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.