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Why Youth


There are normative as well as operational reasons for focusing on youth. On the normative side, 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 and thus live up to the principle of leaving no one behind.

In addition to the normative/rights perspective, the following three factors provide practical/operational justification for mainstreaming focus on youth in Danish development cooperation and humanitarian actions.

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 Youth, the UN Youth Strategy(2018) and the position of youth development and youth engagement as cross-cutting issues in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development testify to this.

Denmark recognises youth as a vital and positive resource in development, and youth features prominently in the Danish strategy The World We Share (see text box below). Only if we work with and by youth, supporting the empowerment of young people and concurrently promoting a conducive environment for youth participation, influence and leadership, can we unleash the demographic dividend to promote a sustainable development outcome in the form of growth and security in the world. In Africa alone, the total population is expected to double by 2050, which will create 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.


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 We Share


1. Most Significant Scale

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

With a large number of young people in Asia and a fast-growing number of younger people in Africa, there will be an increased demand for 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 socioeconomic 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.

2. Highest Speed and Agility

The discourse on youth in developing countries too often tends to be negative, portraying young people as idle, irresponsible troublemakers. 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 highly diverse group with great potential. It is important to understand youthhood (Youthhood - A Period of Personal and Social Development) 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 recognisedand recognise themselvesas 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. Young people are important not only because of their numbers, but because they possess an excess of time and energy, as well as essential skills such as flexibility and innovation. In addition, they are more change-oriented and risk-averse than the adult population.

3. Strongest long-term Outcome

Youthhood (Youthhood - A Period of Personal and Social Development) 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 accelerating 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.

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, development interventions – e.g. growth and employment programmes – in that country per definition target young people. According to this narrative, there is no reason to target young people specifically. In contrast, the Danish approach to youth believes that young people are among the most marginalised in developing countries and in need of special attention. That means that young people 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.


In case of questions, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Global Youth Advisor at [email protected]