Half of the world’s population – 3.75 billion people – are under 30 years old. Nearly a quarter of the world’s population – 1.8 billion people – are between 10 and 24 years old, of whom 90% live in emerging and developing countries.
Governments and communities are challenged to meet the diverse needs of this large and growing population, and are having difficulty in building on the assets and opportunities offered by youth. A “youth bulge” strains education systems already struggling to provide the education necessary to foster a productive and engaged citizenry. As growing numbers of youth seek and compete for jobs, levels of unemployment among youth in resource-constrained areas increase; for example, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all have youth unemployment rates over 30%, more than twice the global average; more than half of South Africa’s youth are unemployed. These large numbers of unemployed youth can be a direct threat to peace and prosperity. Further, many youth in developing countries are both the victims and perpetrators of violence. The World Health Organization reports that homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 29, and that this age group accounts for 43% of global homicides. Further, they report that up to 24% of women’s first sexual experiences are forced.
However, youth offer great, often untapped, creativity, innovation, and passion for solving the challenges they see in their own communities, and often feel deep concern about issues of fairness and justice. Their developing cognitive capacity also helps them think outside the box more easily as regularly evidenced in the technology sector. Youth have the potential to be significant change agents and a source of innovation and creativity.
Whether large youth populations create strife or solutions depends on many variables. FHI 360 believes that a carefully facilitated iterative design process, combined with an evidence-driven, project-based learning approach will help youth build essential foundational (or soft) skills, equipping them for their futures, while channeling their significant energy, passion, and creativity towards addressing community challenges related to the overlapping domains of peace, planet, and prosperity.
FHI 360 has conducted research that identifies the most important soft skills for youth outcomes, related to work, health and violence prevention, and will apply this evidence to develop a project-based and facilitator-led youth soft skills and design thinking curriculum that leads youth through an iterative design process of identifying and solving a real community problem, and doing so in partnership with a similar group of youth from another community. The curriculum will enable youth to address any of the IDEO challenge priorities pertinent to their local community and gain the confidence and capability to continue to be change agents in these communities.
This idea is grounded in the successful Design Squad Global (DSG) program, developed and implemented in partnership with WGBH in Boston, MA, and funded by the National Science Foundation and the Lemelson Foundation. DSG has designed a 6 or 12-week club-based curriculum that connects kids ages 10–14 in informal club settings. Kids explore engineering through fun-packed, high-energy, hands-on activities in partnership with a DSG club from a different country.
Aimed at younger children and primarily focused on engineering, DSG combines the design process (and the creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills this requires) with collaborative group work and international partnerships (and the communication, social and self-control skills this requires) enabling youth to develop these priority soft skills.
Our DSG experience, in particular, has given us significant insights into how to develop a curriculum that leads youth to understand and successfully apply an iterative design process to effect real change. It has afforded us valuable understanding of how to help youth make innovative ideas tangible, practical and implementable and how to appreciate the centrality of customer needs, perspectives and insights in this iterative process.
This experience has also shown us the value of a well designed and easy-to-implement curriculum. While FHI360 and WGBH have been involved in promoting the dissemination of DSG in 8 countries, almost 30 DSG programes are now running in 20 other countries through no project intervention.