A major motivation in our global society’s social programs is building a better world, and young people are central stakeholders in development, domestically and internationally. . We want our policies, programs, evaluations, and actions to benefit the citizens of tomorrow. We must therefore think seriously about the role youth should be playing in creating the solutions they and future generations will have to live with.

A Valuable Perspective

Young people, unencumbered by the experiences of the past, don’t marvel at new technology; they readily adopt it. They use mobile apps to share stories and transfer cash among friends. They don’t bat an eye at communities of practice that span continents and they don’t see a face-to-face meeting as a prerequisite to action. They also are less likely to question who is at the table at that meeting and aren’t shocked, for example, at seeing women and people of color in professions that were once barred to them. Younger minds are open to the future in ways that significantly benefit the evaluation, design, and rollout of social programs.

Insatiable Energy

new GHPOD podcast reviews the physiology of younger brains, and shows that youth are naturally wired to undermine risk and be quicker to act. They mobilize quickly and, according to Chris Miller, USAID Turkmenistan Country Director, “do an amazing job in ways that I don’t think we could have ever planned for. They create space, create time, in ways that you just can’t build into a program.”

Social Connection

Engaging youth in social programs and trusting them with important decisions and action enables them to channel their energy for a good cause. It makes them more empathetic citizens, more inclined toward paths for engagement and influence in peaceful and productive ways. This means there is a double return to investing in youth—the positive things they contribute and the negative things they avoid.

Inviting in the Power of Youth: The Right Thing to Do

If we live by the essence of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must not leave youth behind. It is only fair to invite youth to exercise control over the future we are building together. After all, they will have to live with it.

EnCompass, with partner Social Impact, manages the Global Health Professional and Organizational Development II program (GHPOD II) for USAID.

Photo c/o GHPOD II, All rights reserved