How Youth Can Lead Development Through Tech

Young volunteers conducting safety audits in Manila.
Young volunteers conducting safety audits in Manila.

By Lee Lambert, Shruti Mehta

Mobilizing youth to generate data for social good can create the momentum for change.

Who designed your latest mobile phone app? Probably a bunch of 20-somethings. Apps, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other digital advancements are designed by young people mostly for young people. Imagine if we could channel their youthful energy and ingenuity to produce useful development outcomes.

It can happen. At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, young delegates used virtual reality to design spaces for displaced young people, and built a mobile app for fundraising. But the potential is tremendous for youth to use such technologies for much greater development impact.

Young people are nearly twice as networked than the global population as a whole. In most of the world’s least developed countries, they are nearly three times more likely to be using the internet than the rest of general public. Information and communications technology (ICT) has helped youth to mobilize, collaborate, socialize, and have a voice.

Asia and the Pacific, home to 60% of the world’s youth, should lead the world in using technology to make a difference in developing countries.

One key area where ICT can make a difference is on social accountability, by putting information from the citizen's perspective directly into the hands of the government officials who have the capacity to make change happen. Its potential was highlighted during a recent pilot initiative by ADB using Safetipin. This map-based mobile application collects safety- and transport-related information from audits conducted by users to generate safety scores that can then be used to improve the security of cities for pedestrians.

Is Manila safe for pedestrians?

The Youth for Asia team from ADB’s NGO and Civil Society Center collected 1,946 audits over 3 months in Manila, the Philippines’ capital city. The pilot mobilized 144 young people on the ground and raised awareness among over 400 youth on issues like pedestrian safety. Awareness was raised primarily among Filipino university students through capacity building workshops, but the team also reached out to youth across the ASEAN region through events.

The broader incentive was to explore ways in which youth can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal No. 11 on safe cities for all.

The data provides us with an analysis of how people feel about their safety in Manila across various parameters. For instance, at 25% of the locations surveyed there was poor lighting, and 39% lacked access to transport within 400 meters. Half of the locations did not have any security, 21% had either no or substandard foot paths, and 45% had low visibility. The overall feeling of safety was rated as average, with a score of 3.2 out of 5. Further data analysis can provide urban planners with feedback on what infrastructure upgrades are most needed.

Audit parameter analysis based on Safetipin data.

An interesting feature of the pilot study is that the team conducted intensive capacity building sessions prior to the audit walks. We ran training sessions at local universities to explain how to use Safetipin and its parameters, as well as to highlight the value of ICT-based social accountability tools. This exercise greatly improved the quality of the data. Students made good use of the comment box in the application to provide qualitative information on the areas they were auditing, and did not limit themselves to only rating the different predefined parameters.

Youth should be partners in development

A few takeaways from our experience are:

  • Youth genuinely care and will go that extra mile to contribute to a cause that affects society at large. Even during heavy downpours in Manila, the youth were spirited and continued to audit the roads.
  • Youth have the ability to take risk and deal with uncertainty with the hope that this will lead to larger good. Auditors from the Girl Scouts of the Philippines overcame parental apprehension and secured consent to join the team to conduct audits.
  • Youth have a certain kind of resilience and optimism that creates an atmosphere conducive to positive change. There were some technical glitches and connection problems, but participants did not give up and agreed to repeat the exercise when the data was not stored properly the first time.

We have the data and numbers that prove why youth should be partners in development. By using Safetipin, we were able to mobilize youth to gather information needed to improve the quality of life in their city.

The next question is: how can we scale up these small stand-alone initiatives and integrate them into larger projects both within and outside ADB?

Mobilizing youth to generate data for social good can create the momentum for change. It’s just a matter of thinking big and putting together smart plans, so youth aren’t just beneficiaries of development – we can actually make it happen.