Engaging Rural Youth in Development

By Aneta Damjanovska, UNDP

This month I’ve been spending a lot of time with young people in Chashka, a small rural municipality with some 7,600 citizens, 23 percent of whom are from ages 15 to 29.

I was going there almost every day, with municipal officials, all eager to do something to improve the lives of the citizens in this municipality. We talked a lot to young people about the main challenges they face and what they think would help to overcome them.

Not surprisingly, the highest priority for young people is employment. This is understandable, given that the youth unemployment rate in the country is 54.9 percent, well above the average rate for all age groups, which is 30.6 percent.

But it was surprising to discover that most young people do not see some of the opportunities they have at hand—such as the possibility of self-employment, which has proved highly successful for many people throughout the country.

This lack of awareness of alternative employment opportunities among young people from Chashka is partly attributable to their lack of access to information. In this municipality, there are hardly any places where young people can get together and discuss shared problems. There are only a few outdoor sport facilities, which cannot be used during winter.

Although young people have many needs and demands which require addressing by the central government or local self-government, they rarely take the initiative to submit their demands to the relevant institutions that are capable of addressing these problems.

When we asked them about the most effective ways they could try to get their needs addressed, they were hardly able to come up with any proposals.

It seems this lack of initiative is due, quite simply, to the fact the young people are not accustomed to being consulted.

But we also have to ask ourselves whether the only issue here is lack of employment opportunities, insufficient access to information and inadequate infrastructure?

In addition to these problems there is also the key problem of a lack of initiative for engagement. Unlike urban areas where many young people are active and can join networks and civil society organizations, express their needs and look for solutions, the situation in most rural areas is the opposite.

Sadly, Chashka is far from being an isolated case—the same situation can be found in almost every rural municipality in the country, and I am sure in many other countries as well. It is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

As a first step to addressing the needs of young people, UNDP is working with the Agency for Youth and Sports to support the local self-government to develop a local youth strategy that will systematically identify and prioritize the needs of young people. A true diagnosis is half the cure!

To raise young people’s awareness of employment opportunities and inspire them to take up these opportunities, young people will get to hear directly from some of the many people who have found success through the country’s self-employment programme.

To increase participation in decision-making processes, we’re supporting the establishment of a youth participatory body – to represent the needs of young people and serve as a link between young people and institutions at local and national levels.

We’re also helping to set up youth clubs where young people can meet and discuss shared issues and ideas.

To make access to information easier, we’ll use social media. And since 93 percent of the online population in the country use Facebook, with young people being the leading group, we’re creating a Facebook page for sharing information.

In some of the larger villages with young populations, useful information will be shared in specially organized presentations.

I believe that these activities will help young people from Chashka—as well as young people in many other municipalities in the country—to engage and become more active in their society, rather than seeking their future in other towns and cities or even abroad.