By Lori Forte Harnick, General Manager, Microsoft Citizenship & Public Affairs
The economic and societal challenges facing youth around the world loom larger than ever with the youth unemployment rate expected to click upward to 12.8 percent by 2018 as forecasted by the International Labour Organization’s report, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013.
Yet, the world’s youth are undaunted by these challenges. Instead, they’re fired up, taking action and leading the charge to build better lives for themselves and others around them. We’re inspired by today’s youth and proud to stand alongside them, ready to help every step along the way. And, we’re not alone. Government leaders, nonprofit organizations, and companies large and small are working together to empower youth to change their world and build a better future for all.
Throughout the past year, as the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative has taken shape around the globe and we’ve worked closely with a large number of nonprofits – ranging from the International Youth Foundation to the African Center for Women and ICT and the China Foundation for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship, to name just a few – we’ve spotted three key trends that underscore our commitment to closing the opportunity divide for youth.
Youth are leading the charge in building the future. Today’s generation of young people know better than anyone the challenges they face and are using their voice to advocate for change. To help us stay close to the most pressing issues affecting youth in all regions of the world, we are convening an international group of YouthSpark Advisors to guide the ongoing development of our YouthSpark programs over the course of the next two years, beginning with an inaugural meeting this week at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in NYC. Among these advisors is Mary Mwende of Kenya, one of the early inspirations for our YouthSpark initiative.
Technology is now, more than ever, a great equalizer for 21st century jobs. Computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average in the U.S., yet less than 2.4 percent of college students are graduating with a degree in computer science. And, of course, there are still many youth without the digital literacy skills that are required for employment in most workplaces around the world. In light of this continued mismatch between skills and jobs, we are increasing our efforts to bring technology education to youth. We’re doubling our TEALS program in the U.S. to reach a total 70 high schools in 12 states and we’re rolling out an enhanced digital literacy curriculum on the YouthSpark Hub. Our increased investment is driven by the opportunity to help more people like Jeremy Moore, one of the first students to learn computer programming through TEALS, and Muriel Surmely, a star student in our Web@cademie program in France.
Youth entrepreneurship is key to driving economic growth. It is becoming the priority of many governments around the world to promote entrepreneurship and small business creation in order to drive economic growth. We’re working with governments and nonprofits to provide young entrepreneurs with the technology, skills, and connections to help them build businesses for themselves and create jobs for others. Ranjeet Kumar is just one example of a young entrepreneur, armed with tech skills, who is making a better life for himself and his community.
As we mark the one-year impact of Microsoft YouthSpark, we are ever-grateful for our collaboration with so many nonprofit organizations, companies, and governments–across all sectors and geographies–to empower youth to enhance their lives and the livelihoods of others.
Change of this magnitude will take time, persistence and partnership, but we must press on, fueled by the inspiration of Mary, Jeremy, Muriel, and Ranjeet, and the opportunities that stand before millions more just like them.
The future will not wait.