'Youth power' - a term that is being widely used nowadays! There is much more scope now than before for young people to be empowered, develop their skills, and make their voices heard - to become 'changemakers' in our respective societies. I consider myself lucky to be a young person in this era.
My journey as a 'changemaker' has been blessed with support from various institutions, and perhaps, this journey excelled in 2015 when I started to work as a youth volunteer with Plan International Bangladesh. Honestly, I would say that I was privileged to live in the capital, privileged not to work to earn money at that young age, and privileged to receive a quality education. But, not all of the young people of Bangladesh are this privileged. Most of the young people live in the country's rural areas - where there is a disparity in access to opportunity, education quality, and access to information. But these young people have one thing that defines them, sets them apart, and makes them champions in their communities - their unfathomable courage and their will to bring positive change to society. If there were any matrix to measure the level of courage and will, the youths of Bangladesh would have indeed topped in the whole world!
It is already known that Bangladesh is enjoying a demographic dividend now. There have not been so many young people in the country's history before, and another demographic dividend would be a long time away when this window of opportunity diminishes around 2040. This decade is the time to cash in this dividend - the young people have to take charge; they have to become active citizens and initiators of development in Bangladesh.
As a young development enthusiast, I feel that we, the youths, are ready to take the responsibility. The literacy rate in Bangladesh is at the highest ever, and our generation is as tech-savvy as it can get. Youth entrepreneurship is blooming in the country - from starting VC-funded businesses to becoming mental health advocates - you name it, youths are everywhere! Whenever this country has been facing any crisis, be it the covid-19 pandemic or the unparalleled flood this year, the youths of Bangladesh acted as the first responders and reached even the remotest corner of the country where even the responsible authorities could not go at some cases. All we need now is proper guidance from our adult counterparts, and an improved access to resources to hone our skills.
But it is not only about youths themselves being ready, it is also about whether there are processes in place to foster youth leadership. Although many development organizations such as Plan International Bangladesh are working relentlessly to promote and strengthen youth participation and leadership, there is still a long way to go. There are still significant barriers and challenges at the policy level to support young people's initiatives. 'Ageism' still exists in many places and sectors, undermining young people taking meaningful initiatives on their own. However, it is a happy sight that the government of Bangladesh is taking many steps along with stakeholders from different sectors to facilitate young people's initiatives and integrate the young population as vital actors in Bangladesh's development interventions.
And this is precisely what we need. We need different generations working together in synergy. The theme for this year's International Youth Day, "Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages", could not have been more perfect in the context of Bangladesh. The wave of young people's positive changemaking has started to hit our lovely country, and everyone needs to embrace this wave and pave the way for this wave. Only then can we ensure a bright future for this country. And to my fellow young champs - let's continue the good work that all of us are doing together, and let's keep working to make Bangladesh a better place. I want to conclude here by mentioning one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Mead,
"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Kamrul Hasan Shawon, Co-founder, Youth for Change Bangladesh
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