Qazi (pictured right) is the Founder of the Youth Center for Research, Pakistan based youth-led think tank, which engages young people in active research on developmental challenges. A former Chevening Scholar, he is also a Lecturer of Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Pakistan. 

According to UN data, globally, one in five young people are NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Three out of four of young NEETs are women. In your experience, what can governments and leaders do to tackle this issue?

There is a dire need for the governments, particularly in developing countries, to pay closer attention to generalities. The word ‘youth’ cannot be used as an all-encompassing descriptor since young people vary across socio-economic and spatial dimensions. They hail from various geographical settings; therefore, their needs and challenges need to be contextualized to remedy their situation.

This is all the more important when countries define their demography as young or having a youth ‘bulge’ which tacitly assumes that all the young people share the same attributes. In order to undertake more targeted interventions, it is essential to take nuances into consideration. 

Furthermore, countries need to undertake their broader socio-economic development planning in a more inter-connected manner which bypasses traditional ministerial divisions. For instance, employment generation is dependent on the economic health of the country and on the educational relevance to ensure eventual employability of the potential human resource. This requires holistic planning which draws upon cross-sectoral interconnections and interdependencies for instance, communication between education and industry for relevant development and utilization of human potential. 

Based on the Youth Center for Research, Pakistan’s research and findings what are some of the main challenges young people in Pakistan face and what skills needed to overcome the challenges? 

Youth Center for Research is a youth-led think tank based in Pakistan to engage young people from across the world in research-driven discussion to help them understand development challenges. Since 2019, the center has engaged people from 16 countries in thematic areas drawn from the SDGs.

In view of this research experience over the years and focusing on Pakistan in particular, the challenges facing the youth in the country are two pronged: compromised youth mainstreaming and lack of enabling environment. 

The youth in Pakistan do not have avenues to undertake political training. This majorly results from the lack of civic education coupled with ineffective local governance system which arguably provides a closest ground for people to connect with the government.  Consequently, this subdues the sense of active citizenship among young people and makes them distant from the public institutions.

Furthermore, existing political parties do not have substantial and satisfactory mechanism to engage young people in politics. For instance, most of the parties do have their respective youth wings, however, none of them engages them in drawing their party manifesto. This unfortunately makes the very instrument of democracy – the political parties, undemocratic. Their selective engagement of young people to majorly draw votes makes youth participation both limiting and manipulative. 

Similarly, the youth does not have an enabling environment to manifest their potential. With almost 25 million children out of school (before Covid19) and four in 10 children under the age of five suffering from stunting, tomorrow’s youth will be unprepared. 

Even if they manage to gain competence, there is an apparent stigma attached to the word ‘youth’ with an associated sense of immaturity. This spans across various sectors, even encompassing academia. For instance, academics apply to the Higher Education Commission for government or foreign funded projects, but the projects’ allocation to principal investigators does not solely depend on one’s competence, but also one’s seniority. Those under the age of 29 and holding a PhD with relevant credentials mostly do not stand a chance to win the bid. Following suit, the youth is also deemed irrelevant participants to voice in policy making which leads to their marginalization.

What will you pledge on this World Youth Skills day?

I believe the youth deserve a seat at the table for decision-making. However, this demands that they have a potential to assume that role. I pledge to utilize the platform of the Youth Center for Research to build a collaborative network with government agencies, corporates and academia to design opportunities for the marginalized youth which will be relevant both academically and professionally.