Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges of an uncertain, post-pandemic future. Nowhere are these issues graver than within the demographic of young people, with already high rates of unemployment. In India, estimates of the ILO-ADB report indicate that youth job losses in 2020 will be to the tune of 4 to 6 million, with projections showing a youth unemployment rate to be between 29.5% to 32.5% in the short to long term respectively.
For youth in rural India, particularly in poverty-stricken states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where Development Alternatives works, opportunities to find meaningful and decent jobs are even more limited. We can debate whether these are because of new challenges or due to existing systemic flaws that have been exposed by the pandemic. We cannot, however, ignore that COVID-19 has revealed deep fault lines in way economies are organized, particularly from the all-important perspective of employment generation. It has also posed the need for innovative solutions for a complex problem that embeds new economy principles like digital technology and process innovations, while simultaneously instilling a sense of dignity, confidence, and ownership among youth in rural communities.
While we watched a microorganism unleash its fury, we have also observed a world that is brimming with creative and committed young people. There is an alternative narrative emerging in the form of ‘collective action’ of committed young people who are co-creating new ways of fulfilling their economic and social goals. This global phenomenon tells us that perhaps our role is to enable the translation of these “micro-movements” into “voices” that influence key decision-makers and creates an inclusive culture for driving transformative economic and social change in new and vibrant communities.
Pathways for micro-movements
Methodologically speaking, supporting micro-movements for youth-led entrepreneurship requires a human-centred approach of dialogue, co-creation and prototyping solutions to drive solidarity, innovation and inclusion. Examples and experiences from our work on the ground explain what this means in practice.
Listening with Empathy:
Listening lays the foundation for micro-movements. In underdeveloped regions, the urgency to support livelihood security through top-down “schemes” either silences youth or drowns out their voices. Active listening deepens connections with young entrepreneurs, bridging critical gaps in understanding by attenuating initiatives to their aspirations, challenges and needs. During the COVID-19 crisis, Development Alternatives and our partners committed ourselves to listening to dig deep into the ‘hidden’ needs and opportunities that emerge through continuous dialogue. Conversations that have taken place on chat groups and telephones have unearthed the anxieties of young entrepreneurs, as well as their unrecognized strengths and resilience. Through real-time sense-making of ‘heard voices and perspectives’, we are now strengthening peer linkages between entrepreneurs to empower the local entrepreneurial ecosystem to respond adequately to the after-effects of the crisis.
Prototyping follows listening in the process of co-creating solidarity-based innovations with the potential to create systemic shifts. Young women in rural India are prevented from exercising their individual and collective ‘agency’ and realizing their dreams due to debilitating social norms, lack of connectivity and restrictions on mobility. As per a study by LIRNEasia, in India, only 43% of women own mobile phones compared to almost 80% of Indian men. In a world that is hyper-connected with information, women including young girls suffer distinct disadvantages, which if not addressed at school, become deep-set issues affecting the socio-economic well-being of local communities. The Technology Challenge of Development Alternatives and la Caixa Foundation aims to enable young women in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh in India to talk about their aspirations, connect with each other in a virtual co working space and ‘walk into a world beyond their village’.
An example is a modification of the Japanese concept of Ikigai, to find purpose in life. The modified Ikigai exercise designed with our partners Medha and Janastu involves telephonic or socially distanced sessions with young women: Meri Pehchaan (my identity), Mere Sapne (my dreams) and Mera Gameplan (My Plan). The purpose is to link their evolving identities with aspirations and empower them to think through the pathways to get there.
(The Technology Challenge of Development Alternatives and la Caixa Foundation)
Inclusion is often limited to good intent, without the backing of enabling infrastructure that can translate it into reality for millions of marginalized youth. The Work 4 Progress (W4P) initiative that capitalises on the government-supported network of over 250,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs) is demonstrative of possibilities available at the intersection of innovation and inclusion. Otherwise limited to providing internet services and essential information on government schemes, W4P affiliated CSCs are strengthened through connections with digital platforms for easy access to diverse information sources and support services, turning them into Information Kiosks that have become nodal points in the local entrepreneurial system. During the pandemic induced lockdown, the young entrepreneurs at the helm of these Information Kiosks were frontrunners in responding to local challenges. They helped the large numbers of returning migrants apply for food cards and complete documentation for receipt of state benefits. They also collaborated with other entrepreneurs to become a transit point for the movement of local produce and incoming consumer products.
(An Information Kiosk safely helping customers during the pandemic)
Commitment and Call to Action
Development Alternatives and our partners commit to deepening engagement with young people to drive entrepreneurship that is inclusive and innovative. For transformational social and economic change, we foresee a dual role for ourselves as change-makers. One, as a catalyst in unleashing entrepreneurial energies for building youth-led solidarity-based networks that nurture local micro-movements. Another, perhaps a more strategic one, to connect these local micro-movements across scales and place at them at the heart of global discourse. These grassroots-led micro-movements, combined with the power of entrepreneurship, can allow the youth to shed their deeply entrenched, complex social identities, and bravely walk into the new world of work in the future.
Recognizing these twin needs, the W4P program is designed to be an open innovation platform, carrying the spirit of co-creation, that we believe can reset the current economic trajectory to make it more relevant — especially for those who have been left behind in the ‘jobs race’.
As the “future of work” becomes a reality, there is an urgent need to find new ways to create “work in the future” – not tomorrow, but today.
(The moment this dance began, it brought community members of a village in Uttar Pradesh together. We think it symbolises the spirit of youth, solidarity and the power of human connections – attributes we aim to nurture and unleash within our communities of practice.)
Written by Shrashtant Patara, Kanika Verma and Vrinda Chopra
As team leaders, Shrashtant Patara, Kanika Verma and Vrinda Chopra provide strategic direction, management expertise and knowledge building capabilities to the Work 4 Progress India program at Development Alternatives. They believe in the potential of micro-entrepreneurs, particularly youth and women, to effect transformative socio-economic change. The Work 4 Progress team prioritizes the use of social innovation and systems thinking principles and methodologies as the means to unleash inclusive entrepreneurship in rapidly developing local economies.
Development Alternatives (DA) is a social enterprise with a global presence in the fields of green economic development, social empowerment and environmental management. Read Development Alternatives’ commitment to Decent Jobs for Youth on creating System Change for Youth-led Entrepreneurship.
This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.