As the first ever Global Youth Forum proceeded, Amirali Batada sits for this interview. It is the day one of the three-day event held in the Washington DC headquarters of the financial and development institution. This co-founder could finally hope that the rest of the event progresses successfully after tedious months of planning, and liaising with global partners to bring this forum to fruition. Amassing over 150 global partners from both private and public sector, several students and young professional leaders, this was an event that could be deemed successful just by the level of interest partners that gathered into the institution, all with a single focus on examining the future of young people today.
Amirali Batada is the co-founder of the Global Partnership for Youth in Development, an initiative of the Leadership, Learning and Innovation Practice of the World Bank Group. Mr. Batada has focused his work and research on examining the driving forces of youth marginalization and deploying interventions for positive youth development. He has also collaborated with academic institutions, CSOs, governments and the private sector to design programs and policies that foster responsible leadership, purpose and innovation among youth, enabling them to create public value and support sustainable development in their communities, holding a Masters of Education in Leadership, Innovation and Development from Harvard University.
We dive into our conversation:
Fashanu: How did the Global partnership for youth in development start?
Batada: The partnership itself came as a matter of a series of activities that unfolded about a year and half ago primarily from our clients. A demand that was stemming from all our regions where the World Bank operates and we started seeing some patterns unfolding—that was really around the challenges this segment was encountering ; the youth segment. It came back to issues around jobs , around social inclusion , voice, directions in terms of the pathway young people are choosing and how they are choosing those pathways. What that warranted was a response that was coordinated at the bank which required us to bring a lot of our stakeholders together. Stakeholders in the thematic areas we work in would come together and provide a response to this challenge. A secondary factor that was equally prominent last year that made a lot of the headline was on the issues of job, social inclusion, health, education and more. When they were not working as we hoped, when young people felt that the social contract was broken, when there was a lack of predictability between what young people do in-terms of their education, pathway they pursue, when they do graduate or come out of these institutions and there isn’t opportunities for them—they don’t feel their voices are being heard, we began to see backlash. There were figures in society, other players that exploited those former vulnerabilities and grievances young people had faced and we saw that erupting a lot last year in the form of radicalization, extremism in many different countries. This was really a response to that.
How do we bring all these different dimensions around issues that affect youth from health , education, jobs and technology down to migration, violence , social inclusion and all those elements? How do we bring them together across multiple regions encountering those challenges to develop a coordinated strategy on responding? That is how the Global Partnership for Youth came about. ~Amirali Batada~
Q. Who are the other leaders behind this initiative ?
A. We have a diversity, a number of different individuals within the leadership, learning and innovation practice. My counterpart is by the name Mattias Lundberg and he and I with a larger team have been able to start putting a lot of this work together by really leveraging the expertise of many different players across the bank, across those thematic areas and across those regions. Those who have a deep sense of concern about this issue, who have been working on this issue for a number of years, who bring a lot of knowledge around the different challenges youth are facing around those thematic areas. We brought a lot of them together that are actually presenting here today, that is what is making this conference very enjoyable. I think a lot of feedback I have received from young people is that they are very happy with the diversity of those themes and the depth of those discussions, the richness of those discussions and having a chance to have those discourses with people from many different regions that have seen those common challenges and those responses as well.
Q. The event looks to cover quite a sum of themes indeed and looks very impressive.
How do you play a role in all of this in regards to your personal background?
A. Professionally, I wouldn’t say I’m the typical individual that falls in the category of youth working on this issue and I think that is one of the reasons we have had some discourses myself and Mattias. He has a traditional background but the dimension I bring to the table is a background of over nearly fifteen years in the private sector. Working quite closely in youth development from the lens of the private sector, consulting for a number of years— I took a few years off and I began to spend time understanding the challenges young people were facing but bringing the dimension of purpose, identity understanding the role culture plays in the formation of those identities. So you have the technical elements that we want to focus on like education , health, economics but then also understanding those early life experiences and how they shape the prospective and mindsets that young people move on to. The interplay between those two is where I find my own personal interest lies. When Mattias and I brought those two things together, this is where we began to see where those opportunities are.
I could give you some examples, for instance one of our discussions is about technology and what I love about technology is the cross cutting area. When you’re looking at global issues like climate change or jobs, we are having a chance to sort of look at the innovations that are unfolding in this space, where should we be focusing our resources and time? This is the opportunity to bring young people in that are already providing those solutions , who are innovating in these spaces and actually learn from them. Saying, how should we take what you’re doing right now , you’re doing it so successfully despite the challenges- you’re working in those contexts, how do we help you? How do we bring those resources to play? How do we help scale up some of these solutions that you’re putting forth? That is what we are trying to do at this forum. If you look at the forum itself, two things that Mattias and I were hoping people will take away was
- Developing a deep understanding of the problems themselves on their own. So what are the health or job challenges? What are the trajectories in each of those areas? That is the first.
- Second part is not only understand the tangent trajectories but understand the interplay and interdependence between them.
So if we are not doing health well, then how would that impact jobs, how would that impact violence and migration and vice versa? We want to understand that component first. Mainly, we didn’t want young people to leave the conference thinking ‘wow!’, these challenges are large, what do we do? We wanted to make sure we bring others in who are operating and being successful in these places and saying now, tell us how did you do it?
For example: some of our speakers such as Marwa Moaz, the managing director for El-mashrou3, she produced a show that was the equivalent of the american show The Apprentice , it was very successful ten or twelve years ago when it started and it became the number three or four show in Egypt and because it was so successful it gained rights to go across MENA; that is an example of a television reality show that is trying to change the mindset of young people in Egypt to look at opportunities beyond the public sector and start seeing – what is entrepreneurship, how can we do it? Get them to get inspired, look for opportunities, different pathways, this was something that her and her team put together and it has been a huge success. Some of the metrics she uses was the largest entrepreneurship network in MENA signed up on Facebook so they had over a million followers.
Q. Glad I didn’t have to ask you to share a success story because Marwa is a good example. Most of the speakers are youth?
A. It depends on how youth is defined, we classified it ranging between 15-35 years old. Because you have incredible talents between 15-20 that have been inspired much earlier but of course, the majority I have seen really begin to identify themselves whether it is pursuing secondary education , encountering some challenges shortly after they graduate, realizing that maybe they need to take a different path but they take on their identities around that mark of twenty to twenty-five and some to thirty-five and by the time they get to fourth, they become inspiring role models for many of our young attendees.
Q. Some of the young attendees interviewed say they attended the forum for networking opportunities, what do you think networking will really do for them? What are some action points going forward?
A. Two that come to mind immediately; for networking I perceive a role of mentorship happening here, I see a sense of inspiration. From the conversation I see at the tables, I see young people or others who work in different context asking others who are very successful or tried things out and I think they are learning a lot, being inspired and almost gaining new mentors from halfway across the world. The second is the idea where there are new solutions being introduced and another example of a woman from Botswana who ran one of the most successful Twitter campaign with hastag #ifafricawereabar; seeing her work encounter with other folks from Latin America, the Far East, parts of Europe and the US; it is that cross-sharing and exchange of knowledge. I often use this like Uber was very successful and went global, but there were a handful that started before or during whether in India there is Ola, south east Asia there is Grabtaxi, in the Middle East there is another one similar, so all of these models get replicated, contextualized ideas for local market, and I think there is a lot of that inspiration happening at the forum that is for profit model. Imagine if we had many of these social enterprises that were started in many different places where there is running electricity, water , health , education and they were replicated and even scaled up? This is where I see success happening.
Q. A communion like this allows people to learn from each other and replicate ideas. Where does culture play a role in all of this?
A. My personal interest as it relates to culture is around behavioral change and mindset change. I think that it is very important when it comes to development. This notion of if you build the schools, if you provide infrastructure, if you offer a lot of these different services either in health or education, the turnout is not always as strong as one would hope. There is often sometimes perceptions about the service itself, how it is being delivered , what it entails , who is providing it? Is it a trusted source or not? When you think about all of these mentioned strategies and look at it from a culture perspective, social norms, politics – if you look at culture more broadly , it allows to take a step back and say- what works? When are people inspired? when are campaigns more successful? If you can study the science behind that, around mindset shifts and behavioral change, you will see that there is key influences. Example, a survey that was done found that religious leaders within these institutions have the highest levels of trust among young people, they trust religious leaders more in number one or number two in the survey and I thought -that was very powerful! Now, imagine if you can get a religious leader on board to start talking about entrepreneurship or access to clean energy, it is a domain that one would think that it is not traditional to the spiritual realm but as we understand the relationship between development and culture, it becomes an obvious sort of intervention and obvious quest to bring these folks on board and it ties back to how many traditions and spiritual faith actually look at life; the pope himself for instances has been playing a dominant Role here; like in closing the gap in poverty, bringing social issues to surface , talking about the environment and if we had more individuals within the spiritual realm talking about them, that interplay between development and spirituality, I think we could see development accelerating very quickly!
Q. That is so profound! You don’t get to think that way. That is the kind of out of the box thinking required ; that is culture – one’s religion, tradition… Is it undermined greatly?
A. I think we have an opportunity right now, and I think it’s more prominent than ever where religious leaders have a role to play. They Have always had a role but how we engage them actively , our ability to recognize whether it is in project designs or implementation , or assessments but the ability to ensure that we are capturing their voice where we are actively engaging them in the process and our programs will be successful for it. We have to recognize that we are going to be dealing with very complex subjects and so when we are straddling between the circular and spiritual realms, we have to think carefully about it. Think carefully about how that should be thought about in terms of the sequencing, what types of interventions we should start with and we should build upon some early successes and once the communities, the development sectors and different stakeholders including governments begin to understand that there is an important area here we could leverage and that does provide the fruits we are looking for, then I think we could build on it.
Q. Who are the stake holders that should be at the table?
A. I think we have to start with youth themselves. This is a program that is bringing many different youth together in addition to many different stakeholders represented here. We have governments, foundations, the bank, many different institutions representatives here but I think if we can figure out how to take more young leaders – social entrepreneurs, young individuals who are parliamentarians and getting those young voices and their perspectives heard at the table, bringing them to the discussion not only around youth issues but also around energy or health issues, where we have all the different players together but we love to have youth sitting at that table. Particularly because they bring an understanding of what is happening on the ground, they understand the technologies, the challenges they have encountered as a barrier and how they have gone around those challenges; if we can figure out their successes and getting those success shared to the wider public, then we have an opportunity to change the discussion in a different way. Where we may take a step back and say how do we finance more of these social entrepreneurs, we talk about this new mechanism for financing for growing entrepreneurs- how do we make that more accessible for young people?
Two opportunities young people should be looking out for:
- Think about the networks being formed around you ; that are beyond your city or country. There are a lot of ; look at all the global networks happening right now through Facebook or all differing channels , such as Silicon Valley looking to invest in other parts of the world , local talents that are willing to partner with them. If they keep an eyes on that, I think they will have opportunities for 1) ideation 2) understanding how problems are being solved 3) the clear step by pathway for what they can pursues.
- One of the most important elements that will be useful for young people in the future is education, knowledge. Obtaining access to the most relevant, cutting edge knowledge will be critical. Find that knowledge because it is out there. You might do a bit of digging through the networks which may help you to get access to the knowledge through its resources of finding , but the knowledge itself is what you have to seek out. For example, that means for a young social entrepreneur in your city or village recognizes that solar technology is dropping in price , or is available- how do I get my hands on it, how do I find the right suppliers?or leverage existing business models that have been applied on other places ? So that type of knowledge is something they have to seek often, tap into the edge of the knowledge. Being able to differentiate who is actually offering something that maybe dated a few years back versus those providing it right now. And that could be important.
Q. Thank you.