Why young peo­ple of NI do have the drive to solve many is­sues

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - by­conor­lambe, Danske bank chief econ­o­mist @conor­lambe In next week’s Econ­omy Watch, we hear from Dr Es­mond Birnie of the North­ern Ire­land eco­nomic pol­icy cen­tre

In Au­gust, 150 young lead­ers from around the world vis­ited Belfast for the Shape Europe 2018 Con­fer­ence, which I at­tended. The event was hosted by the Belfast Hub of the Global Shapers Com­mu­nity.

The Global Shapers Com­mu­nity is an ini­tia­tive of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum and was founded in 2011. It is a net­work of young peo­ple aged from 20-33 who work to­gether to de­sign and run projects to bring about im­prove­ments in their lo­cal ar­eas.

The theme of Shape Europe 2018 was ‘Views from the Fault Line’, re­flect­ing the fact that North­ern Ire­land is the only part of the UK to share a land bor­der with the EU, and that has led to a unique set of Brexit-re­lated chal­lenges. Brexit and the bor­der was ex­plored in more de­tail dur­ing the con­fer­ence, but it wasn’t the only topic up for dis­cus­sion.

There were also ses­sions cov­er­ing cli­mate change, the fu­ture of work, con­flict in so­ci­ety, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ac­tivism, cre­at­ing a vi­sion for Europe and con­sider- ing what cities will look like in the fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion to some of the in­sights that came out dur­ing the de­tailed ses­sions, there were three things that re­ally struck me dur­ing my two days at the con­fer­ence.

The first was the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit of the peo­ple there. Many of the con­fer­ence at­ten­dees had al­ready set up their own busi­nesses and have am­bi­tious growth plans.

The sec­ond was the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and col­lab­o­ra­tion when tack­ling com­plex prob­lems. From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, there is a wide-rang­ing ev­i­dence base show­ing that di­ver­sity is pos­i­tively cor­re­lated with fi­nan­cial performance. It is also ac­cepted that across all or­gan­i­sa­tions, di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion is a pos­i­tive force when it comes to de­ci­sion-mak­ing, in­no­va­tion and iden­ti­fy­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The third was the com­mit­ment to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Some of the ex­am­ples of the projects ei­ther un­der de­sign, or al­ready un­der way, in coun­tries and cities with hubs in­cluded ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren about the EU in Lux­em­bourg, tack­ling lone­li­ness in Lon­don or in­spir­ing and em­pow­er­ing young peo­ple in Colom­bia.

Against that back­drop, and after at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence, I started think­ing about the role that young peo­ple play in North­ern Ire­land and how they could con­trib­ute to tack­ling the longterm chal­lenges that con­tinue to hold back the lo­cal econ­omy.

As well as Brexit, the NI econ­omy faces a num­ber of head­winds. These in­clude the high rate of eco­nomic in­ac­tiv­ity, low lev­els of labour pro­duc­tiv­ity, a rel­a­tively low busi­ness birth rate, skills short­ages, con­strained pub­lic re­sources and con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty. None of these chal­lenges are easy to find so­lu­tions to and solv­ing them will re­quire cre­ative think­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion across gov­ern­ment, busi­nesses and other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

But I know from ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing the Shape Europe event, that young peo­ple work­ing to­geth- er can chal­lenge con­ven­tional think­ing and gen­er­ate new ideas to tackle prob­lems.

The data also re­veals some in­ter­est­ing facts about the im­por­tance of young peo­ple in our so­ci­ety and their ca­pa­bil­ity.

For ex­am­ple, in 2017 the pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion un­der 30 was higher in North­ern Ire­land (39%) than in Eng­land (37%), Wales (36%) and Scot­land (35%).

In ad­di­tion, the most re­cent Global En­trepreneur­ship Mon­i­tor re­vealed that the age group with the high­est rate of en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity in North­ern Ire­land is the 25 to 34-year-old cat­e­gory.

So, how should young peo­ple be en­gaged in eco­nomic and in­deed all forms of gov­ern­ment pol­icy mak­ing?

In a pa­per pub­lished last year by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, four forms of youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­icy mak­ing were dis­cussed.

How­ever, in my opin­ion, these forms are ap­pli­ca­ble across all age groups in so­ci­ety, from teenagers, to mil­len­ni­als, to pen­sion­ers.

The first form is ‘in­form­ing’, which in­volves rais­ing aware­ness of pol­icy de­ci­sions.

The sec­ond is ‘ con­sult­ing’, which can in­clude polling and sur­vey­ing peo­ple or run­ning work­shops and fo­cus groups.

The third is ‘col­lab­o­rat­ing’, which in­volves co-fa­cil­i­tated con­sul­ta­tion, sit­ting on steer­ing com­mit­tees and col­lab­o­rat­ing on re­search.

The fi­nal form is ‘em­pow­er­ing’, and it in­cludes del­e­gat­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

It would be wrong to as­sume that young peo­ple do not al­ready have a voice in shap­ing pol­icy in North­ern Ire­land. And of course any­one is free to re­spond to a for­mal pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

How­ever, given the tal­ent of our young peo­ple and, par­tic­u­larly, some of the young busi­ness lead­ers that we have in North­ern Ire­land, there is scope for fur­ther youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pol­icy mak­ing process. This would most likely be via some of the ‘con­sult­ing’ or ‘col­lab­o­rat­ing’ mech­a­nisms dis­cussed above.

I sus­pect that if you put some of our best and bright­est young peo­ple in a room to­gether, even for a short time, you would likely end up with a num­ber of new ideas to tackle the long-term chal­lenges that con­tinue to con­strain the North­ern Ire­land econ­omy.

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