World Bank Senior Economist, Mattias Lundberg, On Forming a Global Partnership With The Youth

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Senior Economist in the Jobs Cross-Cutting Solutions Area of the World Bank, Mattias Lundberg sits for a catchy one on one during the first ever World Bank Global Youth Forum held in June 2016. A three day event held in its Washington DC headquarters, gathering  over 150 partners and representatives from the public and private sectors, civil society, and young people themselves, to exchange new and innovative ideas. He was previously a Senior Economist in the Social Protection and Labor team of the development institution and currently leads research and interventions on the school-to-work transition as the director of the Bank’s Global Partnership on Youth Employment.

“We put together a global partnership for youth in development and we want to bring young people, youth serving organizations, international agencies, clients and partners of the bank to think about youth development in a comprehensive way. One thing we wanted to do with this forum was to bring in the voices of young people themselves . We can sit here in DC and pretend we have all the answers but we won’t be able to arrive at the right answer there without talking to young people themselves, so that is the point behind this forum. To have this conversation more openly and get a sense from young people themselves on what their priorities are.” ~Mattias Lundberg, WBG Senior Economist~

According to Lundberg, young people are the drivers of change and are the ones that will aid in solving  the challenges that they are being faced with, he added.  Our conversation takes off with more inquiries about what the world bank hoped to accomplish through this gathering and further explores action points

Fashanu : You are the main anchor in directing this new global partnership and launching the first ever Global Youth Forum; what happens next after the forum is over, any plans for further action to keep momentum going?

Lundberg : We are trying to accomplish two things: First, to make this first global youth forum the beginning of a global conversation not the end. Secondly, we can think about our lofty objectives but what concretely do we need to achieve in the next two years to make this real? We need to understand what the real concrete problems young people are facing and what are the real concrete steps  we can take to help them alleviate some of these problems they face. This means making youth serving agencies and young people themselves a  part of the conversation. What we are telling the youth is that – give us your ideas, give us your concerns, tell us what we need to do now in other to make this concrete; that is the way we can build something of lasting value, we can build from the ground up.

Q. Personally, I feel like we have been talking around these challenges of youth. What are the challenges that you see youth facing globally?

A. The most obvious one is employment and there are 1.8 billion young people in the planet today and unemployment is much higher among young people than among older workers. Young people are three to four times more likely to be unemployed, young people are also more likely to be underemployed. They are employed eight hours a day , they are working eight hours a day but not earning eight  hours worth of income per day;  so there are people who can be working very long hours, very difficult jobs and dangerous jobs but they don’t earn very much money. The opportunities they face are much more constrained than the opportunities that older workers face. It is much harder for young people to start businesses, much harder for young people to get access to finance, harder for young people to get business licenses, and the constraints they face in entering the world of work are much harder and much difficult to overcome than for older workers.

Secondly , young people are less likely to have their voice heard in the system. Today,  6% of parliamentarians around the world are young and this is for a global population that is very close to half young. 6%! How do young people get to express their voice in a productive and effective way? How do they get into the policy process? How do young people get to have their voices heard by those who make decisions in the authority?  How can we improve or expand the channels through which young people are able to have their voices heard? Those are just two issues that young people face.

Also, young people are often the victims of and engaged in violence. It is more likely that young people are engaged in conflict and fighting than older people. That is not to say though that young people predominate in violence even in war, very very few people are engaged in acts of conflict, but in cases of war, instability and conflict, most of the fighters are young. So how can we provide young people a broader set of opportunities to get them away from these causes of conflicts and provide them alternatives to find more peaceful avenues to earn a living and to engage and express their voice?  Fourth, I would say reproductive health is an important issue. Young women particularly have a hard time of having access to the health services that they need and sometimes those obstacles are institutional, the services aren’t just there. Sometimes the obstacles are about mobility. It is harder for young women in some cases to move about and to move independently with their families and so expanding access to public services such as health and education particularly to young women is very important.

Q. On the topic of unemployment and underemployment, let’s talk about the idea of youth and volunteering. A lot of organizations get young people to volunteer or intern unpaid, does that not add to the economic challenges of the youth in the workforce?

A. I have a couple of responses to that. One is that volunteering gets you a ton of experiences and it exposes you to a world of work if you haven’t held a job before. There are many many national programs for volunteer service and action. Many of them do an extremely good job of getting young people work experience, contacts among employers they wouldn’t have had otherwise and experience of being in the world of work so don’t dismiss volunteering out of hand, it can be profoundly important to a young person’s experience , building a resume, building contact, building experience and getting them into the world of work. So I think it can be profoundly important.

Q. I get that but at what point does one feel valued enough to seek out paid jobs?

A. This issue is  of great concern to the youth organizations I deal with throughout Europe. There are many organizations in the European policy world that engage lots of young volunteers and there is quite a bit of activism going on now to try to get a bit of formal acknowledge of the contributions of young volunteers to formalize their engagements and even begin to pay them a living wage so that is clearly important. Important for all sorts of organizations whether it’s the world bank or UN or even private firms. We can think of some of the values, that you get experience like an apprenticeship, you get skills, experience and exposure to the world of work that is invaluable. Now let me be a little provocative and say that for most young people in the world , they don’t have access to some of those opportunities at all, most young people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in rural or country sides and while most people around the world live in urban areas, most in sub Saharan Africa live in rural areas. The constraints they face are not necessarily the ones of worrying whether they are paid for an internship, they have other kinds of concerns. They worry about agricultural markets and prices for harvests and finding jobs in the offseas and those sort of things. The constraints they face are quite different, I think that Africa particularly if we take a large part of sub-Saharan Africa, it is urbanizing very very quickly – there is an enormously rapidly growing middle class in sub Saharan Africa and that is wonderful. To some extent and I don’t mean to sound harsh but I think the fact that people are facing these problems is a good sign over all. This is a different kind of problem from the one that most people faced twenty to thirty years ago. I am in my fifties and a young person of my generation, had a different problem. It is a sign of urbanization, rapid development, the growth of middle class, the expansion of opportunities and that is fundamentally important. We can’t forget that. That said, if I am right now twenty or twenty-two years old, finished university degree in Nigeria for instance, I don’t find any opportunities and the only thing available to me is to volunteer or to be an apprentice, I will be very discouraged, I can’t deny that and so we have to find a way of getting that person an opportunity while not forgetting that we need to expand the opportunity for those others who don’t have the advantages that this young person has.

Q. So far, what are some ideas you have heard regarding solutions to employment and what is the World Bank doing to champion solutions to employment?

A. Couple of things; I like the word solutions because that is what we are doing- finding solutions to these problems. The first thing is to understand why people are unemployed and underemployed. Figure out what are the tools we have in our hand to solve these problems and also find out what are the most effective solutions we have. We have spent many years working on skills training programs;  that matters and are important because we need to make sure that young people have the skills they need in other to find the jobs and use effectively to employ themselves in the world of work; but we are also learning that having those technical skills isn’t enough, we need to understand the soft skills, life skills, socio-emotional skills that are needed to obtain job, be successful in an interview, work with others in a job, solve problems and conflicts – all of those skills that are far beyond the ‘how do you turn the screwdriver’ technical vocational skills . We have as development institutions – World Bank and others, largely focused on technical vocational skills , we are learning now that we have to broaden our understanding of what skills are and that is fundamental. Secondly, there are 1.8billion young people in the world and between now and 2030 we are going to have another 600 million people of young people entering the labor market, the 2030 workforce! When you think about that, we are not going to create enough jobs for all those young people. There are a million young people entering the labor force every month in Sub-Saharan Africa and that is a huge number of people and given the current rate of job creation, we are not going to be able to absorb them. We have to find ways of getting these young people to create their own jobs and jobs for others. Entrepreneurship! We are learning that entrepreneurship programs, promoting self employment , giving people resources and the access to the services they need to start their own businesses is far more effective than working on the traditional skills we have been working on for generations. Helping people to start their own businesses, to be entrepreneurs, to be creative, to take risks, giving them access to Finance, access to markets , helping them register businesses; all of those things turn out to be incredibly important in helping young people find employment.

Q. Entrepreneurship brings in another layer of issues. They face structural policies within their countries that hinders them such as getting capital, ability to register their businesses etc play a role as part of the issues young entrepreneurs face. Another thing is – how does the World bank work with other countries to encourage young people to be entrepreneurial which is different from giving aid. What are some things in place right now with the relationship the WBG has or with PPP. (Public Private Partnerships)

A.The question about getting young people in self employment, young people are incredibly creative and resourceful. When we talk about youth unemployment; in many parts of Africa , people can’t afford to be unemployed frankly speaking, they have to be doing something and they do. They are incredibly creative and resourceful . Starting new businesses, being entrepreneurs but what we have to do for those young people is to figure out how to make them more productive. They are working but they are working many many hours a day but not earning as much as they could or being productive as much as they could, they don’t have the resources to increase their productivity, they have entered work, so the problem is not finding them a job, the question is considering they are working, how do we make their work more productive? So we are trying to work with governments, our clients and partners around the world where we are providing the resources, tools, access to finance, opening up the rules about who gets to register a business, opening up rules about who gets to own businesses and productive resources so we are working on the policy side to increase the opportunity for young people to start businesses when they haven’t been able to.

Q. Is this working especially when you consider the corruption of some governments?

A.What we are finding from the literature is promoting entrepreneurship and self employment can be very very successful. This requires that we encourage skills for employment, skills for running a business, technical skills for what the business actually does, mentoring and support over the long term can really have a big impact. But sustained mentoring and support over considerable amount of time and having access to finance and the other resources that are needed to starting your own business. Those things can be incredibly successful.

Q. For young folks watching, how can they access these resources?

A.They can work with municipal governments and local governments they have these programs, they are all over the continent, entrepreneurship support , they are not just world bank projects, they are often supported by the lending and technical assistance of institutions like the world bank and others not just us, we are only one player in this whole scheme of things. There are many organizations that are also involved in providing the services and support of services technically and financially. The private sector itself has enormous investments in developing these skills and talents of young people around the continent. There are firms that invest enormous sums of money in young people because they know that this is where the next generation of consumers will be, the next middle class, the next generation of workers. The private sector knows this. They are already engaged in Africa developing these talents and skills and enterprises among young people. There are huge numbers of programs out there through out the continent that young people can take advantage of, I don’t have a list of them but we could provide them- maybe that is something we can do on our website- to provide examples of programs like these that young people can take advantage of.

Q. Entrepreneurship is great solution you have highlighted, but financing solutions are equally relevant like the M-Pesa solution?

A.M-Pesa is great because it does many many things, it started off as a mechanism for transaction but then they grew and started to provide services for savings and other sorts of financial intermediation whether it’s savings , lending, or financial literacy education and capability and decision making , so they have expanded their services quite broadly successful but Mpesa is only one example. There are many others.

Q. What are sub-sectors that young people can look to work in such as the agricultural sector and new technologies in agriculture?

A. I have to tell you, I used to be an agricultural economist many years ago and the point that I made earlier that most young people still live in rural areas is perfectly related to that. The opportunities for young people in urban and rural areas and suburban – in between rural and urban, a large part of the economy at least in the next twenty years will come from agriculture and related services ; what is important there is the value added. What can you do to add value to the product? There is the farming side and increase in the productivity and efficiency of farming technology & production, increase in the efficiency of markets- making sure that the markets actually work that people get the right prices for their products and products can move from place to place and people have information about what prices are available that people have the technology necessary to both harvest and transport and transform the product. Thinking about this transforming part, where the opportunities I think in the short run are in the transformative parts, so moving from primary products to finished products. If you think about the growing middle class  consumers in Lagos or Nairobi, they are consuming processed products and not raw products and thinking about the export markets, it is the transformed products that get exported. That is where the value is, so thinking about how to take advantage of that value chain to making sure that prices work, the market work, information flows , transport works -all of that is essential and then capture that value added and capture that increased value that you can create in that market chain from primary product to consumers; that I think is a fantastic opportunity available to people at the moment.

Q. Where do we go from here? Leaving this forum, this conversation…For me as a young person, I don’t see youth as being stagnant, I see a lot of youth making impact , building networks and creating a difference. What I think we need are partnerships , investments, need people to invest in us. But I am curious about what you think:

A. I think you just highlighted it all. Going forward, young people have to be the solution by working together, being creative, not accepting the status quo, coming up with bell new ideas, being change-makers. You have partly described why I love what I do. It is that energy of creativity, energy and passion, dedication that makes this really valuable. I am not the one that is going to find the  solutions, it is going to be you and your networks, colleagues and peers that will find the answers to this and it is not up to me but up to you.

Fashanu: We hope you will partner with us as you are already doing. Thank-you.

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