Corporate Social Responsibility Central to Improving Prospects for Unemployed Youth

Corporate Social Responsibility Central to Improving Prospects for Unemployed Youth

By William S. Reese

Twenty-seven-year-old Emad Ayyash provides much needed guidance to new business start ups; Hanan Qandil, 29, empowers low-income young women to earn a living by selling crafts made out of recycled materials; and Osama Farhat, 23, has started his own company producing a backpack that uses solar technology to charge laptops. These young entrepreneurs from Jordan are helping to expand job, entrepreneurship and civic engagement opportunities in the Middle East region where young people are facing a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate.  And they are all supported through a partnership between the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Starbucks.

I mention this multi-sector collaboration because I see growing momentum and a sense of urgency these days among business and government leaders (and often young entrepreneurs as well) to do more to address global challenges such as youth unemployment, and to work together to achieve real impact. We urgently need to keep that momentum going.

For more than two decades, IYF has been advocating that you can’t tackle the toughest issues of our time — poverty, education, jobs — unless you bring the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations together to create positive, scalable and sustainable change. For years, we’ve argued that to turn the current “youth bulge” liability into an opportunity — or in fact, a demographic dividend for greater economic growth and security — we must empower today’s young people with the skills they need to be successful in life, on the job, and in society. We also make the case that to have a lasting impact, we must scale up proven-practice programs that can reach and benefit not just hundreds or tens of thousands but millions of young people worldwide.

Now, high level leaders and policy makers are not just listening to our call to action– a growing number of them, particularly in the private sector, are working with us and many others to find measurable solutions.

A case in point in CSR Saudi Arabia held in November 2013 in Jeddah was to encourage business leaders from Saudi Arabia and beyond to more fully engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives aimed at improving young people’s employment prospects and supporting their aspirations for a better life. A keynote panel at the conference focused on encouraging participation in Saudi Youth@Work, an initiative of IYF and the King Khalid Foundation  that is currently working with Hilton Worldwide to provide entry-level employees in four of its hotels with the skills and practical training needed to jump start their careers in the hospitality sector.  The program will also help strengthen the capacity of local youth-serving organizations to improve the economic and civic engagement opportunities among the Kingdom’s young people.

Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the issue of youth unemployment – and the need for public, private partnerships to address that issue – also took center stage. At a meeting of corporate and government leaders, Chris Nassetta, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide, talked about his company’s efforts to prepare millions of young people for jobs in his industry over the next few years. He understands that “doing good” — by investing in education and job training programs — is also good for the growth of his company and the health of the global economy. “We have a tremendous opportunity to prevent a lost generation of young people by helping them acquire the life skills and job training they need to be successful in the workplace, and beyond,” he told the crowd. “As a global citizen and a leader in one of the largest industries in the world, we at Hilton have a business imperative and responsibility to develop solutions that preserve our collective futures.” Hilton and IYF have released a white paper  that details the economic and social struggles facing youth today, and offers a roadmap for the hospitality industry to create meaningful career pathways for this emerging workforce.

Creating new jobs — and ensuring young people have the right skills to meet existing workforce demands — will not be solved by one company or one government alone. As we heard at the CSR Saudi conference, public-private partnerships provide the collective resources and knowledge to scale up tested programs that have real impact. The result? Millions more youth – in the Middle East and around the globe — will become the drivers of economic growth as well as the faces of positive change in their communities.

Mr. Reese is the President and CEO of the International Youth Foundation.