The International Youth Foundation (IYF) this week convened a two-day regional meeting of business, government, NGO, and youth leaders from across the Caribbean to discuss both the challenges and opportunities facing the region’s youth as they seek to find employment and become fully integrated into the local economy and the broader society. Nearly one third of all youth in the region are unemployed. The event was made possible through funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP) that is managed by the IYF on its behalf.
Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, opened the “Investing in the Future: Empowering Young People” conference with an impassioned keynote address on how to improve the lives and prospects of the region’s young people. “We must give youth real choices to get out of poverty; to remain proud and dignified; to embrace empowerment, enfranchisement, entrepreneurship, and education; and to give back to their communities.” He underscored, that “high quality education and training are essential to enable all individuals to acquire the skills that are relevant not only to the labor market but also for social inclusion and active citizenship.” In closing the Prime Minister called on all sectors of society to work together, adding: “I hope that the dialogue at this conference can help build up a different outlook that can project hope for the future.”
The event attracted over 100 participants – including top representatives from national and international organizations such as USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), as well as government, private sector, civil society, juvenile justice and youth leaders from Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barduda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
“IYF is very pleased to be part of this region-wide dialogue about how to ensure our young people – particularly those who are struggling to find a job, who are in trouble with the law, who have given up hope of a better future – have the opportunities they need to lead productive and engaged lives,” said Peter Shiras, Executive Vice President of the International Youth Foundation. “Every one of you here today – business leaders, government officials, youth leaders, NGOs – all play a critical role in empowering today’s young people so they can positively shape their lives and futures. Thank you for being here and for all you do to help young people realize their hopes for a better life.”
Launched in 2008, CYEP equips vulnerable youth across the region with the technical, vocational, and life skills needed to develop sustainable livelihoods. Youth participants in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and Saint Lucia receive life and employability skills, entrepreneurship training, and job placement services through the USAID-supported initiative. To date, 1,749 young people have benefited from the program. For Phase I of the program, 45 percent of the participants were either working or in school.
Throughout the two day event, experts in the fields of youth development, juvenile justice, economic development, and vocational training explored social and economic barriers to employment – and learned about proven programs and innovative tools to expand opportunities in those areas. The event offered unique opportunities for those at the forefront of these efforts to share their knowledge and expertise on wide range of youth-related topics.
Dr Stephen King, Co-founder of RISE (Saint Lucia) Inc. and an Independent Senator, underscored the need for collaboration on these critical issues. “The most effective form of advocacy is action. Our focus is clear: our youth and our society are facing harsh realities that need to be addressed by concerted, sustained, and effective joint action. By coordinating our efforts and resources, we can gain momentum until we reach our ultimate goal: for every young person to have the opportunities they need to be productive and have hope in their lives.”
Young people played a key role in the conference — leading panel discussions, adding their voices to the ongoing dialogue and assisting conference staff as volunteers. Several former inmates from the Bordelais Correctional Facility in Saint Lucia — who graduated from the CYEP job training program and now have jobs — read poems they had written as part of the initiative.