Youth exclusion, empowerment and sustainable development podcast

Joining us to discuss why the existential exclusion of youth is a pressing issue, and how it manifests, the subject of two upcoming edited collections on Youth Exclusion and Empowerment in the Contemporary Global Order, Oláyínká Àkànle talks us through the contexts of economy, education, governance, migration, identity, and the digital space and how each of these confront, exclude, and empower young people.

As an expert on children and youth studies, Oláyínká shares his thoughts on the relationship between youth empowerment and sustainable development, the lived experience of youth and their roles as agents of change, sustainable pathways out of the trajectories of youth exclusion, and the global scale of these issues.

Looking ahead to the future of global youth studies, Oláyínká also explains his vision of how stakeholders from practical, academic and policy perspectives can make a difference for the young people of today and tomorrow.

Speaker profile(s)

Oláyínká Àkànle is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and a Research Associate in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

In this episode:

  • How is youth exclusion embedded into society?
  • How important is social inclusion to sustainable development?
  • What is role of youth be a sustainable future? How can youth be empowered as agents of change?
  • What are the differences in youth experiences of exclusion between developed and developing countries?
  • How can different stakeholders play a part in empowering youth for a sustainable future?
  • What is the importance of future collective action on the issue of youth empowerment?

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Youth exclusion, empowerment and sustainable development

Daniel Ridge (DR): Today, I'm joined by Ọláyínká Àkànle, who lectures for the Department of Sociology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and who is also a research associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He's a scholar and an expert on social policy, development sociology, children and youth studies, inequality, international migration, sociological practice and sustainable development. With two edited volumes forthcoming in 2022 centred around youth exclusion and empowerment in the contemporary global order, he's interested in the youth experience of exclusion and sustainable pathways forward.

DR: Thank you for joining me, Ọláyínká. Can I start off by asking you why the existential exclusion of youth is a pressing issue, and how it manifests?

(Oláyínká Àkànle) OK: It is a pressing issue in a sense that it is prevalent, it is deep rooted, and it is consistent across countries. And based on our research, and like you will find in the two volumes that we are publishing on this, it is widespread in the sense that whether you are talking about developed countries or developing countries, we could see elements of youth exclusion that is very deep rooted in this society. And the why it is very important is that we hypothesise, or we believe, that as long as this group of people that we categorise as youth are not allowed to play active roles in the structure of their society, contribute to the development of their society, then we will be leaving a whole army of people that could jumpstart development across the world, or sustained development across the world. If you look at some countries, especially in developing countries, we do have what we call youth bulge: youth bulge in the sense that they're a group of people that make a large chunk of their population structure. If you look at inflation pyramid of many of these countries, you have a lot of them being used, and we begin to talk about demographic dividends of the youth. That is if we are able to appropriate this group of people and allow them to contribute to the development process, we will all benefit from it. But if we do not allow them to play an active role in determining what happened in their countries, definitely we are going to have a crisis in our hands in the short run and in the long run. In the sense that these people are so many in some countries, even where they are not so many, they are energetic, they are creative, they are ambitious, and they have the capacity to determine what happens in the country, whether explicitly or implicitly. So, depending on how we manage this group of people, there can be demographic gains or demographic problems for us in the short term and long run. So we believe that this is prevalent, is deep rooted and is consistent among countries. And what happens is not allowing this group, I will call the youths, to play an active role. Youth exclusion actually means not allowing the youth to be actively involved, in objective terms, in determining what happens in their country or in their society for one or two reasons: considering them (unintelligible) as at this point them as liabilities rather than benefits. If you look at so many countries as well, in developing countries you have a lot of problems that they face in those countries be traceable to youth exclusion. If you talk about insecurity, if you talk about a lot of others, you will see elements of these youth who are not able to breathe, they are looking for ways to express themselves. I will see this in the in the volumes, in the chapters that make up these two volumes, how they are excluded and how this becomes development problems rather than development gains. And we can also argue that in societies where youth are allowed to play an active role, they tend to, they may be able to achieve development, sustainable times, more stability in their countries. I think this is why we believe that this is not a theoretical matter. It's a pragmatic issue, that we need to take seriously especially against the background of sustainable development goals. Because you have to leave no one behind, depending on who they are everybody has to be carried along. Social inclusion is very important, but what we are seeing is social exclusion as far as youth are concerned, where they are seen as the as the development liability and powerless people who are not listened to at all. I would really like our countries to take this very seriously. Looking towards the youths and how they can be better included for sustainable growth and development of such countries.

DR: Now your two books are divided up by subject matter and the first one discusses economy education, governance. Can you talk us through how these concerns confront youth and the consequences of this?

OK: Yeah, you know, what we try to look at in this volume that you've just mentioned is to have chapters talking about how youth are excluded from the economic system of their countries, from governance system of their countries. And, you know, for example, if you look at the economic system of many countries, when you're talking about unemployment, you see the huge suffering more in this realm, especially in the formal sector. And we say this exclusion in the economic system, particularly the formal system, actually is a problem. That's why we are if you look at the World Bank data of many countries, some countries have as much as 30% youth unemployment in their countries. And if you look at the educational system of the society, also, when you look at the literacy level of many countries, you find a lot of the youth are having low literacy level. And even if you look at also issues of enrolment and access to education in many countries, you know, even in poor countries, the access is largely unavailable or short circuited and very low for them. Access in terms of been able to go to school and being able to get good quality education is a problem in some of those countries. And even if you look at the developed countries, even many of the youths struggle significantly to be able to access education, many of them are amassing huge debts to go into school, and even if they to go to school, they spend most of the rest of their life paying this debt. If you look at the chapter they have talking about how rates fees must fall, even in middle income countries. So, we try to look at the educational system to demonstrate how youth are excluded. Even in governance, this is very massive, in terms of the youth not been able to play an active role in the governance system of their country. If you look at many of the countries we have across the world, now, you hardly have the youth playing active role at the governance level. In many poor countries, the youth are used as foot soldiers to disrupt elections, I mean, governance processes, and many of them are used as agents of destabilisation by the older adults. So, what we try to do in that place is to (unintelligible) use this context to our scenarios, or contextual case studies, to demonstrate empirically and pragmatically how youth are excluded from the system of their society using these three broad clusters of experiences and context, because of education, economy, and governance. Interestingly, these three structures, these three settings, these three scenarios are put to be strategic in determining how the youth, how their present plays out and how their future may be impacted. For example, if youths don't have significant access, inclusive access to education, we will bring (unintelligible), and the world is driven by the by knowledge systems, now we're talking about knowledge economy, we then have a group of people who don't have what it takes to compete across the world and to contribute significantly, effectively into their, into their societal system, because they are, they will be operating within negative educational coefficient. At the same time the economy, you know, they are supposed to contribute to the gross domestic product of their country, be able to attract in that foreign investment into their country, and be able to create new economic system and structures that are able to lead their countries out of poverty and be able to sustain the growth and development of those countries that are already developed. And if you want to look at governance, talking about decision making, talking about ability to sustain their society by making informed decisions, across level, not only at a macro level, even at a micro level, they should be able to have their voices. In some countries, we now have some countries where they are talking about not too young to run. This is an advocacy system where the youth are crying for spaces because the older adults are stifled, therefore, their voices stifle their political capacity. They are used as destructive agent of the governance system rather than productive system contributed to protective system of the governance system. So they are playing more disabling role than enabling role and unproductive role. So we will use these three case studies, these clusters of scenarios to demonstrate the level of youth exclusion and the need for them to be empowered within that system.

DR: Yeah, I find it really interesting how you divided your subjects up. And so the second volume focuses on migrations, identity and the digital space. So what are the highlights from that collection?

OK: That collection also is a very fantastic one. You know, what we tend to do in that place is to know you know, we're also not talking about the digital economy, the digital system of the world. Technology we’ve got to drive development going forward. We know the force if well, we land on primary natural resources, like oil and gas, the likes of them, people are not talking about the green energy, green in the environment, alternative energy system, technology driven system and society. So we tend to look at the digital divide across the world, anybody or any youth that will make significant contributions to the development of the world in the nearest future, we have to be empowered, in the digital sense, the digital space. So what we tend to do at a digital level is to look at how prepared, how included are the youth in terms of leveraging digital systems or digital society in a way that they can contribute to development, looking at the real issues. In fact, the digital area is very fundamental and depending on the countries you are looking at, many developing countries, actually are excluded from the digital space, you know, this digital divide. Many of the poor countries, developing countries actually are not players in the area. Even in developed countries that we see as leaders in the digital system also still need to be better including the youth and better at empowering them, rather than the consumers of digital products. They need to better innovate and be allowed to innovate, going into the future. So in that area, we'll look at the context and scenarios that we can use. And also if you look at also in terms of the migration, we look at how migration drives development, and how people, how the youth in our day do cope with strategic exclusion, or the sort of, how the sort of migration processes, looking for opportunities outside of their disempowered society. And also talking about looking at their identity, constructing the identity of the youth, how do they see themselves? How are they seen? How do they see themselves? And how does the construction of identity across categories, how do this influence how others see themselves and how do they see themselves along identity? How does this affect their capacity to contribute to development? It's a fantastic collection, I must say, readers will find it very interesting.

DR: I see that you're, you know, your contributions come from all over the world. And I was wondering if maybe you could talk about some of the differences between, or really the similarities as well, between the developed countries that you're dealing with and the undeveloped countries?

OK: Yeah, the intention is to make it global. You know, sometimes when we talk about this, or some of these exclusionary systems, sometimes we think about maybe some countries not having any issues at all. That's why we make sure that we had, and interestingly we have others across the world, across developed countries, across poor countries, if I may use the word poor, carefully. What we find is that generally youth exclusion cuts across countries, whether developed or undeveloped, but the manifestation, intensity, profoundness, and deep rootedness of this exclusion varies, and patterns of this exclusion vary you know. And for example, in terms of economy, definitely poor countries, definitely, we have a different dimension in terms of unemployment, which is far more. But in terms of governance, we find that in all countries that we that we studied there, we can find some element of a exclusion, you know, across these countries, even though their approve fundings will be different, even though developed countries may fare better in terms of accountability and transparency in their governance system and it would be—and they are able to also ameliorate the human condition of the youth across all of these clusters. So definitely, poor countries have specific experiences and manifestations of youth exclusion that are a bit different from developed countries. But one thing we do find in this collection is that youth exclusion cuts across all countries and no countries are going to take it seriously, not minding the differential manifestation across these societies. I think that must be made, and it's powerfully noted in the book.

DR: Did that surprise you to find how widespread it is across different economies and across different cultures?

OK: Sincerely, I must tell you, it's surprising, it's surprising, because anecdotal experiences and general narrative is that some countries, everybody's included. But from contributions from across the world, developed countries, we see elements of exclusions across countries, and it's quite surprising, you know, and that is why I find these books very illuminating. For me personally, I'm very excited to see people read this book, and see the surprising things we have found. It doesn't matter how developed countries are, elements of exclusions are there. From low income countries, to middle income countries, to high income countries, developed exclusion coefficient of countries are very concerning. And I think it's very important to note.

DR: Yeah, well, something else that I'm interested in is the aspect of sustainable development. And I wonder if you could talk about the relationship between youth empowerment and sustainable development?

DR: Yeah, what is sustainable development? So sustainable development means ability to meet the development needs of the current generation without negating the capacity of the future generation to meet their own. That's what sustainable development means generally. And you know, when I look at sustainable development goals as a development framework to jumpstart development across the world, especially in developing countries, I will say that, and there is a United Nations report on youth, and this also, emphasises the fact that youth heed to be better included. Because sustainable development means everybody is carried along at the same pace. That's why the new sustainable development goals says, having the, they have a mantra, leaving no one behind. If we leave the youth behind, not empowering them to hold their spaces and to contribute effectively across institutions, across systems, across structures, then really we are leaving them behind. And if you leave this massive number behind, definitely that development that we achieve can never be sustainable. And that's why so many countries are having different issues. Protests. I'm sure you heard of the Arab Spring. You're also, I'm sure you are aware of protests across countries. A major chapter in this book talks about protests, you know, and how it's about the youth, its impact, lashing back at the system. And other protests have started again now across in some countries, and most of them are youth, who are expressing frustration about how they’re left out of governance, some older generations just hijacked their system and choke out the youth today, sadly so they don’t have a voice, and they are asking for voice.

DR: That is what I wanted to ask you about, how the youth can empower themselves in response to this?

OK: Yeah, the youth can empower themselves in the sense of asking for their spaces. Ask legitimate questions from the system and be innovative. There is a chapter in one of the volumes I was talking about youth, undergraduates and graduates getting involved in income, any activities outside the formal system- it is an innovative way. So the youths have to continue to ask question, be sensitised, and not have an entitlement mentality. Well keep engaging with the system. And that's why another book, if you look at the complete conclusion and introduction to these books, you will see that intentionally we are pragmatic, interrogating policies, asking questions, and every stakeholders have to ask questions, and the youth themselves have to be conscientised. And when they ask questions, the system needs to allow them to have their voices heard, and I think that's another important thing about this book is that it is a book that is asking questions, sensitising to our world the scholars, the academic and development partners, civil society, societal organisations, non-governmental organisations and the government themselves to draw attention to these salient issues that people are not taking seriously. The empowerment we're talking about here is allowing them to play an active role, not silencing them. You know, strategic empowerment of the need to allow them to hear their views, and to listen to our policies, to be intentional in advocating for the youth and programming for the youth in a way that they are able to go for. In some countries, that they have stifled, they have disempowered the youth, in the sense that they are seen as people who have nothing to contribute to the system, people who are just to be extorted and exploited for the gains of other categories of people other than themselves. I think this is very important for us to be able to go forward.

DR: Going back to that sustainability issue, you know, what do you see as sustainable pathways out of the trajectory of youth exclusion?

OK: Yeah, the sustainable pathway out of this is a multi-stakeholders approach to it. And as the approach we adopted in this, in this book, in the sense that it is a clarion call, to everybody to pay closer attention to the need of the youth to be more involved, to be more included in, across policies, and across practices. For example, governments have roles to play, youth themselves have a role to play, non-governmental actors have a role to play, academia have role to play as scholars. In fact that's why we decided to do this book as contribution to knowledge, we are so grateful to Emerald for agreeing to publish this book. So, we just believe everybody, even at our micro level, micro level, interpersonal level, we must give some more significant attention to the youth, in terms of allowing them to play their spaces, and when they demand their spaces, we should, we should not see them as rebellious group of people, or as troublesome group of people, or as lazy group of people, but listen to the messages they are passing. Particularly, I work with youth a lot as an academic and also operate on the development practice. I've seen that it's a group of people that have a lot of innovations, and a lot of energy and a lot of interest to contribute. And they are very creative also. So if we allow them, and that's why this is actually where the inspiration has come, you know, I've chosen to work with a number of youth to work with them across level, and I find them to be very strong contributors to development, if we allow them. So I think everybody just needs to be all hands on deck, to be allies, they need to be to better include this youth going forward. I think there's a need for self-realisation, and realisation of significant orders for the youth to be better included, and to come to the idea that these people are excluded and there is a need to include them. I think that's very important going forward.

DR: Well, I think a really interesting aspect of your book is that you offer different perspectives in response to the issue. So how can stakeholders from practical, academic and policy perspectives make a difference?

OK: Academics need to do more research, not just, like you see this book we are intentionally global, so that we have a comparative panoramic view of the issue. And that's why we try to remove some chapters that appear to be repetitive. And others are too academic, you know, I think there is need for more researchers around this issue. And there is also the need for more policies, not just policies, but policies that are action, policies that are practical, policies that are able to make change, because this youth they are the change agents that everybody needs. So we need policies that are implementable, and not just policies that will just be there, but policies that will be implemented. So policy: more policies are needed, and the current one need to be implemented more effectively, and there is a need for better engage the subject matter going forward across spaces.

DR: So what do you think are the next steps? What do you see the future of global youth studies and responses to this critical challenge?

OK: Yeah, I think the response is going forward from is to continue to push this book, this issue to the front burner. You know, as long as we continue to talk about it, you know, organise conferences around it, organise stakeholder workshops around it, organise policy discourses around it, then people will realise this the most. And we also have to showcase best practices, so that people see we're not just crying where foul, but we're also showcasing best practices and the benefit of better youth inclusion. I think the whole world will catch the idea. And there will be need for, in some countries already struggles for youth inclusion, and struggles for youth celebrations. But most of the time, we make some gains, and gains become losses in the shortest of time. So at this, to push it to the front burner, I go to discuss it. Personally, I've made this my agenda around my sphere of influence in my network, I view the framework of youth groups around myself. I'm also not an old man, so I am a youth at heart, youthful at heart, and also in action. So whenever I work around the youth, I follow them up and quantise them, they need to contribute their own culture, and not play the victim, but it's positive to have been around it. And so I think everybody, including policymakers, academic scholars, and NGOs, or non-governmental organisations, or civil society organisations are to come to this realisation, and being intentional about jumpstarting the youth and allowing them in their spaces. So if you keep the discourse going on, and the challenge is going on, I'm bringing it to the front burner. I think the future is bright, but we need more collective action to galvanise the change that we want.

DR: It sounds like this collective action you're talking about is very much on the local level. Is that where you're coming from? Do you think that the balance between the local in the national is there a struggle there? Or can you say something about that?

OK: I think it's got to be, it has to be multilevel, actually. You know, even before you have global action, there has to be local level galvanisation. It is a collectivity, or collectivisation of what happens on the local level that resonates at the national level and resonates at the global level. Actions will not just start at the global, that don't have local roots. My suggestion or recommendation is that we have to be micro, intentionally, strategically, and be macro at the same time. So we need a collective action, not just disjointed action. What we have had is a disjointed action, if a way, and as trend of these volumes, is to be able to bring particular, national scenarios and collectivise them at global level, so that if you hold the volumes of the book, you're able to see a complete picture across national and global level. So it's multilevel, multistakeholder, multi institutional approaches that we are recommending in this book. But if we have the global without the national, the local, there'll be no basis that we know. So it has to be multilevel and strategically multistakeholder, and I think that's very important. The future is bright if we continue along this line.

DR: Well, it sounds like you've built a strong network of researchers, where do you see this going now, in the future?

OK: I'm positive. You know, I keep building this network of researchers around these studies. And I try to maintain this network because it takes all of us working together along the same line, to be able to move forward. Well, I see this as going somewhere positive in the near future. And I also believe that it is a conversation, a collective realisation that we need to take forward. I believe it is going to be to be very good, very well, in the future. We also believe in that when this book, these volumes, hits the shelf, we expect that they will also continue to work and monitor developments in that area, if it means doing more of further researchers for the interventions, we plan to take it forward. So it's a conversation, it is a process we have in mind, too, and this is just part of the processes that we have in mind. And we promise to do more, as we see if the events unfold, until you see the change that we want, sustainably into the future, for the benefit of everybody. For the youths, and the significant other and older hundreds, and even younger ones, so that everybody is carried along towards a sustainable pathway to development, and no one is left behind, not even the youth. That's what we have in mind.

DR: Well, thank you so much for joining me today, I really enjoyed our conversation. I really learned a lot, this is really insightful.

OK: Thank you very much, Daniel.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find a transcript of our conversation as well as more information about our guests on our website. I'd like to thank Katy Mathers for help with today's episode, as well as Alex Unis of This is Distorted.

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