Youth in a Changing World Workshop

The Columbia Global Center| Nairobi in collaboration with Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought hosted the eagerly anticipated 'Youth in a Changing World' workshop program. The workshop generally asks: 'How are youth around the world affecting and being affected by the rapidly changing world?'

November 11, 2019

According to the National Council of Population and Development (NCPD) an estimation of 78% of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years of age with a median age of 19 years and according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), this demographic structure can be either a valuable dividend or a risk to development. This is majorly accredited to the ‘youth bulge’ being experienced.

Kenyan youth involved in discussions during the workshop

On 11nth November 2019, The Columbia Global Centers in collaboration with Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought through a series of workshops with the youth around the world finally brought the Youth in a Changing World Workshop Program to the Columbia Global Centers| Nairobi. Held at the University of Nairobi, the workshop was hosted by Dr. Vishaka Desai, Columbia University’s Senior Advisor for Global Affairs to the President and Senior Research Scholar in the School of international and public affairs led the 70 participating youth from different universities in Kenya throughout the workshop program. The workshop generally asks: “How are youth around the world affecting and being affected by the rapidly changing world?”

In Dr. Vishaka Desai’s opening remarks, she pointed out how the youth from the previous workshops hinted on wading through life with certain levels of uncertainty for the future and the unemployment crisis. Lots of young youths go to universities not knowing what is in store for them in the future. This as the backbone of the workshop led to the formulation of the project’s five interrelated thematic areas that were discussed through large group activities and concurrent small group discussions, they included:

  1. Aspirations and the future
  2. Education and the future of work
  3. Digital technologies, identity and communication/ connection
  4. Security and wellbeing
  5. Engagement with the world and youth as agents of change.

Through these interrelated thematic areas, the workshops aimed at gathering the insights of the participating youth and have them help to shape up a global conversation.

The workshop was divided into two sessions, both the morning session and the evening session, each session focusing on the thematic areas for the program discussed in small groups then later presented in the large group discussions.

Through these discussions there came out a major issue not only in Kenya but also in the other countries where the workshop was hosted, the issue of youth unemployment. One of the major downsides of the youth has been the high rate of unemployment which can result in being both an economic and yet a social challenge. According to Kenya, Youth Survey unemployment was ranked as the top youth concern at 63%. As it emerged from the discussions, the government is well aware of the youth unemployment crisis and has been advocating for youth entrepreneurship programs in order to increase the rate of self-employment. It was however argued that perhaps this was not the best way forward for not all the youths are business-oriented, some of the youths are really good in arts such as music and drawing and therefore this entrepreneurial approach from the government was not fit for everyone as it only accommodates the business minded. It was urged that the governments should try and diversify their scope from entrepreneurship programs targeting the youth to other viable programs for the youth.


Participants presenting their group work presentations

The Education system in Kenya was also discussed in that the 8-4-4 education system is not quite an effective system as it aims to make every student the same and in one level, in turn, hindering innovation and creativity. It puts all in alignment that some occupations such as engineering and doctoring are better than others and are attained by top performers educationally. Through this educational alignment, it has left those who are average performers in education and those who do not perform well in total dismay as it leaves them wondering what to do next. Such emphasis on good educational performance is so strong such that those who do not perform well end up in depression and commit suicide or see themselves as failures in life after National examinations. It was concluded that the government is doing quite a good job in trying to eradicate the current 8-4-4 system and introduce the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

Digital technologies and communication was also discussed in the form of a double-edged sword as it had both its pros and cons. It was however applauded in form of social media for making the world a global village and bringing participants close together. The main positives noted under this were: the youth earning money through social media by being influencers, enhancing and making learning for the youth easier through the digital media, It has given the youth a sense of democracy for they express themselves via social media. The main negative influence pointed out from the other workshops and in Kenya was that the youth spend quite a lot of time on social media and this was pointed out to be quite dangerous as they disconnect from reality and it, in turn, ends up damaging their social lives.

Under the Security and wellbeing theme, it was majorly discussed that insecurity is a byproduct of the high rate of unemployment from the youth. It was pointed out that since the youth have the education but they do not have jobs to keep them busy, they end up using their education in a negative manner.  The explanation given to support this was the high rise in cyber-crime in the past few years. Political instability was also pointed out as a major contributor that the youth are influenced into tribal wars by uncouth politicians and thus the need for civic education towards the youth.

For the youth to be on the change it was discussed the need for the society to change their approach from sympathy to empathy under the civic and agency engagement theme. It was emphasized for the youth who have skill and knowledge to try and feed the skills gap by educating the other youths. This will, in turn, empower them economically and will in turn help in the creation of employment and will play a part in reducing the rate of unemployment.

The next program in Youth in a Changing World Workshop is to happen in India. As a parting shot question, Dr. Vishaka Desai asked the participants on what question she would ask the participating youth from India. The question that came up was: “How do the young people feel about the religious tensions in India due to the variety of religions in India, from Christianism to Hinduism and Islam?”