We live in a fast-paced, unpredictable, and tumultuous period in time. Our world is more interconnected than ever by trade, travel, and technology. Multilateral institutions that have played a key role in building our cross-border globalized economies are being put to the test, while humankind is confronted with a multitude of security threats. The global economy is slowing-down, inequalities are widening between, as well as within countries, and biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates in history — eroding the very foundations of human existence. The rise of nationalism, populism, and the defiance of representative democracy undermine the social fabric of nations and jeopardize regional and international stability. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wave of discontent among the world’s youth.
This forum is certainly timely. About 40% of the global population is currently under 24. In Africa, about 40% of the population is under 15. In Asia and Latin America, they represent 25% of the population. Recent upheaval spanning continents — from international climate strikes, the Gilets Jaunes movement in France, to revolutions and demonstrations in various parts of the world — all differ in context and scale, but appear to share one common denominator: Young people are unhappy and they want to shake up the established order.
Their unfulfilled youthful aspirations are no different than the ones from previous generations. They are rooted in shared grievances about economic inequality and worries about job prospects. While the global labor force participation rate for young people aged 15 to 24 declined significantly between 1993 and 2018, a majority of the 3.3 billion people employed throughout the world are currently working under poor conditions that do not guarantee them a decent living.
Their belief that “life could be better” provides a timely opportunity to revive multilateralism, and make it more inclusive and equitable. We must correct previous fault-lines and build the necessary spaces for open dialogue across continents in order to ensure that these aspirations can become catalysts of inclusive and sustainable development. The Paris Peace Forum offers a platform to reaffirm our commitment for international cooperation, particularly in support of African initiatives.
Young people are unhappy and they want to shake up the established order.
These discussions are important because they facilitate a better understanding of the intricacies and challenges of our shifting world, they clear misunderstandings, and they bring the invaluable benefit of multiple viewpoints to tackle pressing regional and global issues — all while including younger people from all backgrounds and locations.
Ensuring that young people acquire adequate skills to make a difference in the world also lies at the heart of the Policy Center for the New South’s mission. As part of our flagship event in Marrakech, the Atlantic Dialogues conference, our Emerging Leaders Program intended for dedicated young leaders from the Atlantic Basin and Africa aims to engage youth in policy-making and in shaping new narratives. Last year, 45 emerging leaders participated in designing a collective roadmap to build a cohesive Atlantic Community by 2025. They explored socio-economic and political challenges faced by countries in the North and the South Atlantic basin, and suggested bold and innovative ideas to advance integration in this area. For the second consecutive year, a dozen Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders are also participating in the Paris Peace Forum.
“Ensuring that youthful aspirations become catalysts of inclusive and sustainable development requires correcting previous fault-lines and building the necessary spaces for open dialogue across continents”
Undoubtedly, multilateralism has achieved some solid results throughout the years. It remains a valuable instrument to promote fair cooperation for the benefit of all. Yet, reforms are of the essence if we want to establish a dynamic global international system that is able to navigate these uncertain and challenging times. One of the ways to do so is by adopting a multi-stakeholder approach that fosters innovation and makes space for all those willing to contribute — including the youth. It is particularly important for the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which can only be realized with a strong commitment to enhanced North-South and South-South cooperation, but also better intergenerational dialogue. To achieve this ambitious agenda, we know that we have to work hand in hand with all stakeholders across the board, and this starts with coming together and listening to each other.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Karim El Aynaoui, President of Policy Center for the New South
President of the Policy Center for the New South and Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University. He is also Advisor to the Chairman of the OCP Group. He was Director of Economics and International Relations within the Central Bank of Morocco, and economist at the World Bank. Also member of the Board of the OCP Foundation and the Trilateral Commission, he holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bordeaux.