In 2020, Indonesia’s youth or those who fall under the age group between 15 to 24 years old, accounts for 24 percent of the current population. This age group is a part of the country’s productive population (age 15-64 years old) that in 2035 would be 67 percent of the total population. This is a significant number as it means that over half of the country’s population will be in a position to create and contribute value to Indonesia’s economic development or what is popularly termed as the demographic bonus; a window of opportunity for Indonesia’s economy. Therefore, it is undeniable that the youth of today and the future are key actors in Indonesia’s economic development.

However, if you look into the unemployment rate of youth in 2020, 43.05 percent are unemployed, or an increase of 1.29 percent from 2019. About half of youth who are employed are working under informal settings, making their situation even more insecure. To make things worse, the recent COVID-19 crisis has accentuated uncertainty for these young people. The lack of support from the government during this pandemic has revealed the layers of young people’s survival modes. However, underprivileged youth, in particular rural youth, struggle differently compared to the urban and privileged youth. Especially when you factor the grappling rural poverty in Indonesia and the conditions of the youth’s unemployment and underemployment which is more severe in rural than urban areas.

This is why the acknowledgement of youth’s agency, capacity to think and make decisions for themselves is important. And by doing so, it would provide access for them to engage in decision making on public issues. Multiple youth-based movements such as Jaga Rimba, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Youth for Peatland, Surplus and more, have engage in voicing sustainable practices in Indonesia’s development. However, moving from fragmented youth movement to systemic participation of youth, requires inclusive process. Here are 3 ways to include youth in sustainability transformation:

First, have a better understanding of the different social grouping of youth.

There is an enormous and heterogeneous group of youths, i.e. different genders, age groups, socio-economic and cultural background, all of which determines the youth’s susceptibility towards social and environmental risks. However, this could also hinder their participation in sustainable development.

Acknowledging and understanding the difference and variation of youth social groups may help the government to provide the right support and intervention to increase youth participation in sustainable economic development.

For example, the lack of recognition of rural underprivileged youth as key players in Indonesia’s economic development has created a gap, especially in sectors such as agriculture and fisheries sector. In 2018, it is reported that there are less than 1 percent of farmers aged below 25 years, meanwhile 64 percent are over 45 years old. Engagement of youth in agriculture in low and middle-income countries may offer opportunities to curb underemployment, urban migration, disillusionment of youth, social unrest, as well as lift individuals and communities from poverty and hunger.

Second, creating a safe space for youth and mentorship programs.

Young people contribute towards sustainability in many ways. Starting from creating an online-based campaigns, mobilizing and creating collective actions, to addressing environmental injustices on the village level, communicating the message of sustainability to influence their parents and communities, to initiating sustainable innovations. Take for example, Aruna a fisheries e-commerce startup that provides a digital fish auction platform to help fishers sell their catch at a fair price. In the case of Aruna, they implemented Local Heroes, local youth people, who engage and assist fishers, while taking on the responsibility of receiving the fisherman’s harvest, ensuring the fish’s quality and etc.

Nurturing youth’s creativity and innovation can be done through various mentorship programs and networking opportunities. However, it should be emphasized that these mentorship and networking opportunities need to be structured by prioritizing the perspective of young people. That way, these programs will sustain in the future.

Third, facilitate intergenerational learning.

Co-learning has long been seen as an approach that can help bridge the uneven power dynamic between youth and adults. For example: between young villagers with (often) older leaders. Therefore, intergenerational co-learning is particularly important in overcoming environmental problems as local environment knowledge are often passed on from older generation to younger generation.

For example, Lakoat.Kujawas social youth group in Mollo, Nusa Tenggara Timor was established due to the lack of access and difficulty for younger generation in learning about Mollo’s traditional and local knowledge. Lakoat.Kujawas bridges the gap among the youth and seniors. But not only that, they also aim to bridge the interlink between cultural identity, education, and the creation of economic opportunities.

The way forward

To conclude, the challenges in finding solutions for sustainable development requires active participation from youth in public decision-making arena. However, it is important to understand that the youth cannot be lumped into one homogenous group. Their gender, age, socio-economic and cultural background varies. This plays a huge part in their ability to participate. Thus, a better understanding of the different social groupings of youth, creating a safe space and mentorship programs, in addition facilitating intergenerational co-learning, can create a turning point and enable their meaningful participation in sustainable development.