People, planet, purpose: transformative power of youth

“Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished.”  ~Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Young people have the potential to drive positive change in the agriculture and food (agrifood) sector; however, without proper education and opportunity, this rapidly growing population could upend stability and prosperity. Greater coordination and collaboration across governments, civil society, and industry is crucial for the successful engagement of youth in agriculture, with the private sector playing a unique role. As a place where innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive, the private sector is well-positioned to advance youth livelihoods in a manner that benefits businesses and society as a whole.

The world is now home to the largest youth population in history, with over 2.3 billion people—a third of humanity—between the ages of 15 and 34. This unprecedented demographic shift creates new pressures for a global food system that is already struggling to deliver food and nutrition security to a growing number of people. At the same time, job creation has not kept pace with this rapid increase in the workforce, exacerbating current challenges such as economic stagnation and social unrest. But this booming youth population also presents an enormous opportunity. Enabled with proper skills and knowledge, young people are the key to unleashing a wave of innovation and creative solutions to meet the agrifood sector’s broader challenges.

Youth population and food security map

Concurrently, the nature of business and its role in society is shifting. Forward-thinking business leaders are recognizing the inter-dependent relationship between their company’s success and regional social and environmental conditions in which they operate. As such, companies are increasingly acting as catalysts for social change by embracing the concept of shared value, or the idea that a company’s success and social progress are interconnected, i.e. what is good for society is good for business, and vice versa. Indeed, a growing number of companies, such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, LeapFrog Investments, and Yara, already address major social problems as part of their core business strategy. However, the potential to create shared value in the agrifood sector has not yet been fully realized.

sustainable employment figure

A new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture, highlights the mutually-beneficial relationship between youth and agriculture: young people need agriculture, and agriculture needs young people. The report proposes a ‘youth-inclusive agricultural transformation agenda’ with a two-pronged strategy: promote broad-based agricultural development as a catalyst for advancing youth livelihoods, while preparing and empowering youth to contribute to that growth themselves.

Young people can be vital change agents to facilitate advancements in the agrifood sector: they have a comparative advantage in creative thinking and innovation, they are more willing to explore new concepts in different ways, and they are quick to adopt new technologies and tools. To achieve their full potential, young people must be connected to educational and entrepreneurship opportunities that cultivate their abilities. Initiatives such as McKinsey & Company’s Generation, MasterCard Foundation’s Youth Livelihoods Program, and the Kosmos Innovation Center allow youth to develop the technical, business, and soft behavior skills that are critical for success in the future agrifood labor market.

As surging youth populations come of age, how we meet their needs and aspirations will shape our shared future. Young people possess the dedication, talent, and entrepreneurial spirit necessary to revitalize the agrifood sector, advance economies, and create shared value for people and the planet. With strategic policies and investments as well as the engagement of young people in nurturing their own potential, this generation can be the problem-solving producers, entrepreneurs, and leaders of the future.

Learn more about the report, Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture:

    About the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

    The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council convenes leading global voices, conducts independent research, and engages the public to explore ideas that will shape our global future.  The Chicago Council is committed to bringing clarity and offering solutions to issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.