Youth as a solution not as problem: Education without engagement has no value

Social entrepreneurship solution of all ills of society

Ali Raza Khan

It is first time in the history of Pakistan that youth has been recognized as a priority. If there is any major accomplishment of the recent elections in Pakistan it has been the identification of youth as a top priority. The youth language and discussions have caught on. If used strategically this positive language could foster in designing and implementing nationwide campaign for youth development. The phrase “youth development” is now getting ingrained in the Pakistan’s politics lexicon. What is needed is not to make youth development a buzz word but a powerful idea to transform the country and move beyond the status quo. Now, every political party is drifting into a ‘what should be’ policy stance towards its youth. Increased interest in youth is sensible and important. The awareness that our youth needs more and better attention and support is growing. There are many reasons behind the added focus on youth. The major reason is the sheer number and size of the youth population in Pakistan. Unfortunately this focus has not resulted in designing and implementing new and innovative youth-focused programs. Most of the interventions launched or in the process of launching can be easily categorized into ‘youth problem reduction polices and programs’. The most publicized statements and discussions about youth aimed at what should be done for them to have a smooth transition towards adulthood.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan announced a series of youth development schemes to help young people to become self-reliant. These programs are very critical for the development and growth of troubled (unemployed, poor, under-served and marginalized) youth. My only concern with all these programs, discussions and debates about young people is that they all tend to focus on addressing the deficits or problems of youth. I believe we must go beyond quick fixes or crisis response programs. We must bring a paradigm shift from treating youth as a problem to treating youth as a solution to all the problems of Pakistan. The important question is not what we can do for the youth of Pakistan. It should be what youth can do for Pakistan. There must be a policy or program for all youth. If we take a look at what has been done in the field of youth development by the public and private sectors since the inception of Pakistan. The major Youth Development Approaches implemented in Pakistan so far are:

I. Problem Reduction Approach II. Preparation Approach, 2 Problem Reduction Approach sees youth as a population to be fixed. It aims at addressing the disturbances in the lives of young people. It aims at fixing whatever youth problem has arisen. The major problem behaviors addressed or are being addressed: joblessness, delinquency, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, school failure, etc. Addressing youth problems are very important but focusing only on problems of youth or problematic youth is very limiting. There are millions of young people in Pakistan who are not caught in any problem. This policy does not say anything how to benefit from the problem-free young people.

Preparation Approach aims at providing education and skills to youth. It goes beyond addressing youth problems. This approach believes that academic competency or skills are enough for youth to succeed in life. Education and skills play a pivotal role in the lives of young people but we have seen that millions of young people that are coming out of educational institutions and technical colleges are facing serious challenges to find a place in the society. What is missing in the educational and technical institutions of

Pakistan? The missing link is that it focuses heavily on preparing youth but not providing opportunities to youth to contribute. We have seen that both the approaches have not delivered the desired results in Pakistan. Where should we go from here now? Is there any approach which can facilitate all young people of Pakistan and not just those who are involved in problem behaviors or not prepared (educated and skilled).

The present situation demands a new idea and approach. This new approach can be “Youth Engagement Approach”.

Youth Engagement Approach-The Missing Link, The Youth Engagement Approach is rooted in a commitment to enable all young people to contribute. Youth Engagement is an idea whose time has come in Pakistan. Youth Engagement is an intensive engagement of young people in an organized and structured activity to serve others. Youth Engagement is a win-win approach for everyone. It helps the society with more workers at less expense. It improves the character of young people and helps them to grow in profound ways. The most striking feature of the Youth Engagement Approach is its ability to mobilize young people to carry out local missions left without funding.

Youth Engagement is an exciting idea. It helps policy makers to move beyond “problem fixation’ mentality and focus on young people’s current strength and potential to contribute in the rebuilding process of Pakistan. The general perception that education is enough, skill is enough and protection from bad influence is enough. I believe all these things are not enough. The results we are getting every day in Pakistan are clearly demonstrating that they are not enough.

Time is ripe for a new idea which provides an alternative vision of what is desirable and possible- a vision which truly reflects what is missing and needed. It is time to broaden responses and options. We must give every young person a chance to serve the society. We must see every young person as a resource to build a prosperous Pakistan. We must go beyond quick fixes or crisis response programs. We must see youth as change makers/agents. We must focus on All Youth.

Youth Engagement Approach has been applied by several countries of the world successfully. The AmeriCorps and Civil Conservation Corps Programs of USA, the People’s Liberation Army of China, the Zivilidienst in Germany, Sherut Leumi in Israel and the Katimavik Program of Canada are living examples of Youth Engagement Programs.

Financial Return on Youth Engagement Approach

Let’s assume that we plan to employ Youth Engagement Approach in the country by engaging only 1% of the total population of Pakistan that are in between the ages of 15-29 in service to others for a period of one year. It means that 1.9 million young people of the total population, that is 190 million will be engaged in service to others. If these 1.9 million young people give only 20 hours per week, we would have 380 million hours available for service on monthly basis. If we multiply these hours on one year that is 52 weeks, we would have almost two billion (1976 million) hours available to address a serious society need. If we count the minimum approximate amount which will be saved by applying Youth Engaging Approach in meeting an important societal need, it will be 114 billion Rupees per annum. I have used the half of the minimum salary range in Pakistan that is Rs. 5,000 to find out the amount to be saved. I believe there is no

Cricket Analogy. Since you are a great admirer of cricket, I would like to illustrate the significance of Youth Engagement Approach with a cricket analogy. As in our national team, there are eleven players that play on ground. If out of eleven, eight players are not allowed to contribute what would be the chances of Pakistan winning against any team in the world. I believe we would have almost nil chance to win against any cricket team in the world. Exactly, this is what is happening with our country. Pakistan is facing unprecedented challenges in all the areas due to the fact that almost 70% of the total population which is under the age of 29 either is not in a position to contribute or not allowed to contribute. Even worse young people in between the ages of 15-29 are being engaged by terrorists groups against us. If we really want to win any war against terrorism, illiteracy, poverty, poor health, etc. we must see Youth Engagement Approach as our top priority. Other policy at the moment in Pakistan which can save this much money per annum. We must see the massive youth population as an economic resource to use in meeting important unmet service needs of the society.


Social Return on Youth Engagement Approach


Let’s assume that Youth Engagement is made mandatory in the education system of Pakistan. We will be able to mobilize a large number of people for service to the nation. A graduation degree may require the successful completion of 1040 hours of service to others. The service may include such activities as health care (against any serious epidemic like dengue), literacy education, assistance to the disabled, disaster relief, conservation of natural resources, rehabilitation, women empowerment and infrastructure development. Let’s assume that we plan to employ Youth Engagement Approach in the educational system of Pakistan for wiping out illiteracy from Pakistan. Again, we tend to engage only 1% of the total population that are in between the ages of 15-29 and enrolled in any public and private education institution of Pakistan for a period of one year. It means that 1.9 million students will be engaged to educate the uneducated ones. If one student is assigned to teach at-least 50 people in a period of one year, we will be able to achieve 100% literacy rate in Pakistan. Note that only 1% of the population can help us as part of their education to achieve 100% literacy rate in Pakistan.

This year public education has received a very good portion of federal and provincial budgets. Does this money support development for all youth? It does for the youth who are lucky enough to attend schools.

We have seen when positive opportunities for engagement are not found by young people in their environment, young people will get engaged in less healthy and self-destructive activities. Young people will always make their mark one way or another.

If we think that there is no need of engaging the youth of Pakistan in service to others than we must see the number of youth already involved by the terrorist groups in disservice to Pakistan. The unprecedented increase in youth-led terrorism incidents is a wake-up call for us. No matter how many promising policies and programs the current federal government or provincial governments develop if young people are no included in the execution of those programs in an organized and structured manner, they would suffer.

Key Questions about Youth Engagement

1. What youth engagement approaches exist in the field?

2. What should be the Youth Engagement Policy characteristics?

3. How can be Youth Engagement financed and sustained?

4. What are the key benefits of Youth Engagement to youth and the society?

Youth Engagement Approaches

1. Service Learning is an approach to engage students in solving social and community problems as a part of their academic studies.

2. Youth Service is an approach to engage youth in colleges and universities in providing service that will benefit their communities.

3. Youth Social Entrepreneurship is an approach for engaging both in-school and out-of-school youth

(uneducated, educated, skilled or unskilled) in designing and implementing innovative and sustainable social change projects.

4. Youth Philanthropy is an approach to engage well-to-do and educated youth to contribute to community development.

5. Youth Media is an exciting way to encourage young people to create their own media. Examples of youth engagement in media include youth highlighting, orienting, and running awareness campaigns by using creative options such as audio, photography, digital arts, etc.


Youth Engagement Policy Characteristics

The primary purpose of the social policy is not to restrict action but to promote action. I personally believe that Youth Engagement Approach will help the government to restore opportunity for youth action.

1. Compulsory Service: Youth Engagement can be compulsory service for those studying in educational institutions of Pakistan. It may be voluntary for the out-of-school youth.

2. Universal Access: It should be open to all young people in between the ages of 15-29. It should not be targeted to a specific group. It should not engage only elite or disadvantaged youth. It should engage all young people.

3. Service Duration: It should be at-least for a period of one year. Each young person should spend at-least 1040 hours of service to others. 20 hours per week. A total of 52 hours in a year.

4. Decentralization and Experimentation: Educational and technical and vocational institutions provide a readymade social and physical infrastructure and framework to launch and implement Youth Engagement Approach. They may be given free hand to develop a process of youth engagement, monitoring and evaluation of the activities/projects of youth and reward (pubic recognition or credits).

Financing and Sustainability Strategies

Youth Engagement Approach can apply the following financing and sustaining strategies:


I. Youth engagement should be integrated into the curriculum of the educational and technical institutions. Every child and young person should be given an opportunity to use classroom learning into real life situations. Youth engagement should be made mandatory for every youth as part of their study requirement.

II. Existing youth internship programs should be replaced with youth engagement programs. Under internship programs, young people are provided opportunities to get employment experience. It would be better if we encourage and provide resources (internship stipend) to young people to establish a community-based social enterprise.

III. Integrating youth engagement into existing public entities at the national, provincial and local levels. It will provide ready-made framework to use youth engagement as a strategy for nation building.

IV. Youth engagement should be employed as a cost-effective strategy by the leading ministries and departments such as women, education, health, environment, skill development, etc. of Pakistan for meeting their developmental goals.

Building Partnerships

I. Youth engagement programs should be developed and delivered through public and private partnerships.

II. Creating a youth engagement foundation devoted to youth engagement with a venture capital fund gathered from major foundations, organizations, corporations and philanthropists.

III. Establishing linkages with regional and international organizations working for the promotion of youth engagement.

Developing New Revenue Streams:

I. Allocating five percent of the national and provincial budgets to youth engagement.

II. Setting-up a youth engagement school to provide extensive and residential trainings to youth, civil society organizations, youth-serving organizations, etc.

III. Enlisting support of media and celebrities for the promotion of the youth engagement

IV. A national body on youth engagement should be formulated with the objectives of promoting, documenting and coordinating youth engagement activities at all levels of the country.

Prime Minister, there is a strong need to be agreed upon of a phrase for Youth Engagement Approach that can be effectively used for public communication. I believe it is a good time to launch a “Youth as a Solution” movement in Pakistan to apply Youth Engagement Approach. Youth Engagement Approach must be considered as one of the areas of public investments. It should be considered a public responsibility. Youth Engagement infrastructures are in place from the community to the federal level.

Every day we face the consequences of not engaging youth. We know that resources will never be enough to provide jobs to youth. The impact of internships and other youth skills development programs must be measured for long-term gains rather than immediate gains like job placement or minimal increase in earnings. We cannot provide jobs to all young people of Pakistan. We can provide job experience to all young people by engaging them in service to others.

We must give every young person a chance to serve the society rather than to be served.

We must treat every young person a resource now (not in future) to build a prosperous Pakistan.

The number, costs and consequences are far greater for not engaging youth than to engage youth.

Youth engagement is ‘as good a place to invest as motorways and other infrastructure development in


I am writing this letter with the hope that the youth development field and discussions will move beyond the current state of ‘surgical interventions’.

Prime Minister, we have a choice: we can continue to stagnate or we begin to innovate.

Ali Raza Khan

CEO of YES Network Pakistan


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