Is Youth Inclusion In The Region Underrated?

Yesterday I got to attend a small meeting for the Arab Sustainability Leadership Group, which was formed by HM Queen Rania for the purpose of creating sustainable solutions for the region. The session was generally about the private sector’s role in bridging the gaps that “the system” has produced, i.e. corporate social responsibility. The idea was to bring the public and private sector as well as civil society all together.

I find such meetings fascinating because the concentration is always on youth. It’s always about what can be done today to help the next generation. And that’s wonderful, I’m sure. I give this specific group credit for attempting to bring in these three entities together, which is a rare act in the region. However, there is always one missing cog in the machine, which I would think is arguably the most important one: youth.

Whether it’s this specific meeting or those hosted by the World Economic Forum and the various other entities that come and go in this region, the result is a large group of fairly older people discussing youth issues. It’s the same methodology that think tanks employ when they “research” youth issues. You’ll read statements in their reports such as “young people in the region seem to think” or “believe” or “feel” or what have you.

During this specific meeting the Queen said something she has said once or twice before:

“With 60 per cent of our population under the age of 30 and one out of every four unemployed, we have to create five million jobs per year just to prevent a rise in unemployment.”

If this doesn’t place emphasis on the perilous journey that awaits this region, then I don’t know what does. But with such frightening statistics at the center of these discussions, shouldn’t at least an equal fourth of that audience be represented by young people?

This is always the first thought that comes to me upon entering such rooms; I look around to see how many people are around my age. Sometimes you’ll catch about three or four, and they’ll look like the token youth brought in for the sake of news reports that say they were included. Some of those times I feel like the token youth representative. But I should also note that a few years back, young Jordanians could hardly even be seen at such meetings or events, and the move for greater inclusion has actually come within the offices of government officials and (predominantly) royalty such as the Queen, who are employing a younger and more energetic staff that, I have to admit, is a bit more in touch with youth issues than their predecessors.

I should also note that this commentary is not about this specific meeting but the general atmosphere that has been replicated in similar meetings held in the region. I’ve been to well over a dozen of very similar meetings.

It is simply a strange occurrence to me that people over the age of 50 discuss how to handle the futures of people under the age of 25, especially without the inclusion of the latter. And I mean active inclusion, not mere representation, but actual involvement. Actual recognition that they are the fourth cog in the machine. That they are just as vital to the discussion as government officials, business people, and civil activists. One fourth of the audience should be of a specific age.

This region, more than others, seems to suffer from that complex that older people know best, and what I’ve discovered is that with all their wisdom and years of experience, they seem to know next to nothing when it comes to youth issues. They make assumptions. They make those assumptions sound as educated and thoroughly researched as possible. Yet, they remain assumptions. And any one under a certain age can pick up on these falsehoods in a matter of minutes. Moreover, there is a strong tendency to move away from the main issue at hand and delve into topics that affect them personally. Be they business people or government officials or activists. The discussion will always turn towards them and their troubles. Even sadder is the general belief that if they solve their problems, then by default, they are solving “our” problems.

The reason I’m writing this now is actually based on a discussion I had with a friend a few days ago regarding the same topic. His argument was that perhaps organizers or organizations have trouble finding “substantial” youth who have “substantial” things to say, and can actually be taken seriously by a much older audience that has a tendency to placate their existance and shower them with patronizing remarks. But in my mind, in any population, there are always substantial individuals who can articulate a point of view. And it’s just as much trouble trying to find substantial people in the business community here, to say nothing of government and civil society. In those three categories I can list about a maximum of five people who I could describe as “substantial”. So I guess when it comes to youth, it’s just to much trouble to conduct a search.

And I apologize for this long rant but it comes from genuine frustration with the status quo.

In any case, I’m positive there will be more and more of such meetings and sessions held by a wide variety of organizations throughout the region in the years to come. Everyone will get a clever invitation to a fancy hotel and talk about how the next generation is in trouble unless something is done today. And then everyone goes home and forgets.

It’s everyone this side of 30 that’s left standing in the dust.

Out of the discussion. Out of the equation. Out of the solution.


  • youth initiatives in Jordan and most of the arab world are not meaningful. i have attended many of these in the past few years. and between the carefully selected youth (often pro regime) and the scripted speeches and statements there is really no actual development or participation. just cheap propaganda to attract more funding from foreign sponsor who only care to see signs of “development” on two fronts: normalization with israel’s apartheid and sexual freedoms. why do you think the arab world is dropping rapidly on the development scale. even the once-repressive former Soviet republics and former eastern bloc countries had real development. so when repression was lifted after the fall of communism, we discovered how advanced most of those societies were. many today are leading the world inR&D, education, technology, arts, etc. this is not a great time to be an arab. you can thank you local arab despots and their friendly entourages for the Grand Fuckups.

  • It not the issue about substantial candidates or the issue of the lack of representation of the youth. the Youth are actually congregating in their own little cults (i use that since in general they are fearful of congregating) giving that fact if they want to include the youth they would have to recognize that there is something that is inhibiting social congregation and resolve that to be able to discuss such issues with a genuine heart.
    In reality, that’s not of interest since the ruder can only be controlled by so many people and the youth isn’t welcome because frankly speaking the youth became the other. They are the immoral, nontraditional, lacking attachment to reality, good for nothing tards that walk our streets and unless that view of our selves as youth is challenged by us it will never be shaken out their heads and it will be to everyone detriment.
    So before engaging the youth they need to acknowledge certain realities about them otherwise it will be the same futile exercise of building castles in the sky

  • True and sad Nas. But fixable.

    I’ve been involved in a slew of development sessions discussing media related content targeting youth. I walk into the room, get the spiel of how it’s important to address young people and their issues. I ask, who’s going to do this? They say, here we are doing that. I look around the room and ask, what age group did you say the target audience is? They say under 30. I look around and say, we have a problem, there’s no one under the age of 30 in the room, this will not work, don’t bother. I walk out (dodging the ashtrays flying in the air right at me).

    It’s about programmers and curators. All these events and initiatives require someone to breakdown the goals and fill in a timetable with topics and people. This is one of the most difficult, complicated and time consuming tasks to do. It also requires a proper curator – someone who truly understands outreach and placement and programming. Unfortunately, most of the time the events around here get their program drafted by the party/parties involved by merely listing topics rather than programming, and just fill people in seats and do event management. They are confused about the protocol of the event vs the actual program. When that happens, the whole thing ends up taking place for all the wrong reasons. A waste and a disappointment. But a press release is issued, and that makes them feel good. And once that happens, nothing else usually does.

    IMHO, patrons should hold the orgs accountable for programming before they confirm their patronage and participation. Get people to do these things for the right reasons. And only if they get it right with proof (full details of the program, names, numbers, etc), should they say OK to putting their name and showing up. Otherwise it’s futile.

    Also, it’s time for young Jordanians to hold their own unconference. Do it your way. Decide on your topics of priority. Program in the young energy that matters. Choose a venue that you connect with. Design the space in sync with reality and how people truly engage in dialog and with each other. Tilt the scale and get the 50 and over age group to be the minority in the room. You run the show.

    Maybe 2009 should be the year of Jordanian youth, and start off with The Black Iris Unconference….

  • I agree with a lot of what Sami wrote and also with Nadine’s recommendation to stop waiting for the over 50s to do the thinking and doing for you and take it on yourselves.

    And this is probably politically incorrect to say, but it seems to me the supposed interest in youth from the older folks is really self interest. They see this huge demographic bulge following them–one that is far larger and far more powerful than their own demographic group–and they are a little afraid of what could happen to them if they don’t pander to you now and make you feel as though they actually care what you think and what happens to you. But the real motive is for them to stay in power. Their supposed interest is, for the most part, just another form of cooptation.

  • How can youth take part in these forums? I want to go to the next one. Do i have to join a center, or how do they even advertise that these conferences are happening?

    Seriously, i’m completely curious as I’d love to attend the next one. I think people need to be encouraged to participate.

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