Stories – People & Planet

People & Planet – Expert view

Preparing the world’s youth for the future.

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About Wesley Furrow

Wesley Furrow is innovation manager at UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited (Gen U). A former management consultant, Furrow initially joined UNICEF to help lead efficiency initiatives. He was drawn to Gen U due to his strong interest in helping youth thrive, and jumped at the chance to move into the innovation manager role.

Wesley Furrow, innovation manager at Generation Unlimited (Gen U for short), is working hard to prepare our youth for the future.

“There are approximately 1.8 billion young people around the world, ages 10 to 24," says Furrow. “In speaking with them, we found they don’t feel they are being adequately prepared for the next generation of the workforce.” UNICEF research also found that youth feel while they have ideas, they don’t have an avenue to bring those ideas to light in order to improve the world we’re living in.

Gen U is a global multi-sector partnership with an ambitious goal: by 2030, every youth and young person in the world will either be in education and training, entrepreneurship, or age-appropriate employment.

Gen U develops country-specific programs tailored for different regions of the world based on their unique needs. Convened by the UN Secretary-General at the 73rd UN General Assembly in 2018, GenU also identifies and supports new breakthrough projects – innovative models that show promise in tackling challenges experienced in multiple geographies – and then scales them globally.

One such breakthrough is the Youth Agency Market Place, known as Yoma, which originated in Nairobi. Yoma, conceptualized by UNICEF, GenU and a set of core partners, is a solution that seeks to enhance youth agency by surrounding young people with a marketplace of opportunities to Grow (e.g., online learning), Impact (e.g., Volunteer opportunities), and Thrive (e.g., linkage to employment). Completion of these opportunities is recorded in a digital profile and results in a verifiable CV.

Yoma works together with a suite of ecosystem partners, which includes private-sector companies, who are vital in Yoma’s success – providing not only financial assistance but also expertise in the development of the platform itself and relevant opportunities for participating youth.

“We want to impact every single youth and young person in the world to make sure that they’re employed, educated and involved in entrepreneurship or training.”

No internet, no television, no radio

While Covid-19 has fast-tracked the transition to remote work and remote learning, Furrow reminds us that not everyone has been able to leverage those opportunities. “There is still a broad digital divide in the world. Some 463 million youth and young people cannot be reached by digital or broadcast," he says. “No Internet, no television and no radio means no education when physical schools are closed or too far away.”

There is still a broad digital divide in the world.” In order to bridge the digital divide, GenU and UNICEF recently published an article identifying four critical stepping stones:

“There is still a broad digital divide in the world.”

GenU is now working with partners to make steady progress in each area – for instance, supporting a program to ensure there is internet access and at least one internet-ready device at every school in the world. GenU is also developing programs to help eliminate gender differences in education around the world, to ensure equal access for boys and girls, and working to scale up online learning platforms to increase their reach into remote areas.

Online learning platforms offer great opportunities to provide locally relevant content, in local languages, that fills gaps in the curriculums, for example. But even more crucial is the access to these platforms. “Even if you have access to the Internet and there is content available, if you do not have a device to access this content, then it’s useless," notes Furrow. That’s why UNICEF also works with partners to figure out how to provide devices.

Furrow believes that far from silencing the voices of youth around the world, Covid-19 and the need to cope with it became a point that caused many young people to spring into action.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is everyone’s concern," says Furrow. “We should and must reflect together how to maintain health on earth for each and every one of us, no matter who we are and where we come from. At UNICEF, we want to affect every single youth and young person in the world to make sure that they are employed, educated and involved in entrepreneurship or training. “While the numbers may be overwhelming,” he says, “when you drill down to the local level, to one person and how you can impact them, it’s so rewarding.”