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14 Aug 2023

Young people demand skills and learning for future employment, responding to a fragile world of high living costs, pandemic disruptions, climate crisis and rising conflicts

On International Youth Day 2023, the world’s largest survey of young people reports that 40% of more than 700,000 respondents identify education, skills and employment as pathways to future security. The project collects the voices of 1 million+ young people, informing a global “Agenda for Action for Adolescents”, launching at a global forum for adolescents in October 2023.

“What Young People Want”, a massive survey project undertaken by PMNCH – a global alliance for the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents, hosted by the World Health Organization – today reports interim results through a public dashboard launched on the eve of UN International Youth Day 2023 on 12 August.

The survey asks young people, aged 10-24 to express, in their own words, what they want most for their own well-being, giving voice to many of those who have simply never been asked, including in fragile and low-resource settings.

Among 713,273 respondents between ages 10-24, the top interest expressed by young people (40.5%) is for learning, competency, education, skills and employability (40.5%), reflecting a strong interest in job stability, financial and material security and independence. This result was reflected across all age groups, particularly among those aged 15-19 (47.2%) and among adolescent girls (49.2%), who frequently cited the need for “learning opportunities” and “quality education”.

In 2022, in low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures due to COVID-19 left up to 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text – up from 53 per cent pre-pandemic. In parallel, rising conflicts around the world have left many young people unable to engage in the job market, including as a result of low levels of education, physical and psychological conditions, and scarcity of educational and vocational training. Climate change too presents a looming challenge to economic well-being, with an estimated 60% of young people around the world currently lacking necessary skills to support the “green transition”.

PMNCH aims to obtain responses from a total of at least 1 million young people by October 2023, when it will convene the Global Forum for Adolescents – a virtual gathering and the world’s largest event to date focused on adolescent well-being, powering the 1.8 Young People for Change campaign, launched in October 2022.

Real-time needs from an overlooked population

The survey calls on young people to answer a simple yet powerful question: “To improve my well-being, I want …”. Young people are asked to use their own words to express their ideas, with the most frequently occurring words chosen by respondents including: ‘education’, ‘health’ ‘school’, ‘opportunity’, ‘job’ and ‘access’. The most frequent phrases chosen included ‘mental health’, ‘good health’, ‘good education’, ‘reproductive health education’, ‘learning opportunity’ and ‘job opportunity’.

Young people in low- and middle-income countries have been among the most affected of our increasingly fragile world, including pandemic disruptions to school-based education, household food insecurity and income scarcity, rising mental health concerns, the cost-of-living crisis, and the deepening impact of climate change.

For those with the right knowledge and tools, youth leaders and influencers can be heard via social media. But for too many others, their voices remain unheard. Those with command of policy and investment tools are left uninformed and unable to access meaningful evidence. “What Young People Want” seeks to change that.

“What Young People Want has empowered us to break the silence and raise our voices for a better future,” said Saksham Parimal, a mobilizer for the 1.8 Billion Young People for Change campaign and a policy engagement Fellow at the YP Foundation in Bihar, India.

“We no longer feel unheard or overlooked. This campaign has given us the platform to demand action on issues that matter to us and our community. Together, we’re forging a path towards positive change, ensuring that our health and well-being are prioritized. We are the architects of our future, and with What Young People Want, our dreams are turning into reality,” he said.

The project calls on young people to input their responses through both digital technology and face-to-face outreach through teams of trained youth mobilizers to collect responses on a very large scale. A WhatsApp-based chatbot, publicly available and disseminated globally through PMNCH and partners’ channels, allows smartphone users to quick and easily register their responses by scanning a QR code. Acknowledging the lack of access to technology for many young people, and to ensure representation of hard-to-reach communities, responses were also collected through 1.8 campaign youth mobilizers active at community level in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Brazil and others.

The input and responses are self-generated, the inclusive nature of the project, facilitated by its broad reach through social media and other communication channels, as well as on-the-ground efforts.The analysis shows representation of various groups while acknowledging limitations in data collection and interpretation of findings. Limitations to this survey include the regional distribution of respondents, skewed towards Africa and South-East Asia. Further efforts are underway to reach under-represented regions and ensure global representativeness of the results. This exercise will continue to call for inputs, aiming to reach at least 1 million responses.

Once data has been entered, an algorithm rapidly assesses and classifies each response into one of five major “domains” informed by a conceptual framework on adolescent well-being developed by UN agencies with PMNCH. The framework organizes and classifies various needs of adolescents, assessed through extensive community outreach and research work, and highlights the inter-dependence of health and nutrition, education, safety and security, resilience and positive values in producing well-being.

Key findings

Other common needs and concerns expressed by young people included “safety and a supportive environment” (cited by 21.2% overall) and “good health and optimum nutrition” (16.3%).

The youngest survey respondents had specific concerns: The need for “safety and a supportive environment” was cited by 11.0% of respondents aged 15-19, 8.4% of those aged 20-24, and 1.8% of those aged 10-14. Adolescent boys want “clean water” and “good roads”, while adolescent girls added “free sanitary pads” to the list in addition to “clean water”.

Overall, nearly half of respondents (47.2%) fell within the range of 15 to 19, comprising 25.7% girls and 21.5% boys.  Among these, the average age is 16, accounting for 13% of total respondents. The youngest group of adolescents (10 years old) was the least represented at 1.2%, while the oldest group of adolescents and youth aged 24 years, accounts for 7.3% of the respondents.

Approximately 1% of respondents identified as transmen, transwomen, gender-fluid, two-spirit, nonbinary, agender, other, or preferred not to say their gender.

Based on WHO regions, the analysis of responses so far show that more than two-thirds (68.8%) of respondents were from the African region, followed by the South-East Asia region at 27.5%, and a small minority from Latin America.  Project outreach to date has prioritized low- and middle-income countries, ensuring that voices less often heard are heard.  Outreach to other regions and high-income countries will be further strengthened in the next phase.

Country level analysis revealed that India constituted the largest population of respondents, comprising 17.2% of the total sample. Uganda ranks as the second-largest contributing country, accounting for 12.0%, followed by Indonesia at 10.2%, and Zambia at 8.4%.

Agenda for Action for Adolescents

Results in real-time are available through the What Young People Want Digital Dashboardenabling users to analyze data and trends by topic, gender, age, and country. The dashboard is an open access public tool for students, young change-makers, national policymakers and journalists seeking to understand and address youth demands at national and global levels. The dashboard’s data is directly collected from survey responses and not sourced from official country statistics or data sets.

At a global level, PMNCH will roll up the findings from the What Young People Want survey into an “Agenda for Action for Adolescents”, to be unveiled at the Global Forum for Adolescents on October 11-12, 2023.

“The Global Forum for Adolescents will be a key milestone for the 1.8 Billion Young People for Change campaign, bringing together youth and adolescents, advocates, global leaders and decision-makers at a pivotal moment for kickstarting policy shifts and program re-design at the country level,” said Helga Fogstad, Executive Director, PMNCH.

“Adolescence is a critical stage of development with positive outcomes not only for adolescents but for people of all ages. Ensuring adolescents’ well-being is critical to the achievement of a sustainable future for all, requiring cross-sectoral approaches that respond to the multi-faceted nature of their development. Effort spent to ensure adolescent well-being today, especially for females, will yield a triple dividend for adolescents now, in their future lives and for generations to come.


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