Across the developing world, there is a demographic explosion – a population bulge of children and youth. In fact, 90% of the world’s youth live in developing nations. Meanwhile, the Western world faces declining populations in many places. The Western world's population bulge is edging its way towards retirement – battling a different kind of bulge, of the stomach variety.
Check out this amazing map which shows how the world's population is distributed:
The Baby Boomers of North America and Europe reached young adulthood in the 60’s and 70’s, fomenting an era of societal upheaval and change. Unlike the developing world though, the Boomers came of age in a context of relative affluence and stability. Their youthful angst could be worked out with peace pipes and coffee house philosophy. Now, as the Western world grows older, the developing world gets younger and more fragile.
In Cambodia, more than two-thirds of the population are under thirty. This “Youth-Bulge” presents multiple challenges in a country still rebuilding after a devastating war that few knew firsthand.
For these young people, there are few jobs, and sociologists link youth bulges in populations to genocides, hotspots of social unrest, war and terrorism. They point out that this tinder-box situation is especially serious in the most fragile nations, where governance is poor and authorities struggle to resolve societal conflicts.
The last few months have seen riots in Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh over election fraud and labor issues. These riots and protests are overwhelmingly led by young people.
Across Asia, the poorest countries are the ones with the youngest populations. But, it is sub-Saharan Africa that has youngest populations in the world, coupled with some of the most pressing social issues. 46 countries and territories in the world boast at least 70 percent of the population under the age of thirty. The vast majority of these are found in sub-Saharan Africa.
But what if the very ones at risk also, paradoxically, hold the keys to hope and opportunity?
Cambodians say wisely, “Only a spider can repair his own web.” Perhaps some of the answers to this crisis lie within this generation themselves.
What do the youth of the developing world have that could contribute to the transformation of their own impoverished communities?
Thankfully, young adults in the developing world are blessed with a special set of characteristics that could be essential pieces of the puzzle. Here are a few of the unique factors that place them at the forefront of change:
Firstly, young people move in tribes, or close-knit peer groups. The cultures of Asia and Africa tend to be more group-oriented than the individualistic West anyway. But young people who have not yet established their own families are connected to one another in a special way that creates strong bonds – for good or for ill. Amongst Christian youth especially, this interconnectedness is a powerful force that can be tapped into for mutual support and ongoing motivation.
The Alongsiders model fits perfectly with this commitment to tribes by forming groups of 5-12 young Alongsiders who meet together at least monthly for mutual encouragement, prayer and debriefing. [Read more about How we use Peer Pressure].
Secondly, young people often have extra time on their hands. Their studies and extracurricular activities take up much of their schedule, but commitments to a wife or husband are still on the horizon. They are not typically up all night with a screaming infant. Their level of obligation to family and work is probably at the lowest level in their life until later when they become too old to work. Less responsibility means that our Alongsiders have more capacity to commit to a vulnerable child. They have more time to offer that child and less pressure to look after others.
Finally, young people everywhere in the world are on the leading edge of adopting new technology. The internet has revolutionalized connectedness and learning. Cell phones are ubiquitous and social media is rapidly transforming the cultural and political landscape. This level of comfort and embrace of technology has the potential to be used for mobilizing and motivating young people in the developing world in the same way as it has grabbed the attention of young people in the West. Alongsiders has seen some success in leveraging that technological edge through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as videos, comics and other other innovative forms of communication.
Together with the youth population bulge, these three assets: tribes, time and technology, present a unique opportunity. Alongsiders is committed to equipping these young people to be agents of transformation in their own communities.