Creating Opportunities for Youth -- The Way Forward for the Arab World

This week the United Nations Development Programme is convening a forum in Tunis to launch a new global strategy that puts youth at the center of all the work we do in support of development worldwide.

Around the world today, young people are shaping social and economic development, challenging social norms and values, and building the foundation of the world's future. The strategy is important because it allows us to better recognize and tap into that energy for the benefit of all.

Titled Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future, the strategy is centered on the vision that when youth are informed, engaged and empowered to contribute to sustainable human development, families, communities and nations grow stronger and are better placed to withstand the challenges of the world today.

It was a special honor for me, as director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States of UNDP, that UNDP launched the strategy in Tunisia, an Arab country which today stands in a strong position at the crossroads of youth and development in the Arab world.

Here more than three years ago youth took leading roles in one of the most remarkable transformations that the Arab region -- or indeed the entire world--has ever seen. Their courage and steadfastness inspired many across the region who called for dignity and social justice, inspiring much of the world and leaving an indelible mark on the history of the Arab region.

To be sure, the process of change that Tunisian youth triggered has not taken the same course across countries, and the path ahead remains challenging for this country and the entire Arab region. But what is unmistakable is that the last few years have heralded the arrival of youth as a powerful force across the Arab region, a force that continues in different ways across the region to call for new contracts between state and society, and advocate for a better future for all.

At the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States we see clearly that the best way forward for the Arab region is to embrace this shift. The region is changing at unprecedented speed, and young people can respond to challenges in innovative ways. With the right investments and opportunities, we believe that young people across the region can truly continue to reach their potential as individuals, as leaders, and as agents of change that point our region towards the peace and prosperity we all seek.

That's why one of our major priorities moving forward is to work with Arab countries to help tap into the creativity and energy of youth, through an approach that involves helping country partners to create economic opportunities and jobs for young people, draws youth more and more effectively into democratic processes, and engages with youth to support their countries in recovering from conflict and building bridges to sustained peace.

It is a huge task of course to empower youth in a region where more than half of the population is under the age of 25. But it is a necessary task -- and a unique opportunity. It is exactly when countries reach this demographic point that real transformation tends to occur, and there will never be a better chance in this region to chart a new course for a brighter tomorrow.

We can't make it alone. Success in this effort will require sustainable and innovative partnerships to deliver. For that reason we are strengthening our partnerships with civil society, youth-led organizations and networks, governments at national and local levels, and the international community.

That's why we are launching our action plan on youth empowerment in the Arab region in a session this week that brings together youth advocates and experts from across the Arab world to share perspectives and help shape our directions. We are discussing with the private sector and regional and international partners how best they can support. And we are sharing the outcomes for review around the region on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, inviting youth to tell us what they need from the United Nations Development Programme.

Some years ago Arab youth were seen by too many as part of a problem. Today they are at the core of the solutions that the Arab region is seeking. The future is theirs, and they are ready to shape it. We need to let them. We need to join them. We need to invest in them. Not only for their sake -- but for the sake of our shared future.