Youth Empowerment

Youth Empowerment

    Just over 700 million young people aged 15 to 24 live in Asia and the Pacific, comprising 60 per cent of the world’s youth. Between 2003 and 2015, secondary education gross enrolment rates increased from 59 to 80 per cent, while gross enrollments in tertiary education rose from 70 million to 125 million. Despite these gains, significant numbers of youth in the region face obstacles in their access to sustainable livelihoods because of employment, education and health-care challenges. This is especially the case in the countries which perform pic1weaker in terms of human development. For instance, countries of low HDI have an aggregate rate of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) of 26.9 per cent; for countries of high HDI the rate is 5.7 per cent.

    Investing in young people makes economic sense. If Governments across the region devise responsive national youth policies and commit themselves to investing more in youth, they create opportunities for youth to more actively contribute to the development process. Young people bring fresh ideas and energy, becoming and assisting future generations of leaders who can better deliver on making development more sustainable and inclusive. A recent report by ESCAP: Realizing Youth Inclusion for a More Sustainable Asia-Pacific, discusses the need to harness the potential of youth in the Asia-Pacific region, as without harnessing their potential, the road to inclusive and sustainable development will be severely compromised.

    pic2An opportunity also lies in enhancing inter-generational collaboration. By generating decent jobs for youth in the formal sector, young people can contribute to the well-being of ageing populations. Furthermore, formal sector jobs, preferably green jobs, generate tax revenues and set the foundation of sustainable tax-benefit systems. Such jobs hold the key for promoting universal social protection through a life cycle approach, in which contributions are made and benefits accrued from early years onwards.

    Our work

    • ESCAP has worked to enhance knowledge, capacity and regional cooperation to improve the situation young people face, through assisting Governments to develop comprehensive national youth policies and engaging young people in their programmes.
    • Launched at Asia-Pacific Climate Week in 2019, ESCAP also works to increase youth participation in climate action through its Youth Voices for Climate Action (YV4CA) initiative, building an active regional network of youth around climate action.
    • ESCAP is an active member of the Asia-Pacific Interagency Network on Youth (APINY), which is part of the UN Asia-Pacific RCM Thematic Working Group on Sustainable Societies. APINY works to enhance the impact of the United Nations youth development work in Asia and the Pacific, especially in the context of achieving the SDGs. The SDGs on which youth empowerment particularly focuses on include SDG 4 and 8.

    sdg4SDG 4 aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. There are 10 targets including the assurance that, by 2030, all girls and boys will complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education; ensuring that by 2030 there will be equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university; and that by 2030, all youth, and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

    sdg8SDG 8 promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. To achieve this goal, indicators are examined such as the proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment or training (NEET) and the total government spending in social protection and employment programmes as a proportion of the national budgets and GDP. Some targets specifically influencing/affecting youth policy include the following: Target 8.5, Target 8.6, Target 8.7 and Target 8.B.

    Social Innovation


    The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development recognizes the important role of youth in achieving the agenda, and calls for action against the challenges faced by young people that limit their economic and social inclusion.

    Today, young people are more connected, more creative, more informed and more persuasive than any previous generation. Young people are responding to the challenges of the day with innovative approaches, contributing fresh ideas, creating the world they want, and driving human development for themselves, their communities and their societies.

    At the same time, approximately 300 million young people are either unemployed or underemployed. In other words, nearly half of the 700 million young people in the region face economic insecurity. In addition, many young people are left out of decision-making processes, which contributes to their marginalization and exclusion.
    In this complex world  where development challenges are continuously changing, there is an urgent need for agile and flexible solutions that can be adapted into local contexts. Young people are at the forefront of these solutions, as some of the most creative, innovative, and tech-savvy groups of the population. As early adopters of new technology with the capacity to organize and promote solutions rapidly within communities and beyond, young people are natural leaders in social innovation. 

    Many countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region recognize this potential and the capacity within young people, and are supporting innovative solutions for social or development challenges through Innovation Challenges or programmes. In order to be successfully implemented, these projects and programmes should include policy and decision-makers to take solutions into account. Initiatives can also be implemented as social enterprises, to ensure the sustainability and lasting impact of a social innovation while providing employment opportunities to local communities and young people. Social enterprises have the potential to solve pressing social and environmental issues, such as education outcomes, access to healthcare, and youth unemployment. 

    Examples of outstanding Social Innovation Initiatives for young people include: 

    The Thailand Social Innovation Platform


    This platform seeks to strengthen the social innovation ecosystem in Thailand by facilitating the communication between the Government, private sector and people on solving the challenges neither of them can effectively tackle alone. Find out more here

    Youth Co:Lab

    youth collab

    Youth Co:Lab empowers young people in Asia and the Pacific to use innovation and entrepreneurship for social change. The regional programme is co-lead by UNDP and Citi Foundation. Find out more here

    Social Innovation Exchange


    Social Innovation Exchange is a cross-sector network helping organizations build their capacity, the necessary relationships and knowledge to deliver more social impact. Find out more here.  

    Youth Solutions Report

    Report Cover

    The Youth Solutions Report, a flagship initiative managed by the Youth Solutions Program of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, features 50 game-changing projects led by young people, allowing them to showcase their work, and presenting them with opportunities to draw interest from potential supporters. 

    Find out more here.

    Tools and Methodologies

    Research is undertaken by ESCAP on the situation of youth in the region, focusing on identifying trends and good practices on youth participation in development and decision-making to support Governments in promoting evidenced-based policies and programmes. Our key tool in this research is the Youth Policy Toolbox.

    YPTYouth Policy Toolbox: Over 2014-2017, ESCAP led the implementation of an interregional project to strengthen the capacity of Governments in Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Western Asia to respond to the needs of youth in formulating inclusive and sustainable development policies. The project developed the Youth Policy Toolbox, an ongoing resource which acts as a repository of knowledge, experiences, and good practices, and includes training modules, opinion polls, and message postings.

    The Youth Policy Toolbox will be further developed as part of an interregional project on thpic6e nexus between the demographic dividend, gender equality and the SDGs in Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. The project, to be implemented over the period 2018-2021, aims to strengthen the capacity of member States and regional economic communities to mainstream gender into national policies and programmes, promote youth development and enhance national evidence-based policies aimed at reducing inequalities and achieving sustainable development. The Toolbox contains a Good Practice page where both young people and policymakers can find in-depth reports on national programmes throughout Asia and the Pacific which focus on engaging youth and improving youth empowerment. The Toolbox also provides policy analysis, resources, an e-learning platform, recent events and primary youth data.

    The Youth Policy Toolbox is available via this link:


    The SDSN Youth Solutions Hub connects young SDG innovators with experts from industry, businesses and academia. The goal is to equip innovators with the right tools and skill-set, enhancing their capacity and enabling them to scale their sustainability solutions.

    The SDSN Youth Solutions Hub is available via this link:



    Although many resources can be found on our Youth Policy Toolbox a notable publication is Sustainable Social Development in Asia and the Pacific published in 2017.


    Another notable publication, by ESCAP and several other United Nations entities is Switched On: Youth at the Heart of Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.


    Online resource platform on Decent Work for Sustainable Development


    UN and SDGs: A Handbook for Youth

    "UN and SDGs: A Handbook for Youth" is an outcome of ESCAP East and North-East Asia’s internship program that brings young people closer to the work of the United Nations, as well as to the achievement of the ambitious set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Youth Empowerment