level as others in the organisation in which they work. A lot of them find that the exchange gives them a career boost. At Norec we are enthusiastic about creating young role models who can see solutions, think in new ways and use the knowledge they acquire to develop and improve their local societies.

Like Kancha (27) from Nepal. He used the knowledge he acquired from his exchange placement in India to teach migrants who left the big cities during the pandemic to grow and sell their own food. This has allowed them to avoid sinking into extreme poverty.

A young voice who achieves great things and takes responsibility for his own future

A lot of the young people in Norec’s partner countries will have to create their own workplaces. Their exchanges give them important skills for creating these workplaces when they return to their home countries.

Just as important as the realisation that young people of the world are currently a vulnerable group, is to recognise them as a resource.

In Kenya, Youth Alive Kenya works to get young people into popularly elected bodies. With their knowledge of democratic processes, they can ensure that young people are listened to in matters that affect their future. In Uganda, the tech company Laboremus provides young people with practical programming experience, because the teaching provided in Uganda is primarily theoretical. This practical experience closes the gap between theoretical knowledge and the skills required by the labour market. In Malawi, the organisation Youth Code in collaboration with Flora upper secondary school has given 800 young people training in professional subjects and entrepreneurship, which in turn has resulted in the solar power company Kumudzi Kuwale. The company provides 85,000 people with electricity and it has a workforce of 185 employees.

Real knowledge and concrete skills that help more people get into jobs

The inclusion of young people requires effort on the part of the private and public sectors and civil society. Once the pandemic is finally over, a greater effort than ever before will be required. The alternative is a generation ridden with dissatisfaction and social unrest, which might then resort to other means to obtain the power to influence.

20 years of exchange means 20 years of experience. 10,000 participants have shown us that partnership, equality and reciprocity are decisive for results in modern development efforts. For Norec, young people will always be both a target group and a resource. Because young voices deserve to be heard.