Advancement of Community hinges on strong youth presence, voice


Fifty years is a noteworthy accomplishment for an integration movement, particularly in a Region which has its foundation on colonialism and in which Member States continue to grapple with prevailing issues of climate change, crime, poverty, and unemployment. Notwithstanding, Caribbean countries continue to display an unprecedented degree of tenacity and resilience. As we reflect on the past 49 years, significant efforts have been made by CARICOM to involve and include young people, its largest demographic.  

Youth have been given opportunities to contribute to policy development and government structures and processes to develop solutions for the sustainable development of the Caribbean region. Moreover, several opportunities have been created by the Community to benefit youth and allow them to immerse themselves in a multicultural environment. Notwithstanding, there is more to be done. In the next 50 years, Caribbean youth envision a Community where they play a more active role in decision-making, where young entrepreneurs are easily facilitated within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and where significant investment is made in quality education to broaden opportunities for the citizenry to contribute to their economies. This article aims to highlight the role of youth in the Community, the initiatives which have been implemented by CARICOM to benefit the Region’s youth and the expectations of young people for CARICOM within the next 50 years. 

According to CARICOM, 60% of its citizenry are classified as ‘youth’, that is, under the age of 30. Young people play a critical role in the integration movement and in development throughout the region. In fact, a 1995 report by the West Indian Commission explained that for the integration movement to be successful, youth must be fully involved in regional integration and the CSME. Young people possess innovation and creativity that allow them to develop solutions to global issues. The Declaration of Paramaribo on the Future of Youth in the Caribbean Community (2010) recognised that youth are valued partners for deepening and achieving regional integration and are integral to peace, good governance, and sustainable development. Thus, youth are essential for the continuity of the integration movement and for the advancement of the Region as a whole. 

Despite the above, as reflected in the Declaration of Paramaribo, youth continue to be underutilised in the development of their communities and countries. Tokenistic approaches to youth inclusion have often been adopted by decision-makers within the Region and young people continue to be excluded from planning, implementing, and the monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes that directly affect them. There therefore exists an untapped potential of this demographic who boast of an unparalleled enthusiasm to create a better and more sustainable Region and world. 

CARICOM established its Youth Ambassador Programme in 1993 at the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. This Programme has undergone significant changes since its inception. However, its aim remains to facilitate youth participation and partnership in the regional integration process and in national and regional development. CARICOM hopes that young people throughout the Region would understand the importance of the integration movement and would meaningfully participate in it to develop a sense of Caribbean identity and pride, and to ensure continuity in the integration movement which is critical for sustainable development of the Region. This Programme provides an opportunity for young people to closely engage with regional integration processes, educate young people about regional priorities such as the CSME and bring national issues to the attention of the Region’s policymakers and planners. 

Additionally, CARICOM has provided opportunities for youth to engage in the CSME. Currently, university graduates, sportspersons, teachers, and nurses are a few of the categories of CARICOM nationals that can move and work freely in participating Member States of the CSME. Many of these categories are occupied by young people. Also, young people can benefit from the right of establishing a business in a participating CSME member state which opens opportunities for expansion of business operations for young entrepreneurs. 

While significant challenges and hurdles exist in youth development within the region, focus should be placed on taking action and implementing strategies to address the gaps in the meaningful engagement of youth in the integration movement, and also, to ensure that youth are not despondent about living in the Region and can enjoy a good quality of life and reasonable cost of living. 

Many young people yearn for meaningful involvement in decision-making. For example, youth leaders must be able to sit in the discussion rooms at regional conferences and symposiums and contribute to conversations on matters which affect them. Moreover, youth are demanding opportunities not merely to sit as passive bystanders, but to assist with planning, execution, monitoring and evaluation of these events. Youth must also continue to be provided with opportunities to sit on steering committees and technical working groups to contribute to regional policymaking. 

Education and skills development remain a critical priority for the Region’s youth due to the high levels of youth unemployment. Thus, Caribbean youth expect a strengthening of education and skills development programmes that are relevant to the needs of the Region’s youth in the next 50 years. This includes ensuring access to quality education, vocational training, and lifelong learning opportunities. CARICOM can also promote initiatives that focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology skills to prepare youth for the changing world of work. 

Youth are also expectant of opportunities for networking and mentorship. CARICOM can facilitate mentorship programmes that connect youth with experienced professionals who can provide guidance, advice, and support in their career development. Additionally, CARICOM can create platforms for youth networking and collaboration, such as forums, workshops, and conferences, to foster meaningful connections and create opportunities for youth to learn from each other and expand their professional networks. 

Moreover, youth expect that the affordability of inter-island travel will be addressed with a sense of urgency in the coming years. At present, it is often more affordable to travel to the US than to visit another Caribbean country. Travelling throughout the Region is more than a push for tourism. When young people travel throughout the Region, they can learn about different cultures, share about their own culture, and build friendships. This helps youth to develop a sense of Caribbean identity and pride which is critical for Caribbean regionalism. 

CARICOM can also work towards creating an enabling environment for youth employment and entrepreneurship. This includes advocating for policies that promote youth-friendly labour markets, fair employment practices, and inclusive economic growth. CARICOM can also support entrepreneurship development programmes, including access to capital, business training, and mentoring, to enable youth to start and grow their own businesses. 

Marginalised youth also have a vision for a better CARICOM in the next 50 years. This includes young people from low-income backgrounds, rural areas, those with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. They expect targeted programmes that address their specific needs, such as scholarships, mentorship, and skills training programmes, to ensure that they have equal opportunities to pursue their personal and professional goals. 

Youth are continuously looking to our regional leaders with hope and determination to create a better environment for them to live, work and contribute to development. We are hopeful that our leaders would take bold, courageous, and visionary steps in tackling the issues which confront the Region’s youth as the future of our Region depends on it.  

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