The State of Global Youth Development

S. M. Rayhanul Islam
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017


(Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016, Published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Pages: 168, ISBN (e-book): 978-1-84859-053-6)


The world’s youth population is at an all-time high, at 1.8 billion people aged 15 to 29. Young people have huge aspirations and vast capabilities, but too often face barriers in realizing their full potential as productive citizens. “The Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016” examines the state of youth development in 183 countries, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. It covers five domains, measuring young people’s levels of education, health and well-being, employment and opportunity, as well as civic participation and political participation. The publication contains six chapters. The first chapter ‘Generation Hope: Young People in a Changing World’ introduces the Youth Development Index and explains the theoretical framework that underpins it. It seeks to define and unpack the concept of youth development in the context of the wider discourse on human development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Like human development, youth development is a concept that can be better understood through an aggregation of several indicators. The YDI is a composite index of 18 indicators that collectively measure progress on youth development in 183 countries, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.


Chapter-2 ‘2016 Global Youth Development Index: Results and Analysis’ analyses the key findings from the 2016 Global YDI and summarizes the state of youth development in 183 countries. The YDI highlights the progress countries have made since 2010 in improving socio-economic opportunities and outcomes for young people, and identifies potential areas for policy focus and investment by governments and other stakeholders. In aggregate, youth development is improving on a global level, although the rate of progress is very slow. The Global YDI score has improved by 3 per cent between 2010 and 2015, though more progress has been achieved in some domains than others, and not all young people have benefited in equal measure. Of the 183 countries considered in the index, 142 recorded improvements in their YDI scores over the last five years, with the largest gains being in Kenya, South Africa, Niger, Togo and Malawi, in that order, all Sub-Saharan African countries. There was a fall in YDI scores in 40 countries, with the deterioration being greatest in Pakistan, Angola, Haiti, Algeria and Chad. The Commonwealth is home to one-third of the global youth population. Over the past five years, youth development in the Commonwealth has registered larger gains than the global average. Collectively, there has been a 5 per cent increase in the average YDI score of Commonwealth countries between 2010 and 2015. Of the 49 Commonwealth countries included in the Index, 45 have improved their YDI scores. While levels of youth development have improved across the world between 2010 and 2015, progress has been uneven. There are sharp disparities in youth development between and within different regions and countries.


The third chapter ‘Pushing for Change: Youth and Political Participation’ examines the evolving nature of youth participation in political and civic affairs, with a particular focus on the rise of informal or non-formal modes of participation such as protest movements and digital activism. It also summarizes how young people are increasingly finding creative and innovative ways to influence policies or decisions and change the course of history at local, national and global levels. While the indicators in the 2016 YDI reflect an improvement in the enabling environment for youth political participation, young people themselves tend to be less engaged with formal modes of participation. For example, there is ample evidence to suggest that they are less likely to vote than older people. The decline in young people’s interest in formal politics does not, however, mean that they now care less about politics. Young people’s involvement in community affairs and informal politics has increased significantly over the past five years. Participation for young people today increasingly involves experimenting with nontraditional activities including volunteering, blogging, protests and consumer activism, particularly when an issue close to their hearts is at stake. Young people are using social media to express their opinion, participate in campaigns and organize protests. In countries where freedom of association and assembly are constrained and traditional media are censored, the role of social media is particularly critical in providing space to young people to express their opinion and mobilize support for their cause.


Chapter-4 ‘Agents of Peace: Young People and Violent Conflict’ primarily focuses on violent conflict and its impact on the lives of young people. It also examines how young people can contribute to peace-building. Violence and armed conflicts have long-lasting and wide-ranging consequences for young people and the communities they are a part of. The three countries that showed the greatest decline in their YDI scores between 2010 and 2015 – Pakistan, Angola and Haiti – have all been affected by civil unrest, armed conflict and/or natural disasters in the recent past. On the contrary, over the past few years, the role of young people in peace-building has evolved rapidly. They are emerging as vocal and effective actors within the peace-building movement at both the global and local level. The community-level peace-building in which many young people are engaged, often in the face of great danger to themselves and their families, and the rejection by a majority of young people of extremist ideologies and causes, are proof that they can be highly effective agents and champions of peace.


The fifth chapter ‘Building A Youth-Friendly World: A Long Way to Go’ summarizes the key findings – positive and negative – from the 2016 Global YDI, as well as the policy-relevant insights on youth development emerging from the research undertaken for this report. The state of global youth development, as revealed by the 2016 YDI, can be said to be modestly encouraging in some spheres and worryingly inadequate in others. On the positive side: Youth development in Commonwealth countries is improving at a higher rate than it is across the world in general. While there has been progress in all the five youth development domains of the YDI, the most significant progress has been made in the Civic Participation and Political Participation domains. Of the five YDI domains, Education has the highest average score, indicating the significant improvement in young people’s access to education, especially since the adoption of the MDGs in 2000. Gender gaps in education have narrowed and, in fact, education levels for young females and males are on par in most high YDI countries. The YDI also highlights some serious shortcomings in youth development at the global and national levels, most visible in the levels of inequality and deprivation that blight the lives of so many young people around the world. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s youth population is living in countries with a low or medium level of youth development. Youth development tends to be most sluggish in countries where young people constitute a large proportion of the population. Despite impressive improvement in civic participation and the environment in which youth political participation takes place, young people’s participation in formal politics is declining. Most young people are increasingly taking part in informal modes of participation such as digital activism, protests and volunteering.


The last chapter ‘2016 Global Youth Development Index: Country Rankings and Domain Scores’ presents in detail the YDI rankings and domain scores for the 183 countries in the 2016 Global YDI, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. The top ten countries globally in the 2016 Youth Development Index are: Germany, Denmark, Australia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal and Japan. The top ten Commonwealth member countries are: Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Malta, Barbados, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Cyprus. In 2016, the global average youth development score was 0.616, slightly ahead of the Commonwealth average of 0.606. The index however shows Commonwealth member countries registered larger gains in youth development than the global average. Youth development is multidimensional and cross-sectoral in nature. The data and insights revealed by the YDI are of critical importance to policy makers, development workers, researchers and young people.


The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail:

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