Wikipedia describes youth empowerment as a process in which children and young people are encouraged to take charge of their lives by addressing specific situations, accessing resources and transforming their consciousness. Young people around the world are gaining the ability and authority to make decisions and implement changes in their individual lives and in society, and in the process. Therefore, encouraging young people to perform satisfactorily, achieve greatness and have an outsized impact on their society is a priority task of a country.
Youth empowerment can reduce the poverty rate to a great extent if and when it is meticulously harnessed. One of the key factors for empowerment is skill development. When a young person is equipped with life skills, they can use those skills to help others as valued members of society. This will in turn contribute to increased employability and contribute to the development of the nation. Youth empowerment through social innovation and entrepreneurship has incredible potential to solve problems at the local level if young people have strong platforms to connect and take action.
It is recognized that young people are the backbone of society. Their participation in all aspects of society is very important. Recognizing this fact, President Rajapaksa, in his national policy framework, has given high priority to youth mobilization. The President is committed to putting in place a viable and effective program to enable Sri Lankan youth to reach their full potential. It intends to create opportunities for the young population to participate in political decision-making and create many opportunities to thrive in entrepreneurship.
Sri Lanka is a country brimming with young people, with more than 25% of the total population able to provide a substantial contribution to the gross domestic product of the country. Therefore, there is an urgent need to empower them appropriately. Apart from government institutions assigned to youth development, there are other politically affiliated entities that exist in the country, although their actual contribution is currently a question mark.
Despite the leader’s enthusiasm, Sri Lankan youth yearn for greatness in entrepreneurship. Even with a literacy rate of over 98%, they still struggle to find adequate resources, including financial assistance, to advance in entrepreneurship. With the skills, talents and knowledge that the young people of Sri Lanka obviously possess, the country can gain not only social prosperity but also social wealth. Unfortunately, despite the instructions repeated over and over again by the leaders, the responsible government institutions adopt soft attitudes on this important issue.
Social innovation is a compelling banner around which young people can rally. Creating inclusivity in entrepreneurship means providing unparalleled opportunities for the younger generation to engage in economic activities with aspirations. Opportunities must be provided to young people from all socio-economic backgrounds, identities and professions, enabling them to recognize their own talents and knowledge.
The need to empower young people for a better future is linked to financial upliftment and improved social standards. Awareness is one of the most important factors of empowerment. A well thought out and properly prepared referral mechanism is imperative to providing a healthy perspective.
Therefore, the government, private sector organizations and all other relevant entities come together to educate young people on their respective roles in contributing to the national interest. They need to be educated not only about economic prosperity, but also about other aspects of sustainability such as environment, culture, social welfare, etc. Deep knowledge of youth-led sustainability solutions and entrepreneurship is the long-term future of the country.
The heart of youth empowerment is the belief in the capacity of young people. When exposed to inspiring ideas and opportunities, their performance in whatever activity they are engaged in can produce incredible results. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the adult population to provide them with the guidance, freedom, and tools to continue. With proper direction and guidance, young people will uphold their values and build a foundation for empowerment. Usually, more often than not, they are able to recalibrate if and when needed.
The escalation of criminal activity is today a serious problem for the government and the general public. Many such activities are reported daily by the media. Even the callousness of some of these criminal activities is incredible. Youth empowerment is a sure remedy to curb the illegal activities of young adults.
Young minds can easily be trapped in antisocial activities if they are not morally empowered. Serious social consequences can arise in society in the absence of moral values. A young person commits crimes when he is not supported morally, and often when the financial needs become unbearable. Righteous emancipation can enable a young mind to denounce the path of injustice.
Therefore, education is an extremely valuable ingredient in empowerment. By valuing education, education standards can be significantly improved. When students are trained and encouraged to acquire responsibilities and skills at an early age, they strive to become known later in life as adults.
Youth participation is a component that is embodied in empowerment. The spirit of youth empowerment still resides in their ability and skills to influence their own destiny. Therefore, equal opportunities for every young person must exist to acquire skills and knowledge through formal education, technical education and training. Young people must be given the opportunity and the power to use their abilities, sources and openings to actively participate in the decision-making process.
In order to build a sustainable economy, policy makers and citizens as a whole must present the younger generation as the future. The hugely overused slogan “youth are the future of a country” has become politicized now. The country’s vibrant youth are used whenever an election is called to run political races.
Some political parties, as a practice, manipulate young people, especially those in universities, for narrow political gains. The leaders of these politicians ruthlessly mislead young students from less affluent families into staging demonstrations and protests, robbing them of valuable time. The opinion of the general public is that this practice, which only exists in Sri Lanka, must be stopped at all costs.
Despite the fact that successive governments have made many proposals on self-employment and entrepreneurship, none of them have yet been successfully implemented. , none of them has been implemented in practice. As mentioned, government institutions are lethargic in providing the required backup and financial institutions demand exorbitant collateral on business loans. The reality on the ground is that although verbal promises are plentiful, real support is almost non-existent. Therefore, the authorities should pay more attention to these persistent problems.
Young people must have the creative freedom to shape their lives with a keen awareness of current conditions. Young people must be educated to inculcate values that contribute to their own future and to the future of the country as well. They are the only hope to rethink and reshape, to revolutionize the future of the country.
As noted, young people can bring financial stability, eradicate poverty, raise education standards and take society to new heights. However, at present, access to some important resources they need to turn their vision into reality is not available at expected levels.
Various programs, plans and policies introduced from time to time are not enough to achieve the intended goals. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Sri Lankan youth have amply displayed their skills, knowledge, creativity and innovative thinking by designing various materials, equipment and even medically important devices. Unfortunately, over time, almost all of them were forgotten by the authorities.
If the country can support their views by empowering them to make decisions, the expected changes in the socio-economic situation are not far off. Therefore, it is time for all concerned to consider youth empowerment from a more dynamic perspective.