BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Although 60 percent of the Caribbean’s population is under 30 the region is a particularly challenging space for far too many young people who are grappling with poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion. UNICEF paints a concerning picture with youth unemployment ranging as high as 46 percent in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Similarly, the International Labour Organisation estimates that 22 percent of young people in the Region are significantly affected by poverty.
Despite their collective challenges, the youth are a critical target group in a country’s development aspirations. UNESCO emphasizes that young people have a crucial role in attaining the Social Development Goals, a perspective endorsed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). Consequently, the bank has ramped up its youth outreach with a suite of initiatives including leadership training schemes, work experience programmes, and mechanisms for greater inclusion in the development sphere.
Chief among these initiatives is the CDB Future Leaders Network (CDB FLN) launched in June 2023 at the bank’s annual meeting. The CDB FLN is made up of young leaders, change agents, and innovators between the ages of 18 to 35 selected from across CDB’s Borrowing Member Countries. Network members serve for two years, acting as advocates and agents for the youth and sustainable development agendas and advisors to the Bank on youth-focused programming and projects.
“The Future Leaders Network is a key mechanism to advance youth development by providing avenues for authentic engagement with the region’s young people by amplifying their voices so they can influence and guide development discourse in the bank and also the creation of policies and programmes that meet their diverse and evolving needs,” Dr Martin Baptiste, CDB’s social sector division chief explained.
The bank has also revamped its primary youth engagement vehicle, phasing out the previous “Vybzing” program and introducing the more comprehensive ‘Youth for Innovation and Resilience (Youth FIRE).’ This initiative comprises immersive sessions centered around consultation, capacity building, and personal development activities, now conducted annually in conjunction with the bank’s annual meeting.
Closer to home, CDB is also bringing young people directly into its fold with employment initiatives geared at introducing qualified professionals and students to international development. Last year the bank rolled out its Young Professionals Programme (YPP), which provided qualified candidates in various disciplines, 32 years or younger, with two-year work placements at its head office in St Michael, Barbados. In addition, the three-month Internship Programme allows university students and recent graduates to gain work experience.
This increased and more coordinated focus on young people is among the results of CDB’s Youth Policy and Operational Strategy (YPOS) which was finalised in 2020 after two years of engagement and consultation with young men and women as well as representatives of organisations serving children and youth across the Caribbean.
Noting that the bank has provided over USD 1 billion for youth development programmes and projects over its 54 years of operation, Dr Baptise said the YPOS is now strengthening strategic guidance for sustained investment.
“Through the YPOS, we are creating even better youth development outcomes by having a more coordinated and better-informed approach to serving our young people. This group represents a valuable resource for the sustainable development of our region and the onus is on us to create societies in which they can thrive,” he said.