In addition to the annual International Day of Youth, for twelve months, the United Nations commemorated the 2010-2011 International Year of Youth. A descriptive report on the implementation of the year is now available, but an evaluation and impact assessment remains missing. Has anything substantial changed? Youth Policy looks at the objectives of the year, and the questions that remain unanswered as we move forward.
For twelve months, the United Nations commemorated the 2010-2011 International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. It had been declared by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 64/134 (pdf) and commenced on 12 August 2010 with a global launch event with the aim of “generating much needed attention for youth participation and youth development at local, national and global levels.”
The International Year of Youth—proclaimed against the backdrop of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1985 International Youth Year: Participation, Development, Peace—was framed by three key objectives:
1. Create Awareness: increase commitment and investment in youth
- Increase recognition of youth development as a smart investment by the public and private sectors;
- Advocate for the recognition of young people’s contributions to national and community development and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals;
- Promote understanding of inequalities amongst youth and how to effectively address the needs of the most disadvantaged;
- Foster research and knowledge building on youth to better inform youth policies and programmes.
2. Mobilize and Engage: increase youth participation and partnerships
- Institutionalize mechanisms for youth participation in decision-making processes;
- Support youth-led organizations and initiatives to enhance their contribution to society;
- Strengthen networks and partnerships among governments, youth-led organizations, academia, civil society organizations, the private sector, the media and the UN system, to enhance commitment and support for holistic youth development.
3. Connect and Build Bridges: increase intercultural understanding among youth
- Promote youth interactions, networks and partnerships across cultures;
- Empower and support youth as agents of social inclusion and peace.
At United Nations level, the activities of the year were coordinated by the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, with the UN Programme on Youth leading the collective effort. Mirroring the cross-sectoral approach of youth policy, the Inter-Agency Network brings together the various parts of the UN system that support youth development through a diverse range of programs and activities. The Network developed the UN Framework Approach for the International Year of Youth as a concrete and tangible reference system for the Year (including the three key objectives outlined above) and, on the occasion of the UN High-Level Meeting on Youth in July 2011, pledged in a joint statement to increase the effectiveness of the United Nations in advocating for and supporting the implementation of international agreements and development goals on youth (source, pdf).
In the report on the implementation of the International Year of Youth (pdf), the UN Secretariat highlights key activities and initiatives and puts forward recommendations to sustain the momentum generated during the Year. As key activities of the year, the report mentions, inter alia
- the World Youth Congress from 21 July to 12 August 2010, the Global Launch Event on 12 August 2010, the World Youth Conference from 24 to 27 August 2010, the High Level Meeting on Youth on 25 and 26 July 2011 and the Culmination Celebration on 11 August 2011;
- numerous civil society initiatives on global scale—most prominently by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in combination with their commemoration of 100 years of international girl guiding and girl scouting—and in 85 countries: the report speaks of ‘countless’ events and doesn’t quantify the numbers of initiatives, whereas the official calendar of events lists 426 events throughout the year, supported by an activities kit (pdf) to celebrate the year;
- the launch of the Global Employment Trends for Youth Report by ILO, the International Labour Organization, and the Inaugural Global Youth Employment Agenda Meeting on 2 and 3 December 2010;
- the PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival and the Convention of the Global Youth Movement by the Alliance of Civilizations Youth Section;
- visits of UN Youth Champion Monique Coleman to more than 25 countries during the year;
- a wide range of thematic briefing sessions, leading to a series of fact sheets and regional overviews.
In conclusion, the UN Report on the International Year of Youth observes that
“… the International Year of Youth successfully underscored the role of youth in the achievement of the global development agenda, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. The activities of governments, civil society and United Nations entities related to the year brought the youth agenda to prominence. Further efforts are needed, however, to maintain and capitalize upon the momentum generated during the year.”
and recommends that
“… the General Assembly may wish to consider the following recommendations, calling upon Member States:
- To further strengthen partnerships with and among young people, youth organizations, academia, civil society organizations, the private sector, the media and the United Nations system in order to develop partnerships with youth;
- To continue promoting a culture of dialogue and mutual understanding among and with youth, as agents of development, social inclusion, tolerance and peace;
- To undertake measures in partnership with relevant stakeholders to develop a youth-centred global development agenda.”
The report, in focusing on listing the various events, activities, initiatives and meetings and resorting to very general recommendations, does not make, and does not allow for, a judgment of the Year in relation to its three key objectives.
Some of the unanswered questions are:
Key objective 1. Create Awareness: increase commitment and investment in youth
- Has the recognition of youth development as a smart investment by the public and private sectors increased?
- Has the recognition of young people’s contributions to national and community development and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals increased?
- Has the understanding of inequalities amongst youth and how to effectively address the needs of the most disadvantaged increased?
- Has research and knowledge building on youth to better inform youth policies and programmes been fostered beyond the 14 fact sheets?
Key objective 2. Mobilize and Engage: increase youth participation and partnerships
- Which mechanisms for youth participation in decision-making processes have been Institutionalized?
- Was the support to youth-led organizations and initiatives to enhance their contribution to society effective?
- Are networks and partnerships to enhance commitment and support for holistic youth development now stronger?
Key objective 3. Connect and Build Bridges: increase intercultural understanding among youth
- Have youth interactions, networks and partnerships across cultures been promoted beyond the stakeholders already active at UN level in the youth field before the start of the year?
- How was youth empowered and supported as agents of social inclusion and peace?
The UNESCO evaluation matrix—developed through the assessment of 50 global and regional youth events and leaning on the fifteen thematic areas of the World Programme of Action on Youth—to be presented at the UNESCO Youth Forum in October 2011 might prove to be a useful tool to thoroughly assess the impact of the International Year of Youth; otherwise an alternative approach will be needed for an in-depth evaluation.
Already in 2007, Ban Ki-Moon called for governments to consider the contributions of young persons on all policies affecting them and argued:
“It is high time that we stopped viewing our young people as part of the problem and started cultivating their promise and potential.” 
Has the International Year of Youth brought us any closer to this ‘cultivation’ of young people’s promise and potential? Or was it little more but navel-gazing of the sector to gain and maintain some motivation?