In September 2018, the UN Secretary General António Guterres launched an ambitious public-private framework known as Generation Unlimited, or GenU. The UN’s flagship youth-focused initiative has a mission to “skill and connect the world’s 1.8 billion young people to opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and social impact”.
Anchored in UNICEF, GenU brings together global leaders, organizations, top business executives, civil society champions and young people, with a shared objective of promoting and delivering innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing the youth. The initiative is part of the UN Secretary General’s Youth 2030 Strategy, the UN’s first-ever strategy that seeks to empower the youth.
President Paul Kagame is one of the champions of the multi-sector movement at the global level and sits on the leadership council of Generation Unlimited. Rwanda’s Youth and Culture Minister Rosemary Mbabazi is also a member of the Council.
In Rwanda, GenU was launched two years ago, with commitment from the Government, UNICEF and other stakeholders to foster collaboration between the public and private sector leaders and youth from all walks of life. They committed to ensuring that all young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are in school, training or employed by 2030.
The partnership seeks to equip young people with relevant skills with a view to achieving productive lives; create employment, promote entrepreneurship and equitable access to opportunities, as well as turn young people into problem-solvers.
Kevin Frey, the Chief Executive Officer of Generation Unlimited, was recently in Kigali, in part to advocate for GenU at an international conference.
The New Times’ Jade Natacha Iriza caught up with him and he explained how and why young people are not only at the center of the UN’s flagship youth agenda as main beneficiaries, but also as equal partners.
What is Generation Unlimited doing for the youth differently from other initiatives?
It is not new for the private sector to work with the public sector. The novelty that Generation Unlimited brings is putting the youth at the center, both at the country and the global level. We have Heads of State, CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies sitting at the table with young people, designing strategies and programs, to deliver impact for young people at scale together with public and private sectors.
How are you equipping young people?
See, we’re currently working in 54 countries, in Latin America, in Africa and in South and East Asia, which are all very different places yet young people everywhere are suffering from literally the same problems.
For example, education systems are not preparing them for jobs of today and tomorrow. They need different skills for the digital economy, the green economy, and sometimes the gig economy. So, they need opportunities to be connected to those employment and entrepreneurial opportunities through training.
We empower young people to guide the partnership every step of the way, communicating their challenges, co-creating our agenda and forming a centerpiece of our governance structure. They have the creativity and the resilience needed to tackle the social challenges around them, but sometimes what is missing is the public speaking or critical skills. They are treated as equal partners in creating solutions for them first and then to the world’s biggest problems.
Are young people across the world faced with similar challenges?
I think at the highest level, yes. But when you actually get down to the ground level, no. In many different countries, of course the problems are far more acute. If you were to look in Europe or North America, the formal economy is much larger, and youth unemployment is much lower. In fact, youth, on aggregate, have more opportunities for formal employment and better training. But there are also significant portions in those countries of people who are not in employment, education and training.
The reason our programming is so focused on the global south is because there are many more problems there. For example, 90 percent of young people often work in the informal economy, 267 million young people are not in employment, education or training, and the majority of those are in the global south.
It’s been three and a half years now since GenU was launched. What has been your impact so far?
We have been able to reach over 100 million young people so far, with opportunities for skilling and connections to employment, entrepreneurship, and social impact. We continue to focus on driving beyond just a skilling course, just career guidance, to actually looking at ‘are young people getting the jobs?’ ‘How long are they staying at these jobs?’ ‘Are they starting entrepreneurial ventures and how long are those (ventures) staying open?’ ‘Are they hiring people as well?’
For every country, we have a breakdown across our impact areas – looking at skilling, then actual connections to employment, then entrepreneurship, within which again, we have skills and mindsets. And then there’s actual venture creation. Then in our third strategic pillar, which is social impact, that’s evaluating how many young people are creating social ventures or are volunteering to drive social outcomes. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I think the early results have been very strong.
Any particular challenges that you face, and especially in countries like Rwanda?
The energy and willingness of young people to participate has been remarkable. However, our biggest constraint has been to secure enough funds.
The demand from young people to access the skills and opportunities, in that entrepreneurial training and access to finance, and even for volunteering, just to make the communities that they live in better, I would say is almost unlimited. The only issue is just the supply and being able to provide for the tens and hundreds of millions of young people who want these programs.
The challenge in Rwanda is not dissimilar to the challenges in many other countries where we work. For instance, a lot of opportunities right now, whether for skilling, employment, entrepreneurship, often require connection to the internet. And, Rwanda is not yet at 100 percent connectivity.
What are you up to next?
The key priority for us is always to scale up. It’s relatively easy to be able to do little projects in one school or another with a partner. But the real question is how to get to scale, in a cost effective way. Through working with partners like UNICEF who are doing amazing work here trying to connect schools to the internet.
We are also working with governments to be able to relate with education systems, and so on. We will also keep engaging leaders to join the discussion. Because when you want to have real impact at scale, you need to work with systems at a national level. When you have a Head of State that sits within your organization or the board, they can help connect to the different ministries that you need to work with to drive impact.
They can also support in many other ways, be it through giving an enabling environment, backing youth initiatives, availing funds or simply using their global voice.