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Why Youth?

Programme Management Tool

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There are both normative and operational reasons for focusing on youth. On the normative side, on values, young people have the right to be heard, participate in and have influence on local, national and global development. They are the ones who will be living with the consequences of the political decisions made today; and it is only by engaging and working with them that the international community will be able to achieve peace, security, justice and sustainable development for all.

In addition to the normative/rights perspective, the following three factors provides practical/operational justification for why a focus on youth is mainstreamed in Danish development cooperation and humanitarian actions:

Why 1Why 2Why 3


International agencies are increasingly recognising young people as vital partners in development and acknowledging that youth play an important and positive role in the realisation of sustainable development, prevention of crises and advancement of peace. The appointment of a special UN Envoy on Youth1, the UN Youth Strategy2 (2018) and the position of youth development and youth engagement as cross-cutting issues in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development3 testify to this.

Denmark recognizes youth as a vital and positive resource in development, and youth features prominently in the Danish strategy development cooperation and humanitarian action, The World 2030 (see text box below). Only if we work with and by youth, support the empowerment of young people and concurrently promote a conducive environment for youth participation, influence and leadership, can we unleash the demographic dividend to promote a sustainable outcome in the form of growth and security in the world. In Africa, alone, the total population is expected to double by 2050, hereby creating a potential demographic dividend, once fertility rates drop and more people enter the working age. If not met, however, the accompanying and increasing demands for employment opportunities, influence on political processes etc. might cause young people to become part of the problem rather than the solution to developmental challenges.

“The world’s young people are our future. The world is home to the largest generation of young people ever, an estimated 1.8 billion young people, of which more than three in four are living in developing countries. Young people represent a huge resource and valuable democratic agents of change as entrepreneurs and as active citizens. On the other hand, young people can also, if they are not given opportunities, if their resources are not brought into play and if they are not consulted, become a source of instability and conflict, and in the very worst case they may be susceptible to radicalisation and extreme agendas.

Young people must be given the opportunity to enhance their participation and influence in society as involved, committed and equal actors with the ability and opportunity to take development into their own hands. It is also vital to engage young people in order to raise the level of education and health, combat HIV/AIDS and limit population growth with respect for human rights, including through contraception and sexual and reproductive rights and health. It is a matter of development of and with young people, not merely for young people”.

The World 2030


1. Most Significant Scale
The world is home to the largest generation of young people ever. With an estimated 1.8 billion young people, of whom more than three in four are living in developing countries, the scale alone justifies a particular focus and emphasis on youth when designing development interventions.4

In 2015, the number of youth (aged 15 - 24 years) was 718 million in Asia and 226 million in Africa. Whereas the youth population in Asia is expected to decline slightly over the coming decades, it will increase significantly in Africa due to the continent’s high fertility rates5. Most Danida partner countries have a demographic profile where large parts of the populations are young and where youth populations continue to grow. In Mali for example, 66.9 % of the population is between the ages of 0 – 24 years and in Uganda, the corresponding figure is 68.9 %.

With a large number of young people in Asia and a fast-growing number of younger people in Africa7, there will be an increased pressure on jobs, health services, education, etc. as well as a growing need to ensure that young people reach their full productive potential, become active citizens and contribute to socio-economic development.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the countries with the greatest demographic opportunity for development are those entering a period in which the working-age population has good health, quality education, decent employment and a lower proportion of young dependents. If this demographic dividend is unleashed in developing regions of the world, the national economic payoff can be substantial.8

2. Highest speed and agility
The discourse on youth in developing countries too often tend to be negative; portraying young people as lazy, idle, irresponsible, and trouble makers. Such images have an adverse and stigmatising effect on many young people, who become frustrated and feel marginalised from the decisions concerning their current and future lives.

In fact, young people represent a very diverse group with great potential. It is important to understand youthhood as the transitional phase from childhood to adulthood where young people undergo a transformation of intense physiological, psychological, social and economic change, to gradually become recognised – and recognise themselves – as adults.

As individuals, young people have different aspirations and are provided different opportunities, but in general youth constitutes an important target group for development engagements and humanitarian actions, not only because of their scale, but because they are providing speed/energy and ability by being agile, innovative and change oriented.

3. Strongest long-term outcome

Youthhood - defining youth is an important stage in life for building skills, good health, civic engagement etc. that allows young people to escape poverty, lead better and more fulfilling lives and contribute to accelerate growth and democratic development. Young people’s capacity to learn is much greater than that of older people. Therefore, missed opportunities to acquire skills, good health habits, and the desire to engage in the community and society can be extremely costly to remedy.

Human capital outcomes of young people also affect those of their children. Educated parents have fewer, healthier, and better educated children. The fact that especially in the low-income regions of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, immunisation rates are higher among families where mothers have secondary education, demonstrates the causal link between education and health. These intergenerational effects lift families out of poverty over the long term.9

One common narrative often encountered when working with youth is the notion that if 50 % of a population in a country consists of young people, then development interventions – e.g. a growth and employment programme – in that country are per definition targeting young people. According to this narrative, there is no reason to target young people specifically. In contrast, the Danish approach to youth contests that young people are among the most marginalised in developing countries and in need of special attention. The marginalisation of youth is derived from an assessment that youth are both in a condition and in a process that prevents them from full participation in social, economic, and political life enjoyed by the wider, “adult” society. Young people, that is, have a relatively harder time gaining employment, obtaining a regular income, access to land, gaining voice in political processes, retaining sexual and reproductive rights etc. In terms of programming, this translates into a need to target this marginalised group specifically as part of design, implementation and evaluation processes; to contemplate whether a given programme or project sufficiently considers and includes the large groups of youth and make potential changes accordingly.

1 Danida: FN’s ungeudsending i København: ”Verdensmålene kan kun indfries hvis unge bliver en del af løsningen (December 2018)

2 Youth 2030Working with and for young people (2018)

3 Youth related targets are under several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are interrelated.

4 UNFPA, State of the World Population (2014), brief overview on adolescent and youth demographics.

Please note that of the 1.8 billion youth, 1.2 billion are between 15 – 24 years of age.

5 UNDES, Population facts

6 CIA, World Fact Book

7 According to UNFPA the total youth population is not expected to increase considerably in the coming decades provided that the global fertility

continues to decline.

8 UNFPA, web site on the demographic dividend

9 UNFPA, The Case for Investing in Young People as part of a National Poverty Reduction Strategy


Ministry of Foreign Affairs


2 Asiatisk Plads

DK-1448 Copenhagen K


Tel. +45 33 92 00 00


In case of questions, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Global Youth Advisor, Thomas Rudebeck Eilertzen (