Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bangladesh: The Next Generation Report

A recent survey initiated by the British Council looks at the Youth in Bangladesh and their attitude, aspirations, hopes, concerns and pessimisms. This in-depth survey gives a very interesting reading into the minds of the largest demographic in Bangladesh.

I do hope the leaders of our nation take heed to what we have to say...

Description from British Council

Bangladesh has young people in abundance. We are at once one of the world’s most populous and youngest countries: 61m of our 150m people are under 18 years-of-age.

Commissioned by the British Council, this ‘Next Generation’ report marks a defining moment for Bangladesh. For the first time, we have a snapshot of what Bangladeshis between 15 and 30 think, feel and hope for. We have a picture of their interests, how they spend their free time, and what or who influences them.

There are grounds for optimism: 79 percent are interested in development issues: 70 percent think the country is headed in the right direction. Our youth have a clear identity, are happy (despite overwhelming poverty) and are dedicated to their country and families.

There are fears too: 60 percent fear corruption will worsen; 71 percent are concerned that climate change will result in thousands of displaced people across the country; and an overwhelming majority (78%) fear that the gap between the rich and poor will widen in the next five years.

A Generation Ready to Serve

Above all, this is a generation that wants to get involved: a striking 98 percent want to take part in social work. But in reality, 70 percent don't.

Population projections suggest that in every decade up to 2050, more than 30m young people will achieve adulthood, entering the job market, or starting to raise families.

A country can view each successive generation as a problem – or as a unique opportunity. How we use this ‘youth dividend’ will be critical to our future development.

To use this human capital effectively, our leaders need to listen to the hopes, aspirations and voices of these younger generations – not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day. Each of these 30m individuals, decade by decade, is a potential asset for Bangladesh.

Where young Bangladeshis are given the opportunity, they rise to the occasion, selflessly devoting time and energy to community service, contributing to finding solutions for the daily problems of their neighbourhoods.

Viewing our Young as an Economic Asset

Rather as micro-credit fuels economic development from the ground up, each individual who exercises active citizenship is an asset who builds our communities and improves our livelihoods.

Today, Bangladesh needs a national debate on how we utilise the social and human credit at our disposal. Our proposal is that this debate should result in a youth charter which embodies the hopes, aspirations and rights of our young people – and maps out a path to how they will be realised.

Join the debate and play your part in shaping the future of Bangladesh.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Youth are Calling : Are We Listening?

Published on the 5th June edition of the Daily Star

98 and 74. If I am asked, I would say these are the two figures that sum up the mood of Bangladesh’s youth. A staggering 98% of them believe that they should be involved in social work. On the other side of the coin 74% of them are not interested in politics.

Through out the report, Bangladesh: The Next Generation, there are figures that highlight this dichotomy in thoughts and deeds of today’s youth. At one end there is the optimism and the desire to do good, but on the other the apathy and belief that they don’t count. This in a nation whose history has mostly been molded by its younger citizens. Be it the Language Movement of 1952 or the political charges of 1969, ‘71, or ’90. Youth led and the nation followed. This current government should acknowledge the fact that in the last general election the first time voters (almost 35% of the electorate) by and far put their stamp next to the candidates of the ruling party. This went against conventional wisdom of the day. But the young had spoken.

It may not be over simplification to say that “Digital Bangladesh”, the desire to see War Criminals tried and a rejection of the previous government’s notorious greed, had lead the youth to jump on Obamaesque “Dinbodol” bandwagon that the Awami League promised. But since taking absolute majority in the Jatiya Sangsad and forming a government, have they done much to reward this massive potential vote bank?

Initial suggestions of a close bond were there. Young ministers like Dipu Moni, Sohail Taj, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury and Barrister Taposh seemed to be AL’s new face. A new generation of leaders to whom the reigns were being passed on to. Digital Bangladesh too was being fleshed out to be more than just a slogan on a manifesto.

Then things went wrong. Taj left in a huff claiming his authority was being undermined. AL’s youth wing Chattra League (BCL) started showing that they cared more about financial gain than addressing issues of the youth. Digital Bangladesh started to become butt of jokes as on-again-off-again policies and power shortages kept people guessing what that term actually meant.

Overall, AL government like those of the past, have failed to consistently connect with the youth. Issues of education, employment and empowerment have been left unaddressed. The Next Generation Report picks up on this. While 87% of the youth are enrolled in education programs, they don’t believe the education they are getting will get them jobs. Or will play a significant part in getting jobs at any rate. They think bribery, nepotism and connections are needed for a decent job.. This makes 41% of them wanting to take the first plane out of the country in search of better education, jobs,and opportunities.

Digital Bangladesh too has failed to deliver so far. True that it is a decade long journey and not an over night miracle, but the government has failed to articulate what this actually means for the youth. 73% of the younger population has mobile phones, but only 15% uses the internet. This is a shame because Digital Bangladesh over anything else can deliver us to the promised land. But only if we absorb the youth into the movement.

Youth need education. Education that will give them the skill sets to succeed in today’s economy. That means knowledge of English and Maths. And that of creativity, logic and research. Quite unlike the prevalent learning by rote. It means young migrant workers becoming plumbers, mechanics, welders, cooks and drivers, and not merely low paid manual labourers.

Youth need jobs. Not low value adding agriculture jobs. But jobs in factories and offices where they can put to use their intellect and industry. Today we hold the agriculture sector as sacred cow. But it is time for us to take a knife to that. Given our ever growing population and the pressure it brings to land usage, we cannot expect to solve our employment needs through this sector. Instead of an acre of land that can productively employ say 20 people, we need an acre of factory floor that can employ 20,000.

Using technology one can leapfrog the stumbling block of education content and delivery; we can create knowledge jobs in ITES (IT enabled services - i.e., graphic design outsourcing) and other techie industries like pharma; we can activate millions of points of entrepreneurism through e-commerce and exports.

How do we do it? Quite easy. While we wait for the larger more grandiose plans to pan out, do two things. Firstly empower e-commerce, not through a few monopolistic chosen ones, but by allowing anyone to make and enable transactions. Remember there was a Bangladeshi in the team that made Pay Pal. And secondly make bandwidth cost free (or at least ridiculously cheap) for end users. The lethal combination of the two will generate massive innovations, which in-turn will facilitate commerce to boom.

Youth need engagement and empowerment. It is not good enough any longer to just pay lip service to the youth. Be mindful, they constitute a good 70+% of the electorate. A figure that for the next few elections will only increase. Today one in five youth say they have no national role-model. The question for any leader should be how do I find a place in their mind. That is through engagement. BCL’s my-tender-is-bigger-than-your-tender ways may have lead AL to disown them but it shouldn’t be an excuse to disengage from the youth altogether. In fact, the exact opposite should be done. Connect at every opportunity. Bring in youth leadership into the party grassroots. Use the desire youth have for social work to activate them there. Encourage and promote young leaders to raise to the top. The absolute top. Induct more of them into the cabinet and party presidium. India’s Congress Party with the eye into the future has transformed the Youth Congress as the heart and soul of the party. Anyone who is interested in succeeding as our next leader, needs to earn one’s spurs. And that can be done by changing the minds of 76% of the youth who think that they have little or no influence over government decision or were unsure of their capacity to influence.

The youth of Bangladesh have spoken yet again. But are we listening?