WASHINGTON, USA -- The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, on Tuesday inaugurated the OAS Youth Conference 2012 "Youth in Action for Democracy and Entrepreneurship" by commenting on the importance of education, employment promotion and the social inclusion of young people as central to enhancing their future, and also highlighted the role of youth in building a new force for change in which their voice is not only heard but also acted upon in the demand for their rights and aspirations.
At the event, held at the OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, the secretary general said, "We are convinced that young people are valuable partners and that we must continue to offer opportunities for participation," and referred to the need to empower the youth of the region.
"Fifty-seven percent of the population of Latin America qualifies as young, that means that between 2015 and 2050 we will have a very significant number of people that will be incorporated into the work force, this has been considered as a 'demographic bonus' that we should take advantage of, but that will depend on our ability to provide education of a quality and quantity sufficient to meet today’s challenges, and to generate employment and entrepreneurship to ensure that these young people have fulfilling lives and can not only earn a living, but also contribute to their societies," he said.
The OAS leader recalled that one in four young people in Latin America and the Caribbean neither studies nor works, which "explains why many young people choose paths that we would not like for them."
According to the statistics, he continued, “the majority of adult offenders in the region committed their first offence when they were young, which makes it indispensable to correct this unfortunate statistic, because there are too many young people on the streets of our region without jobs or education," he said.
Along with unemployment, the leader of the hemispheric organization cited other challenges to the region’s youth: informal employment and access to education. "In addition to denouncing these problems, we must be constructive and face them, that means the kind of dialogue that we are going to have here today," he said.
Insulza recalled the importance of the issue of youth within the OAS and said that "young people are a priority in the organization’s political agenda." However, he further advocated for a broader inclusion of youth in its activities because in certain situations "it is them who must carry this debate forward."
In this regard, he valued the youth movements that have taken place in different parts of the Americas and the world. "Young people that are marching through the streets of our region are claiming their right to fully participate in their society’s decisions, that their voice and perspective be heard through the means that technology provides, combined with traditional means, bringing a face of creativity and hope."
Meanwhile, United States Congresswoman Yvette Clarke spoke of her personal experience as a political leader and highlighted the value of listening to the voices of young people, "because they will determine the type of dialogue and the kind of society we will have in the world.” She then called for this population "to pay attention to the current political debate in the world" and transcend national debates.
The member of the US House of Representatives referred to the initiatives that the current US government is promoting to boost growth of small and medium enterprises and their relationship with the hemisphere, specifically the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA). This initiative, she said, provides a hemispheric framework to facilitate connections between businesses, to improve access to business counseling services to business owners and to expand the available resources so that companies can participate in international trade.
Addressing the young people of the hemisphere, Clarke affirmed that they are “the next generation of world leaders and their determination will be key to the evolution of the society we live in today. Use all tools at your disposal to organize, motivate and inspire one another and make a big difference," she said.
The conference’s inauguration also featured the president of the Business Council of Latin America, Samuel Urrutia, who talked about his experience as an entrepreneur and recommended to the young participants four pillars for success: integrity, be skilled in what one does, working tirelessly with sacrifice and passion, and to have a life plan with ambitious goals and a defined strategy.
"Young people, let’s be dreamers, organize our ideas, have principles in our actions, be fair and in that way we will be people with passion, fulfilled and influential people in our society, making the world a better place," he concluded.
The OAS Youth Conference 2012 consists of three activities: a virtual forum, the conference itself and an exposition. The Virtual Forum on Democracy and Entrepreneurship began on November 12 and its results will serve as input for the conference.
The objective of the event is to develop recommendations for the OAS on issues related specifically to the youth of the Americas. The recommendations will be presented to the Secretary General and the Permanent Representatives of the OAS member states at a special meeting of the Permanent Council on Wednesday.