Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth

On this 2012 International Youth Day, let us acknowledge the power for peace and development of young women and men across the world. Young people will inherit the world tomorrow, but they are already changing it today.

  Young people are a wellspring of ideas for innovation. They are today’s thinkers, problem-solvers and catalysts for peace.     

Irina Bokova
UNESCO Director-General
International Youth Day 2012

Half of the world’s population is under 25. The challenges they face are steep. They are hardest hit by the world’s inequalities and injustices. Too many live in poverty, unable to realize their potential. Too few are gaining the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to find employment in rapidly changing job markets, where the capacity to learn and adapt is essential. This is a political priority everywhere, and it calls for carefully constructed policies.

Young people are a wellspring of ideas for innovation. They are today’s thinkers, problem-solvers and catalysts for peace. They are often the world’s strongest advocates of justice and dignity. But they need good jobs, quality education and access to culture for all. They need to be heard and they need to be included.

UNESCO is working at all of these levels. We support young people in developing the intercultural skills they need to live in an age of diversity. We work with youth and student organizations to develop and implement youth-driven programmes.

We act across the world to strengthen education systems in order to provide young people with relevant, inclusive and quality learning. This includes attributing greater priority to technical and vocational education and training. This was the key message of the 3rd International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training, held in Shanghai on 13-16 May. Education, employment and empowerment are our core messages as we seek to build green societies and economies for a more sustainable century.

On this day, I call on all Governments, youth organizations and the international community to mobilize and to engage young people in the policy-making that affects them. This is essential for building sustainable, peaceful and prosperous societies.

What do we mean by "youth"?

When carrying out its Youth Strategy, UNESCO uses different definitions of youth depending on the context.

For activities at the international or regional level, UNESCO uses the United Nations’ universal definition which defines “youth” as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This is to ensure statistical consistency across regions.

For activities at the national level, for example when implementing a local community youth programme, “youth” may be understood in a more flexible manner. UNESCO will then adopt the definition of “youth” as used by a particular Member State.

Where does the world's youth live?

The majority (almost 85%) of the world’s youth live in developing countries, with approximately 60 percent in Asia alone. A remaining 23 percent live in the developing regions of Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

By 2025, the number of youth living in developing countries will grow to 89.5%. Therefore, it is necessary to take youth issues into considerations in the development agenda and policies of each country.

Despite mass urbanization, the majority of youth live in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa, south-eastern and south-central Asia and Oceania.

Source: World Population Prospects, 2006

Youth-led initiatives - some examples

* These youth-led initiatives are independent, and not officially associated with UNESCO in any way.



Debate on Youth and Rio+20
Joint UN agency commemoration of International Youth Day 2012
Bangkok, Thailand, 8 August 2012

Inspiring young Thais via Facebook and SMS
More than 1600 young Thais have been receiving short messages from UNESCO Bangkok every day through Facebook and telephone SMS


Voices of Youth for the Living Ocean and Coast
Yeosu, Republic of Korea, 12 August 2012


UNESCO Youth Forum Looking Beyond Disaster
Sendai, Japan, 16-19 August 2012


Engaging youth in planning education for social transformation
IIEP Headquarters, Paris, France 16-18 October 2012


8th UNESCO Youth Forum
UNESCO Paris, France, Autumn 2013

Join the celebration

  • Educational radio show. Contact popular local/national radio stations to request a slot to have a discussion with distinguished individuals and youth.

  • Organize a public meeting or debate to discuss young people’s contributions to global issues.

  • Initiate round table discussions among adults and young people to promote intergenerational understanding.

  • Organize a concert to promote International Youth Day. Invite your local musicians.

  • Create an “info point” about youth-related issues in your town/village, at your high schools or university centers.

  • Organize an exhibition. Get permission to use a public space for an arts exhibit, which showcases the challenges of young people today or how young people are contributing to development.

  • Write to your Minister of Youth to inform him/her about the challenges young people face in their daily lives and to suggest solutions.

  • Tell us! What are your recommendations for how the United Nations can better partner and work with young people: youth(at)

Related Information

UNESCO Projects / Activities