3 Ways to Engage Youth for Positive Change in the Pacific

High school students in Nuku'alofa, Tonga.
High school students in Nuku'alofa, Tonga.

By Maria Cristina Tabing

Young people in the Pacific need to be heard to address lack of employment opportunities for them in the region.

Nearly two million young people aged 15-24 are unemployed in the Pacific. Youth unemployment rates range from 62.6% in the Republic of Marshall Islands, 46% in Solomon Islands, and 8.9% in Vanuatu.

Population growth, rising inequality between urban and rural areas, geographical remoteness, environmental damage, climate change, and exposure to natural disasters affect economic growth and income opportunities for young people in the Pacific. Pacific youth also have limited access to and unaffordable secondary and tertiary education as well as to vocational training course that could help link young people with potential employers.

To tackle these issues, young people in the Pacific need to be heard. Involving the youth to know more about them and analyze their situation on each Pacific island country can facilitate youth-focused development approaches, and address specific concerns like youth unemployment. This approach is included in the Pacific Youth Development Framework prepared in 2013 with the collaboration of various youth stakeholders.

ADB supports this youth-centered approach, and recently gathered energetic young researchers from nine Pacific countries to share experiences and learn about participatory action research on unemployment. In partnership with the ILO, ADB hosted last month a regional workshop on skills development, and the results of the participants’ contribution to the research process will be discussed later this year during the ILO-ADB Employers’ Forum. The end goal is to convey and bring forth data and analysis on youth unemployment through the lens of young people in the Pacific.

So why engage youth in the Pacific?

First, it can help break a family’s poverty cycle. Asking young people to become more involved in development can result in better educated and more sustainably employed youth, who can be a reliable source of livelihood for their families and communities. Given the limited employment opportunities in the Pacific, youth are six times less likely to get a job compared to older people, but if employed and productive, they usually give back and contribute to family and social causes.

Second, engaging youth can help curb social disorder in communities. The UNDP Pacific Center reports that political systems and programs unresponsive to the voices of youth lead them to crime and violence, as we saw in past political tensions in the Solomon Islands and incidents of violence in Papua New Guinea.

Third, youth leaders can inspire their generation to make a difference to their communities and countries. These inspirational figures include Luisa Tuilau, who advocates for fighting climate change through the arts, singing, dancing and poetry with her Youngsolwara group in Fiji, or Seini Fisi’ihoi, who has been actively representing women on mentoring and leadership forums as a member of Transparency International Papua New Guinea. Mary Siro promotes the rights of women and children, and encourages them to engage in sports to help improve their health and wellbeing through the female sports program Wan Smolbag in Vanuatu. All of them have been distinguished with the Young Leaders Award for their exceptional use of leadership skills to transform lives in their communities.

ADB supports the Youth Initiative: Empowering Young Partners for Development through partnerships with civil society organizations like Plan International and AIESEC to help youth voice their views and experiences on development concerns, and bring positive changes to poor countries such as those in the Pacific.

The future of young people in the region depend largely on the effectiveness of assistance they can get. In the Pacific, improving access to education and providing opportunities to decent work to two million youth can help boost economies and address social unrest.