26 Million Youth: Our Promise or Peril

Craig Barrett, 21, leads a queue of young people, including Charlie Simpson and Ms Dynamite, outside the Job Centre in Charin
Craig Barrett, 21, leads a queue of young people, including Charlie Simpson and Ms Dynamite, outside the Job Centre in Charing Cross, London, to raise awareness of the million young people out of work in the UK.

This summer, as I was touring the United States promoting my book, I had the opportunity to speak at Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington. I was incredibly impressed by the people I met there and enjoyed the conversation we had. As I reflect on 2013 and look ahead to 2014,I've been thinking back on that visit, because I realize that the real lesson from Microsoft's success is not just about software, or hardware, or innovation. It's also about the value of giving young people a chance to succeed.

The willingness of the parents at the school attended by a young Bill Gates to purchase a computer terminal and access to a central computer helped lead to today's Microsoft. And today's Microsoft isn't just one of the most valuable corporations in the world, it also employs nearly 100,000 people.

There are 26 million young people in the developed world who are not currently employed, in school or in training programs, according to the OECD. Forget losing weight or exercising more: Our most important resolution for 2014 needs to be solving the youth unemployment crisis.

Youth unemployment is above 35 percent in Italy, more than 53 percent in Spain, and today is nearing 60 percent in Greece--an exceedingly painful situation for our young people, and our economy.

Even in the United States, where the economy is in stronger shape by world standards, youth unemployment is 16.2 percent.

The Economist called today's millennials "Generation jobless," and the numbers bear out that title. Not even counting those who are enrolled in school, young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 17% of the world's population, but 40% of the jobless.

Seen that way, today's young people are living in the equivalent of a global Great Depression.

This demands our attention because the greater the number of unemployed youth, the greater the likelihood of social unrest.

S.D. Shibulal, the CEO of Infosys, said it clearly, "People, particularly the youth, need to be productively employed, or we will witness rising crime rates, stagnating economies and the deterioration of our social fabric."

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has called youth unemployment a "time bomb."

But young people are not the problem here. In fact, they can be the solution.

And that's the key reason we need to work to open up more opportunities for young people. If our world is able to effectively tap the energy, idealism, and talents of young people, they can be the ones to solve so many societal challenges - and can create millions of jobs in the process.

Take a look at the Jagriti Yatra journey taken every year by 450 young people in India - a cross-country train trip that serves as a business incubator. As these young people travel, they look for opportunities to launch their own businesses or social organizations. (A similar effort was recently begun in the United States.)

I believe we must all use the power and platforms we have to make the difference we can. So what am I doing to support young people?

In 2012, I made a commitment to support the projects of 12 Greek youth who had ideas to improve their communities. To connect them with other young social entrepreneurs, I had the students I sponsored attend the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University conference in St. Louis. When they returned to Greece, they launched their projects.

What these students have accomplished continually amazes me. Milenko Pilic is a young man who recruited a team to develop HeySuccess, the largest database of opportunities for youth in the world.

Through the site, thousands of students and young professionals have been connected to opportunities that they would have been unlikely to learn of otherwise. Ever the entrepreneur, Milenko is expanding HeySuccess to include live coaching and a video book.

Another student I've sponsored, Konstantinos Giamalis, is engaging restaurants and supermarkets in his city to make daily donations of leftover food. The food they donate is delivered by volunteers to churches and other organizations, where it is prepared into meals for the needy in the community.

In just the past few months, Konstantinos's organization has provided over 4,000 meals. Konstantinos himself recently started a full-time job, which he received because the company's leadership had heard about his CGIU/Angelopoulos project.

Then there's Eirini Botonaki. Eirini recognized that local schools on the island of Crete were suffering in the wake of Greece's economic depression. She founded an organization called School's Aid to help meet these needs.

Eirini recruited university students to provide tutoring to underserved children with special needs. Responding to new requests, School's Aid has since expanded its services to provide support to schools for blind children as well. They are now developing a game that seeing and sightless children can play together.

In giving these young people the opportunity to pursue their ideas, I believe my investment is creating a virtuous cycle. As these ideas take off, these young people are helping and employing others.

I am so inspired by the work of these three young adults and the work of their peers that, at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, I made a commitment to sponsor the projects of up to 25 additional Greek students this year.

Leaders have the obligation to unleash the ideas, energy, and eternal optimism that exist in the world's youth--and, in 2014, I hope other philanthropists will join me in this effort.

I want our young people to live in a world brimming with opportunity, and I believe, more than ever, the way to do that is to give them more of a hand in creating that world.