Coming together for effective youth development
As youth development specialists have been saying for many years, Jamaica's youth is at a crisis and a crossroads. At the same time, they are very much victims as they are perpetrators of most crimes committed in Jamaica.
According to the UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2012, Jamaica has the highest number of youth convicted of crime in the region. How can we therefore reduce their vulnerabilities and tap into their potential as a nation, and utilise it to the sustainable development of our island economy?
There are as much as 51 programmes within the government focusing on youth, while there are countless others outside of government. Yet, in the Jamaican context, given the current lack of resources and the steady increase in the number of at-risk and unattached youth, the best possible solution is for the Government to focus on properly equipping the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are currently working in the youth development arena, and retreat completely from this space.
NGOs are seen as having the ability to close the gaps where the Government lacks the capacity to do so or does not consider it a priority.
They have the requisite experience and a rich reservoir of data, skill sets and competencies. Indeed, so many of our NGOs already offer programmes that seek to meet the needs of our at-risk youth, with the ultimate aim of improving their ability to one day become productive members of society.
The range of programmes currently offered across the country include crime prevention, child labour withdrawal, human-rights education, youth leadership development, vocational and employability skills training, entrepreneurship training, and sexual-abuse prevention programmes, as well as substance-abuse counselling and treatment programmes and rehabilitation programmes for juveniles in detention.
Yet, to be fair, very few of these programmes are in a position to address a holistic and effective prevention strategy that is both long-term (implemented over five-10 years) and carries with it the necessary measurement tools that are needed for results to be documented. And because most NGOs are funded by donors, many have either closed their doors or are struggling to pay the bills, which, in turn, affect their ability to adequately impact the communities they serve.
What can be done to ensure that NGOs targeting youth are meeting their objectives over the long term, while assisting the Government in meeting theirs? NGOs could consider lobbying the Government to craft a policy to support their work, recognising them as key partners in arriving at a prosperous Jamaica, a Jamaica in which we can all work, live, raise families and do business. This policy would seek to govern the youth development space, which is currently ad hoc in its approach, with the Government doing its programmes, private sector taking some actions, and NGOs implementing other interventions in silos.
This support would also include the idea that NGOs should be included in the budget of every ministry for which their work relates, i.e., an NGO working in crime prevention should be included in the Ministry of National Security's budget, an NGO working in education should be included in the Ministry of Education's budget, and so on. In doing so, NGOs would be required to collaborate where possible and merge where the objectives are the same or similar. This would also assist with centralising the role of NGOs, reducing the silo effect and at the same time giving them the long-term support they need to effectively implement their initiatives.
Government must move to ensure that this vital sector, known for filling the gap and reaching places no government agency can effectively reach, continues to have a place in the Jamaica that we all dream of.
n New Employment Opportunities for Youth (NEO) in Jamaica is part of the regional programme. NEO seeks to improve human capital and the employability of one million vulnerable youth across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2022. NEO is being executed in Jamaica by Youth Upliftment Through Employment . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org