Youth in Georgia Needs Action
Op-Ed: Youth in Georgia Needs Action
Young people in Georgia make a group whose interests and needs are essential for building a strong and resilient society. They are the main driving force and often the initiators in steps towards the country’s development and democratization. But youth is also a period of major transitions, including a difficult journey to independence and autonomy. And this is when consolidated efforts are needed from the state and civil society to provide an environment that would respond to the needs of younger generations.
So far, the Georgian government has committed to supporting youth development. It placed young people on the national agenda by introducing the National Youth Policy Document and its Action Plan in 2014-15, while in 2020 the Parliament approved Georgian National Youth Policy Concept for 2020 – 2030. The policy seeks immediate solutions to youth-related problems and aims to invest resources in the human capital of young people. The country has also seen a variety of youth-oriented programs and initiatives, supported by donor organizations, civil society, and in certain cases private businesses.
But while there are small groups of active youngsters in every part of the country actively engaging in various activities or initiating things on their own, most young citizens are still left out of these processes (FES; 2021). This is reflected in the high percentage of young people who are unemployed and not receiving an education or vocational training (NEETs) in Georgia (30%) compared to the average rate of European countries (13%).
Despite the progress made, young people still face many challenges related to their physical and mental health, education, employment, access to resources and opportunities, or participation in public life and decision-making processes.
Pending youth policies
To address the persisting youth-related challenges, the efforts need to be directed to certain policy areas. Here, the recognition of non-formal education and lifelong learning opportunities must be one of the priorities. While high-quality pre-school, school, higher, or vocational education are paramount to the state’s success, the rapidly changing world demands a comprehensive approach to lifelong learning - a key to employment, economic success and active participation within society.
Non-formal education is an integral part of lifelong learning, crucial for the acquisition and maintenance of skills and abilities to adapt to a continuously changing environment and to produce critically thinking, media literate young citizens. In Georgia’s educational system, formal education remains the dominant approach, with the programs offered by CSOs being the main source of non-formal education for young people. The scarcity of non-formal education and lifelong learning opportunities is more dramatically felt in the regions, where the problem is exacerbated by a lack of community spaces necessary to bring people together (FES; 2021).
Another key area is youth services, important for their preventive nature against existing challenges and long-lasting benefits for young people (Unison, 2016). The development of such services at municipal levels moves forward very slowly, often depending on the personal visions and political will of local leadership rather than systemic approaches. Local authorities are usually less aware of youth’s needs and do little to study the matter, often relying on experience. Local action plans do not respond to youth needs and are not aimed at specific outcomes. The practice shows that the understanding of youth services for decision-makers and the specialists in state organizations, including at municipal levels, has been often limited to camps and sports/music festivals. The constant downplaying of the youth sphere also hampers sustainable development and functioning of civil society outfits, particularly youth organizations in the regions.
A further challenge is the under-participation of young citizens in the relevant decision-making processes or civil activities both at both national and local levels. The reasons include unawareness of the importance of civil activity, lack of information about how to engage, and absence of desire. The latter is related to little expectations to get support from decision-makers or their peers, but also to perceptions of civic engagement as a socially less favorable activity (FES;2021). The nihilism may also stem from years-long practices of political figures to use young people as decoration in political processes or even manipulate them to attain personal political objectives. Boosting youth’s participation has been marked as a priority direction in relevant policy documents of Georgian authorities.
What we do
UNAG has been actively contributing to the implementation of youth work at the local level. We empower regional organizations and help them deepen their youth portfolios. We also create spaces for youth gatherings where they can discuss the challenges of their communities, generate solutions, and turn their ideas into specific youth-led initiatives. Besides, UNAG’s work has been directed at raising youth’s sensitivity towards human rights, gender equality, minority issues, diversity, tolerance, etc. The awareness-raising activities provided by the organization are based on non-formal education principles and aim at developing the key competencies for lifelong learning.
To achieve youth-driven and sustainable results, young citizens should be encouraged to participate in the entire process of the policy implementation, including planning, implementing, and monitoring of youth services;
It is essential to cooperate with the private sector to develop youth skills and knowledge to match the business demands. The cooperation will also contribute to the creation of full- or part-time jobs that will be accessible for young people;
Youth programs and projects need to be based on the EU-identified key competencies in the lifelong learning framework or oriented to sustainable development. They should aim at providing informal education to youth or developing their specific competencies.
- Governmental institutions, including local municipalities, need to concentrate their efforts on the youth policy implementation on a local level. Instead of directly providing services for youth, they should engage local NGOs, community centers, social enterprises, etc., who possess relevant resources to reach out to the most vulnerable young groups including NEETs, internally displaced persons, and ethnic and religious minorities.
Written by Tamta Khutsishvili, who has nine years of working experience in youth projects and programs both in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Since 2017, she has been working with UNAG to facilitate youth engagement and activism and has managed 14 youth centers across the country, engaging over 5,000 young persons in Georgia.