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In Conversation With Poonam Ahluwalia

Nirmala Garimella

“The Youth should be looked upon as a positive force in the community and be employable” says Poonam Ahluwalia, Executive Director of EDC who is currently busy with the YES Regional Forum 2003 from December 14 to the 18th in Hyderabad, India. In between our conversation on the oncoming summit, she is busy scrolling on the laptop showing me the enthusiastic emails of young people from different YES countries of the developing world. The one that she chooses to read out is from Estonia, a thank you note from a leader of a Group that has had success in a YES Campaign. Other success stories come from Pakistan, Rwanda, Iran, and Mozambique, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.

When young people have the chance to voice their opinion, employment concerns, learning new skills and training are usually top priorities. Says Poonam Ahluwalia, who is spearheading this campaign, “Young people in developing nations feel a sense of idealism that they can make a difference in the lives of their own people. It is in these youth that we hope to focus in rural areas. Youth Employment is an issue that has not received Global attention. But to eradicate poverty is to stimulate the youth to look at developmental issues and see if they can provide solutions to these problems”.

She then elaborates on the point “The government doesn’t have jobs, the private sector are in the process of laying off workers and reengineering. So where do the youth look for employment. At the YES Regional Forum at Hyderabad we hope to look at employment from an entrepreneurial angle, to engage and employ youth in developmental issues like water and sanitation, renewable energy resources, the digital divide and other developmental sectors. We provide them with two things, Skills and Mentoring”, says Ahluwalia,” and we work with them to give them credibility and a name. We connect them with people who matter. We provide a lot of capacity building. The message that we give the youth is “We will give you the tools, we will hold your hand but you have to create the opportunity”.

The YES campaign (Youth Employment Summit) was launched in Alexandria Egypt, a 10-year campaign of milestone events to create livelihoods for an additional 500 million young adults by 2012,under the banner of the six E’s employability, employment creation, equity, entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability and empowerment. To this, has been added the seventh one, HIV/Aids that will be the present focus of the regional campaign at Hyderabad.

The Hyderabad YES Regional Forum 2003 which will be largely workshop based will showcase the effective youth employment strategies across the globe and forge partnerships for creating economically and environmentally viable livelihood opportunities for young people. Ahluwalia is all praise for Chandrababu Naidu, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister who has been extremely supportive and involved in this event. “I was struck by this sign in his office that read “Action without Vision is a nightmare. Vision without Action is a Pipe Dream”. “He definitely exemplifies that”, she echoes.

The conference is to be inaugurated by the President, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Azad. It will bring together 600 high level representations from Government, multilateral and bilateral agencies, civil society, business, international donors and youth delegates from over 20 YES country networks, from ASEAN & SEAMEO and SAARC countries.

The Summit will also be launching the’ YES Academy for Entrepreneurship Development' in Partnership with the Department of Youth, AP Government, M S Swaminathan Foundation and the YES Campaign at Education Development Center. The Academy will provide technical expertise, incubation support for new enterprises, identify sectors for employment and engage diverse stakeholders and above all develop demand-driven curriculum and offer training and development services to youth development and employment practitioners.

“I have a basic optimism that makes me feel I can do anything” Says Poonam Ahluwalia and from a full time homemaker in 1996 she has indeed come a long way. She hopes that the New England Indian Community will look at these issues and offer their support “We are not duplicating any effort there. The best thing one can do is make a personal investment in these Youth”.

Some Interesting Statistics of India

The 1991 Census data shows that the number of youth in India is 155.5 million or 18.3 percent of the total population (excluding the state of Jammu & Kashmir). Further, it is projected that the proportion of the youth is likely to go on increasing at least until 2011 and then it will stabilize around 2021 at the present level. It is currently estimated to be About 20 percent (for the age group of 15-24) and 35 percent (for the age group 15 to 34).

Agriculture accounts for only 7-8 percent of the total investment and employs as high as 60 percent of the labor force while the employment in the organized sector is 7 percent of the total labor force while it accounts for 65 percent of the total investment.

In the existing labor force, 45 percent of male and 80 percent of the female labor force are totally illiterate, 29.4 percent of male and only 14 percent of the females have education up to the primary level, and that only 12.8 percent of male and 2.5 percent of the female workers have attained the secondary and higher level of education.

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With the YES team, Egypt, September 2002

With Jose Ruiz-Salas (a YES staff member)

With Chandrababu Naidu, CM in Hyderabad

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