WCY 2014: A Recap of IPS Knowledge Contributions to the Youth Agenda

The World Conference on Youth 2014 (WCY 2014) kicked off today with over 1000 delegates from across the world gathering in Sri Lanka to celebrate the role and potential of youth, to debate the critical challenges facing young people today, and to advocate for mainstreaming youth issues in to the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda.

The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) is proud to be associated with the event, as a key knowledge partner, with several IPS researchers serving as resource persons at the event. As the WCY 2014 begins, we present you a multimedia overview of IPS engagement with the issues coming into focus at the summit, in this special blog post.


In 2013, the IPS undertook a landmark initiative to explore the link between the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and Youth in Sri Lanka. Youth are represented in many of the MDGs, but there are no explicit indicators for measuring how young people in particular are faring across the MDG goals. To fill this research gap, the IPS teamed up with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development and analyzed some of the important youth related MDGs. The study was very timely. The discussions surrounding the post-2015 MDG goals, and the need to mainstream youth into it, were just kicking off and IPS was able to make an early knowledge contribution to this effort. We published an article marking International Youth Day 2013 to draw attention to some of the findings and recommendations coming out of the study, titled ‘Shaping Up the Future: Can Sri Lanka Set an Example in Achieving MDGs for Youth?’.


“While Sri Lanka has achieved so much in addressing youth issues of employment and poverty, there are lingering issues in the education and health sector that needs careful attention”


In it, author Chatura Rodrigo asserted that, “While Sri Lanka has achieved so much in addressing youth issues of employment and poverty, there are lingering issues in the education and health sector that needs careful attention. This is quite challenging since education and heath are determinants of employment and ultimately, poverty”. He also cautioned that the achievements so far cannot be built-upon “without an effective institutional setup and a solid policy framework where monitoring and evaluation are part of the structure”. Nevertheless, as youth delegates and politicians gather for the WCY 2014, we must recognize that Sri Lanka stands as an example in placing youth at the centre of the discussion on a post-2015 MDG agenda.


IPS has been researching and commenting on issues related to human development, youth, jobs, unemployment and education for many years. Here’s a recap of some of the more recent work.


In 2012, IPS prepared the UNDP’s National Human Development Report which comprehensively explored the current status and future challenges in development faced by Sri Lanka. The analysis contained useful data disaggregated by age group where relevant, and has some insightful findings on youth and human development in Sri Lanka. Watch this video where the lead author, Dr. Nisha Arunatilake, introduces the main messages.


In August 2012, coinciding with International Youth Day, we had a unique panel discussion on ‘The Jobs Challenge’, where a cross-section of people, including youth representatives, discussed what is holding back youth in Sri Lanka from accessing better jobs. It also focused on how young people can move from being dependent on receiving jobs, to becoming job creators, i.e., entrepreneurs, themselves. A key speaker at the event was Rashitha Delpola of the National Youth Services Council, who is now the head of the WCY 2014 Secretariat. The full video from this event is available in a 3-part series here. (View part 1 below)





Alongside this, we released a special edition of the Talking Economics Digest on ‘The Jobs Challenge’. In the editorial of that edition, Anushka Wijesinha, emphasized that, “To bring down unemployment and raise up our youth, Sri Lanka needs to move fast on: essential education reforms; revisiting archaic labour market regulations; improving the quality of training; promoting private sector initiative; fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and work experience among youth; and ensuring a secure stream of innovative funding to support them”.


To reach the ‘Knowledge Hub’ aspirations that the country has, Sri Lanka must expand tertiary education and build a skilled and adaptable workforce. However, as this article by IPS researcher Priyanka Jayawardena observes, Sri Lanka lags behind. She writes that, “Each year, more than 100,000 qualified students are forced to abandon their ambition to enter a university”.


“Each year, more than 100,000 qualified students are forced to abandon their ambition to enter a university”


Tertiary enrolment rates are alarmingly low – fewer than 8% of 20-24 year olds were enrolled in a university or technical and vocational training (TVET) course, compared to the lower middle income country average of 23%. Read the article here for more analysis.


Even for those who manage to get in to university, getting jobs after graduation becomes problematic because of the administrative delays and shut-downs in state universities. This issue was explored in an article titled, ‘Lankan University Graduates: Late Birds, No Worms?’. Here’s an infographic that captures the key message – the average university student in Sri Lanka graduates as late as three years after their peers in the West!





Meanwhile, there is a lot of debate in the country, including among young people and their families, on ‘what is a better job?’. The aspirations of young people towards certain types of work are changing as the Sri Lankan economy evolves into middle-income. These issues came under the spotlight in two articles – ‘What Really is a Better Job in the Sri Lankan Context?’ and ‘Sri Lanka’s Youth Unemployment Challenge: A Dilemma of Attitudes and Aspirations’.


“It is crucial that there is a shift in perceptions – a shift that takes place in all aspects of Sri Lankan society”


In the latter article, author Kaushalya Attygalle concluded that, “If Sri Lanka is to overcome this challenge of finding a point where the aspirations of youth match up to the opportunities available to them, where youth are less averse to private sector jobs, where certain ‘types’ of jobs are not stigmatized by society, and where proper structural reforms to address these problems are introduced and function effectively, it is crucial that there is a shift in perceptions – a shift that takes place in all aspects of Sri Lankan society, and at all levels – from families right up to national decision makers”.


To complement these insights, we opened up the debate to young people online (via a Google Moderator poll), and asked the question – ‘How can we create more and better jobs in Sri Lanka?’. The feedback was revealing. The ideas sent in from across Sri Lanka and overseas, are captured here.




In January this year, IPS research Chatura Rodrigo, who co-authored the IPS-Youth Ministry report – ‘Youth and Development: Realizing the MDGs for Sri Lankan Youth’ – made a presentation at the seminar on ‘Mainstreaming Youth in the Post 2015 Development Agenda with Special Focus on the World Conference on Youth (WCY) 2014’ organized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development. His presentation can be downloaded here or browsed below.



Millennium Development Goals and Young People in Sri Lanka by IPS Sri Lanka



Meanwhile, IPS Executive Director was invited as a key speaker at the Commonwealth Youth Forum, held on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, on the 10th November 2013. He presented the key highlights of the report, and a summary of the session can be found here.



As the WCY 2014 begins, let us remember that ‘youth’ are the lifeline of any economy and can drive the socio-economic growth momentum of a nation. Even though Sri Lanka has been successful in achieving many of the youth related MDGs, and stands as an example of youth development in South Asia, challenges in maximizing youth potential still remain. Unemployment, poverty, abuse, and educational dilemmas are some of the numerous barriers in the way of a promising future for Sri Lanka’s youth. These are not unique to Sri Lanka, and it is important that countries commit to this agenda together. All countries gathering in Colombo this week, must tackle these challenges head on. As we are seeing around the world today, youth are proving to be an integral part of the changing political, economic and social landscape in every country.


Follow us on Twitter @talkeconomicssl for our latest tweets around the WCY 2014. Use the hastag #WCY2014 in your tweets and to follow the conversation!


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