Young people are key drivers of positive change, and essential partners to advance sustainable and inclusive development.
There are over 1.8 billion young people in the world today, 90% of whom live in developing countries. In Africa alone, three quarters of the population is below 35, and 12 to 15 million jobs are needed annually to absorb youth entering the labour market.
With a growing global youth population, building meaningful partnerships with young people is fundamental to build stronger, more legitimate, inclusive, peaceful and democratic societies, where human rights and the rule of law are respected. This is clearly recognised in the Council Conclusions on Youth in External Action, as well as in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024.
Our work for and with youth is guided by the European Consensus on Development, which recognises youth as a key driver of sustainable development and underlines our commitment to taking a human rights-based approach. A comprehensive framework for our actions for and with youth will be finalised in 2022.
Our approach to working for and with youth is three-pronged:
Policy: Setting a strong policy framework for youth in EU external action, providing a basis for a comprehensive and coherent approach to working for and with youth.
Participation: Engaging with young women and men in shaping and implementing EU external actions, throughout the entire cycle, ensuring that the actions and policies are relevant for youth, address their needs, and build on their ideas.
Empowerment: Empowering youth politically, economically and socially, strengthening their capacities to drive sustainable development in their communities, countries and at the global level.
Youth participation and empowerment
Nearly all policy decisions have an impact on youth, and youth participation is central to the EU’s values and policies.
However, despite the clear benefits of engaging with children and youth, they are often excluded from political, economic and social decision-making processes on issues that affect them and their future. Girls and young women, and young people with disabilities, are particularly disadvantaged, further exacerbating inequalities.
Through our international partnerships, we aim to put youth at the centre of everything we do; not only working for youth, but with youth, empowering and involving them in shaping the world in which they want to live.
A network of youth focal points in EU Delegations worldwide play an important role in ensuring a coherent and coordinated approach to youth engagement in our partner countries, integrating youth perspectives into EU external action.
Investing in youth
Meaningfully engaging with and empowering young people also means investing in them, ensuring they are equipped with the education and skills to succeed so that they can equally enjoy their rights.
Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, has made engaging with and investing in young people one of the top priorities for her mandate. To this end, she has appointed two Special Advisers, Ms Bitania Lulu Berhanu as Special Adviser on Youth, and Dr. Ritva Reinikka as Special Adviser on Education. She has also committed to dedicate at least 10% of funding for regions under her responsibility to education.
Youth Sounding Board
The EU International Partnerships Youth Sounding Board aims to create a real, fundamental, long-lasting change in how the EU engages with young people in its development cooperation. Composed of 25 individuals from around the world and selected via an open application process, the Youth Sounding Board is a space for young people to have an influence on EU external action, ensuring it is more participatory, relevant and effective for young people in EU partner countries.
A number of EU Delegations will also establish national Youth Sounding Boards, adapted to local country contexts, encouraging the inclusion of vulnerable and marginalised youth, including those from rural areas.
Youth programmes and initiatives
The EU supports partner countries to review and design policies to promote young people’s well-being and rights and facilitate their inclusion in social, civic and economic life.
Through our initiatives, we support youth engagement and participation in four key ways:
- engaging directly with youth in EU and partner countries to help shape EU external action, for example through platforms such as U-Report and the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub
- increasing youth participation and empowerment in partner countries, for example La Voix de Jeunes du Sahel
- engaging European youth in addressing global challenges through development education and awareness raising actions (the DEAR programme)
- connecting youth organisations and networks within and outside the EU, for example Foro SICA Joven