One of the difficulties of working with different young people around the world is that, well… they are different! Of course there are similarities in their stories of growing up, forming identities, struggling with poverty, and other issues. But there are complex political, economic, social, and cultural forces at work that make it impossible to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry with young people.
Data can help formulate a more informed strategy in dealing with young people. They can provide guidance in addressing the pressing challenges among young people, confirm what youth workers on the ground already know, or help challenge a previously held view that may not be congruent with reality.
To help keep track of studies, research, and trends in youth work, I keep a Twitter List of organizations and individuals working with young people: https://twitter.com/mightyrasing/lists/young-people. While monitoring my list on the first week of December, I came across a Tweet about the Global Youth Wellbeing Index. It’s the first one, so I immediately went to the site and downloaded the report. If you want to download the full report, together with the individual profiles of the 30 countries included in the report, please go to http://www.youthindex.org/full-report/
What is the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
The Global Youth Wellbeing Index is a framework that looks at the situation of young people: the challenges and opportunities they face, their views and outlook, and the social, political, and economic forces that are affecting them. It ranks 30 countries from different income levels based on 40 indicators grouped into six domains: Citizen Participation, Economic Opportunity, Education, Health, Information & Communications Technology, and Safety and Security. More on this later.
This Index gathers data about youth from 30 countries. That is quite a feat given that data about young people may be not be widely available. The Executive Report states that “data on youth development and wellbeing is often fragmented, inconsistent, or nonexistent.” (Executive Summary p. ix) It’s actually a wonder that they were able to get data from 30 countries!
One of the goals of the Global Youth Wellbeing Index is to gather these data, standardize them, and analyze youth issues and challenges globally. One of the key recommendations of this Index is to disaggregate the data being gathered from different countries in terms of age and promote the gathering of more data related to issues faced by young people.
Here’s a video that shows a summary of the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
The Index ranks the 30 countries based on 40 Indicators grouped into 6 domains. Here are the Domains and their corresponding Indicators:
These are macro-level, broad strokes indicators and would not necessarily represent the full reality of young people in any particular country. But they can be useful for advocacy and policy-making–both in the private, non-profit, and government sectors.
As could be inferred above, a lot of of the data that the Index uses came from existing data and Indexes, making it a kind of meta-analysis of existing studies, surveys, and data about youth in the countries included in the report.
A key assumption of this Index is that “quality wellbeing among youth results from the opportunities provided by their environment, what and how well they are doing, and how they feel about it.”
Global Youth Wellbeing Index Rankings
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
I am really glad for the diversity of the countries in the list. There are really developed countries, middle income and lower income countries. With this list, I will be able to look at some data in the countries where the United Methodist Church has presence and existing ministries.
Data from United States, Sweden [Europe], Russia [Eurasia], Philippines, Thailand, & Vietnam [Southeast Asia], South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, & Nigeria [Africa] are especially useful because the United Methodist Church has ministries in these places.
Our office, Young People’s Ministries holds the Young Leaders Summit in Africa and in Asia yearly, so it would be great to compare notes on some of the struggles and issues that young people face in these areas.
Based on the available data, here are the findings from the Index:
- A large majority of the world’s youth are experiencing lower levels of wellbeing.
- Even where young people are doing relatively well, they still face specific challenges and limitations.
- Even where youth may not be thriving, they display success in certain areas.
- How young people feel about their own wellbeing does not always align with what the objective data suggests.
- Across countries, domain average scores indicate youth faring strongest in health and weakest in economic opportunity.
Recommendations and Next Steps
- Advance youth voices and participation
- Promote deeper-dive and targeted research and analysis
- Consider integrated policies and programs
- Advance the body of age-disaggregated and youth survey data.
Who is behind this Index?
Two organizations came together to put together the Index: the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), and the International Youth Foundation. They are sponsored by Hilton Worldwide.
I just found it interesting that CSIS was “Founded at the height of the Cold War by David M. Abshire and Admiral Arleigh Burke. CSIS was dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.” Sure, there’s that phrase “force for good in the world” but prominence and prosperity and the fact that it was founded in the Cold War does seem to cast a shadow on the intention of the organization in terms of international relations.
The International Youth Foundation (IYF), on the other hand, works with business, governments, and civil society organizations “committed to empowering youth to be healthy, productive, and engaged citizens.”
I don’t know the business motivations of the Hilton Worldwide why they sponsored this study, but I am glad they did.
How is this useful for a faith-based organization
What I like about this Index is that it is not just based on quantitative measures. They also looked at the perceptions and outlooks of young people. These qualitative measures led to the rise or decline of some countries in the Index ranking.
Help make our ministries relevant to the needs of young people.
The list of indicators used by the Index helps us identify the areas of needs of young people in various parts of the world. The majority of these indicators such as “Youth involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity, youth unemployment, youth literacy, self-harm among youth, youths’ dependence on the Internet, and trafficking” among others, could be ministry areas on their own.
In the 2015 Africa Young Leaders Summit organized by Young People’s Ministries (YPM), a missionary from Tanzania identified entrepreneurship as an important component of working with young people. Likewise, YPM’s Global Scholarship program is helping increase the “School enrollment tertiary” indicator in the Index, albeit in a limited manner.
Provide data in the areas where we work at, giving insight on areas we’re not addressing.
This Index can also help us map out the potential impact of the ministries we are currently doing in terms of the Indicators, and discover areas that we have not yet done anything about. The indicators can also help us identify potential partners who are already doing great stuff in the areas where we don’t have any related programs and those that we do not have an expertise on.
Evaluating interventions and measure progress in young people’s wellbeing.
The Index can provide a benchmark by which to measure progress of interventions and programs done in a particular area. One of the challenges for organizations like ours, is that we do not directly implement programs that will benefit hundreds, or thousands of youth. Instead, we work with existing church-based organizations, and church youth leaders, to equip and challenge them to work on empowering young people.
This kind of Index is great at macro-level analysis, and I recognize the difficulties of painting a single picture of youth wellbeing in a particular country. By looking at the macro-level, the temptation to dream and plan for a large-scale, national-level, intervention is really large. And smaller scale interventions (i.e. municipal level, or even at the village level) might be looked down as inefficient and negligible.
That is why, it is very important for ministries like our office, Young Peoples Ministries, and other development organizations working with young people, to remember that even small scale interventions (yes that includes helping individual young people and their families improve their lives) can go a long way.
By recognizing the reality and limitations of this macro-level Index, we can look for ways to measure the indicators locally, and come up with an evaluation strategy that will be applicable to the specific programs we implement.
Advocacy is not just done with lawmakers, policy-makers, and public institutions. The indicators identified in the index could also help youth advocates be armed with the right set of data that can help convince decision-makers to implement programs and put forward policies and
Limitations of the Index
The writers of the report, themselves, admitted the lack of data from many different places around the world. And where data is available, they are “inconsistent and often fragmented.” But nonetheless, this Index is a good start, and I do hope that universities, development and research organizations around the world will start working on a more standardized set of data that will help policy-makers and people who work with youth will have better set of data to help us understand what needs to be done, and what results are being accomplished from the things that we are currently doing.
In addition to this, I have some questions that I may need more time to think about:
Do they really need to rank the countries? Wouldn’t the ranking be skewed towards the higher income countries? Could the wellbeing of youth be measured without ranking the countries?