Observer Research Foundation Mumbai

Ideas and Action for a Better India

Newsletter: Opportunities for Youth-led Development in Urban India

Newsletter of the Roundtable Discussion on

Opportunities for Youth-led Development in Urban India

Saturday, 28th August 2010

In celebration of the launch of the International Year of Youth (from 12th August 2010 to 12th August 2011), the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, in collaboration with e-SocialSciences and UN-HABITAT organised a Roundtable Discussion on the topic of ‘Opportunities for Youth-Led Development in Urban India’. The aim of this event was to highlight the importance of youth involvement in society and processes of governance, and to work to bring about improvements not only in their local surroundings but to create a catalyst for change and development at the national level through their empowerment.

The Roundtable Discussion was led by Mr. Eirik Sorlie, Project officer, UN-HABITAT Urban Youth Fund and Ms. Supriya Sule – Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, and Convener of the Maharashtra State Youth Policy Declaration. The participants were from a broad sections of society amongst which were students, professionals, young social practitioners, representatives from NGOs working for youth empowerment.

“Youth issues should not be and need not be discussed only by the young. Seniors should know what the young people are thinking, dreaming and aspiring for and also what issues are agitating them.”

Initiating the afternoon’s event, Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman, ORF Mumbai, spoke about youth development and youth affairs as one of the six broad areas of study and advocacy at ORF and the roundtable being a preliminary effort in this area. One of the main aims of the roundtable was to provide inputs to formulation of the youth policy of Maharashtra. Mr. Kulkarni expressed that, “Youth issues should not be and need not be discussed only by the young. Seniors should know what the young people are thinking, dreaming and aspiring for and also what issues are agitating them.” He elaborated that “In our tradition and culture we don’t have this young versus old mindset. It is young and old – young for old and old for young.” He further emphasised the importance of reflecting and taking proactive action with respect to youth development today by saying that the “gigantic challenges” faced by young nations like India can only be addressed with the energy of young people, and therefore it is necessary to envision a society in which the youth are given an opportunity to lead.

A range of issues regarding the on-going initiatives to support youth-led development, activities and empowerment programmes, suggestions, comments and probable solutions to address the various issues regarding the youth were discussed at the roundtable.

One such innovative initiative is taken by e-SocialSciences – an online social science research portal established in 2005 is the creation of a youth portal (YeSS) for Asian Youth. eSS aims to make social science research more accessible to Indian academics especially young researchers, policy makers, political leaders, bureaucrats and journalists. It also seeks to create a network of resources to facilitate the exchange of ideas and informed policy making. Ms. Padma Prakash, Editor of eSocialSciences, elaborated on YeSS saying, “As a response to the needs of young people, this portal has been created keeping in mind their needs to simplify the way social sciences are written. This portal is operated with the voluntary effort made by young people at IRIS Foundation and others. It has all the features of a youth site. We also have a section named as ‘eStories’, which is based on research that is going on, written in a manner that would make sense to young people.” YeSS also incorporates features like discussion forums, polls, photo galleries and video content sharing. Please visit

Box 1                                                                    

About YeSS (Youth eSocialSciences)

“Youth population in total population of India is 41.05 % in 2001.
This is the demographic picture across the whole of Asia. And their proportions are growing!
This predominance of youth in the population is expected to last until 2050.
At that time it will be “advantage” for India even as compared to China.”

Our cities are attracting large numbers of youth who migrate to work, or study, or take advantage of new opportunities. Urban youth are a burgeoning phenomenon. This is a generation growing up in a new and ‘shining’ Asia that has emerged from the ravages of many wars, freedom struggles and economic distress, to make a space for itself among the most developed western world. Their aspirations and hopes, dilemmas and problems are surprisingly similar across countries, but different from every other strata of the population. They are struggling to find a space that is uniquely their own. We have created Youth eSocialSciences or YeSS as just such a space where young people can access the best of social science research and understand their world across regions, classes and categories.

  • YeSS is grounded in the firm conviction that young people should have a say in the society, politics, culture, economics and the government of the day. 
  • Most importantly, YeSS rests on the belief that young people are more than capable of taking charge of their lives and impacting the social and economic fabric. All they need is an opportunity!
  • YeSS is designed to allow young people to participate in social science enquiries that eventually inform policies that concern youth. 
  • YeSS also offers a platform for youth to post their social science research work on youth issues, giving them a space where they can get feedback from other young people on their work.
  • YeSS offers an opportunity and a space to think aloud and come up with some answers!
  • YeSS is linked to eSocialSciences, a pan Asia, social sciences portal, based in India which is a unit of IRIS Knowledge Foundation, a CSR initiative of IRIS Business Services, India.



In addition to this initiative, e-SocialSciences contributed to the UN-HABITAT’s recently published report titled, ‘State of the URBAN YOUTH 2010/2011 – Leveling The Playing Field: Inequality of Youth Opportunity’, which looks at the opportunities available to the urban youth in five different cities (Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Kingston, Lagos and Mumbai), where e-SocialSciences compiled the report on youth opportunities in Mumbai. e-SocialSciences is working with the UN-HABITAT on on-going projects and is collaborating with them to develop the Global Help Desk Initiative (please see Box 3).
Ms. Padma Prakash, Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni and Mr. Eirik Sorlie initiate the discussion

“Almost one fifth of the world’s population is young, that is about 18 percent. Of these young people, 85 percent of them are living in developing countries.”

Mr. Eirik Sorlie, from the UN-HABITAT shared some interesting insights on global youth trends and the efforts of the UN-HABITAT to build capacity and empower the youth through various projects. Reiterating the importance of undertaking initiatives for supporting youth-led development, he said, “If we look at the age group of 15 to 24, which is the UN’s official definition of young people, almost one fifth of the world’s population is young, that is about 18 percent. Of these young people, 85 percent of them are living in developing countries. That means the young people in the developing countries are increasingly meeting challenges like access to employment, housing, education, and health services.”

Speaking about the need to define what youth-led development meant, Mr. Sorlie said “it is a kind of a new buzz word in development circles, the UN agencies are also talking about it but there is no clear definition of what it is. We have tried at UN-HABITAT to arrive at a definition along with the young people who are involved with UN-HABITAT’s work.” So far Youth-led Development has been outlined by the UN as “involving young people actively for creating a better future for themselves and their communities.” Youth-led development implies that society “recognises youth as an asset and force for change, a resource for the advancement of societies and initiators of social, economical, political and technological developments.”

Mr. Sorlie, in consonance with Mr. Kulkarni’s views, said that “While we say that youth led- development is about the youth people taking the lead, we do not say that they are taking the lead in a vacuum.” He was of the opinion that youth-led development is not about young people working alone, but about young people and adults working in partnership, to advice mutually desirable goals. It is about young people contributing their ideas and resources, and adults contributing their experiences, and supporting young people in the development.

UN-HABITAT is the lead agency walking towards Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets on water and sanitation and slum upgradation. The agency works with local government in most of their programmes; this partnership works well as UN-HABITAT provides technical and non-technical support, whilst local governments are the ones able to implement and sustain programmes and projects. According to Mr. Sorlie, one of the main things the UN-HABITAT is trying to achieve through the International Year of the Youth, “is to come up with a work plan and concrete initiatives on how young people can contribute towards reaching the MDGs”.

The UN-HABITAT has undertaken various initiatives such as opening of Youth Centres, setting up a Regional Training Centre in Nairobi, and launching the Global Youth Help Desk. This UN agency, besides funding, also supports capacity building for young beneficiaries and their projects by advising them, and providing a network with other organisations and practitioners who are doing similar things, so that they can learn from each other.  For instance, the Regional Training Centre in Nairobi provides vocational training for young people living in the slums with no formal education to acquire construction skills through experiential learning. The motive is to enable these youth from the slums to employ these low cost construction skills to start their own small businesses and construct their own structures. For more information about this project and other programmes by UN-HABITAT, please visit

UN-HABITAT also undertakes research as an important component of their work. Recognising that there is very little research available relating to urban youth internationally and their role in development, UN-HABITAT attempts to provide data and research on the opportunities available to young people around the world, as well as collecting best practices of youth led development, in order to help policymakers develop better schemes.

Moving to a more focussed discussion of the Indian scenario – especially the situation in Mumbai – Priyanka Bhosale, a student from Mumbai University said, “The UN Youth Fund is efficiently working towards youth empowerment. But would that model effectively work in India as well?”. Mr.Sorlie pointed out that any efforts at the international level have to work in conjunction with local governments and youth organisations to create significant and sustainable change.

In this regard, research could be conducted by the organisations such as the UN, with policy development and formulation taking place in conjunction with local government bodies, who then become fully responsible for implementation of the end programmes. It is not realistic to think that international agencies alone can be effective in implementing projects and policies, as often their knowledge and skills may not be tuned to local conditions. At the same time, the local governments often lack capacity and imagination in how they tackle the issues that plague their constituencies. Therefore, such partnerships can best enable knowledge and resource sharing to overcome specific constraints.

Ms. Supriya Sule addresses the gathering at ORF

Bringing the discussion back to the Indian context and Maharashtra in particular, Ms. Supriya Sule, spoke about various issues related to development the youth in Maharashtra. She categorically spoke out against the caste census and questioned the need of “such a detailed census which is so caste oriented”. She was also quite candid about the failure of the political establishment in reaching even a single MDG.

For Ms. Sule, “The biggest MDG challenge is malnutrition, which is connected to everything else – education, livelihood, everything” in India. The other challenges that she held as obstacles to the bright future of our country were: urban-rural divides; disparities in rural and urban electrification; scarcity of water (and the dilemma of choosing between allotting water to agriculture, industry, or providing drinking water); and finally, fighting Naxalism.  

“Today the youth are concerned and they want to make a difference. They want a better quality of life”

According to Ms. Sule, the quality of education is another issue that poses a grave challenge for the youth, as well as the development and progress of India. Giving some statistics to explain the dismal state of the education in our country, Ms. Sule said, “Only 11 percent of this country’s children go to college. And for Maharashtra – which is a so called developing state – only 13 percent of the children go to college”. She blames the swelling population in part, for the strains on the education system and employment opportunities as well as the poor human development indicators India is consistently doled out.

On a more optimistic note she said that, “Today the youth are concerned and they want to make a difference. They want a better quality of life”, and to facilitate that, “A good infrastructure, schools, colleges, a good quality education and extremely good and solid values” is needed for the youth.

She ended positively acknowledging that “People like us [politicians] have to learn to listen, take the suggestions and will of the people back to the parliament, debate with and influence policy makers and people like you who work in the field.” Additionally, she also invited comments and suggestions from the participants for the Maharashtra State Youth Policy Declaration and offered to organize a further interaction with the coordinators of the draft.

“We talk about development of a nation but often do we think about the rural youth who cannot access the basic amenities.”

Ms. Sule’s point on the urban-rural disparity invited a number of questions on the implementation of several policies in the rural sector. Whilst the focus of our event was primarily on urban youth, the need to engage and be inclusive of rural youth in this regard was repeatedly felt and expressed. Devendra Singh, a class XI student of Kendriya Vidyalaya II, Colaba said, “We talk about development of a nation but often do we think about the rural youth who cannot access the basic amenities.”

The urgency of addressing this issue was especially highlighted in the context of employment opportunities and skills development to create more equal opportunities for youth in urban and rural areas in particular creating employment opportunities in rural areas to stem rural to urban migration. Ms. Nilima Jadhav from Utkarsh spoke of the need for vocational training, of rural populations to also prepare them for urban employment. “People from the rural sector migrate to the urban areas looking for jobs and their skill sets are not up to date to get a job in the urban sector. So they remain unemployed,” causing a strain on the resources in the urban areas. As India’s population is largely rural (over 70 percent as per the 2001 census), we need to be attuned to the difficulties and realities in rural areas and take proactive action to prevent social and economic polarisation. Whilst the Maharashtra State Youth Policy Declaration (MSYPD), aims to address the needs of both rural and urban youth, most of its recommendations are urban-centric. It is therefore necessary to tackle the needs of the rural youth in Maharashtra and draft a rural youth development policy and work towards its implementation.

The 2007 Maharashtra Development Report, by Planning Commission, Government of India, states that, “Urban Maharashtra continues to draw migrants from its rural hinterlands and from other states of India. Migrants are generally young men who come to Maharashtra in search of employment. Cities here do offer employment to many who enter the labour market, but excess supply of labour in relation to the demand for it results in high incidence of unemployment in urban labour markets.” It is therefore critical to plan and execute relevant skills development and labour training programmes that can help to provide gainful employment to more young people, especially those coming to the cities in search of better prospects.

The National Youth Policy (2003) entails a section on Training and Employment. It acknowledges that the incidence of unemployment is more pronounced in rural areas and in urban slums and there exists a mis-match between skills-requirement and employment opportunities. The National Youth Policy recognises the need for providing vocational training for the urban youth besides developing special training programs for young people in the rural areas, based on their needs as assessed by the Government, in conjunction with youth organizations. The draft of the Maharashtra State Youth Policy also contains a section on training and skills development but most of its recommendations are specific to urban areas. It does not provide for any distinctive programs separately aimed at rural and urban youth. It recognizes the importance of establishing skills development institutes and reorganising Industrial Training Institutions (ITIs), District Industrial Centres (DICs) and the Maharashtra Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (MCED) with a focus on equipping youth with entrepreneurial and “market-relevant skills”. The policy mainly looks at training and developing the skills of the youth so as to empower them to increase their chances of employment and become self sufficient.

Ms. Supriya Sule pointed out that the MSYPD needs to be widely discussed and suggestions from youth organisation will be much appreciated. Youth in the age group of 13-35 still have a chance to put forth their viewpoints and suggestions about this policy in a structured manner. Some of the organisations like Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), Yuva, CORO, CYDA-Pune, Navnirman, PUKAR, College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, CCDT, Youth-to-Youth (Pune), BAIF-Jawhar (Thane) and many other NGOs were partner organisations in the formulation of this policy. To make this policy even more inclusive of youth views, other NGOs working towards youth development could also invite suggestions and comments from a larger youth audience and incorporate the unaddressed issues in the final draft. It is envisaged that multiple consultations will yield a more suitable and widely accepted policy, which will aid its success. It is anticipated that the policy will be adopted in December 2010, so feedback, suggestions and improvements should be discussed and submitted as a matter of priority.

“The youth should be involved and engaged in the decision making process in all ministries and departments”.

In response to the call for suggestions, Bhagwan Keshbhat from YUVA proposed that, “The youth should be involved and engaged in the decision making process in all ministries and departments”. Similarly, MSYPD includes the ‘Right to participate in decision making in relevant schemes and programs for self and society’s development’ as a component. Secondly, he was of the opinion that student elections in colleges and universities are needed to facilitate the engagement of the youth in college-level decision-making process which would help them to exercise their democratic rights. Thirdly, he spoke about the need of setting up a State Youth Commission, which would not only be a discussion body but it would ensure protection of rights of the youth and promotion of issues concerning them. This concept has been covered in the MSYPD but more detailed discussions on the role and functions of such a body need to be elucidated.

Another important aspect highlighted by Dr. Rajesh Sarwadnya, was that of spirituality. He said, “Apart from all other aspects of development in urban India, there should be a focus on the spiritual growth of the youth. As a result of the lack of spirituality, problems like greed, anger, jealously, suspicion, and stress are creeping in”. Thus, enhancement of spiritual growth could lead towards personality building, leadership and overall development of an individual, which would especially benefit the youth.

There was a general consensus that there was a lack of information available to the youth about their rights, responsibilities and opportunities, thereby limiting their effective empowerment. Ms. Sunita Dhaka, a teacher from Kendriya Vidyalaya II, Colaba, said that school children, “do not even know if they can contribute in governance and whether their ideas have any importance”. She added that they have ideas, but don’t know where to voice them, or how to contribute to the decision making process. It was agreed that there was a need to make more information available to young people to increase their awareness of social issues, as well as to help them find ways of being able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. In this regard, the Maharashtra State Youth Policy Declaration details the potential rights and responsibilities of the youth (please see Box 2 for details). Once this policy comes into existence, it will serve as a very powerful information tool for youth and can help them to better understand their role in society.

Box 2


This policy is based on a human rights perspective and enables realisation of following rights:

  1. Right to citizenship of the country and therefore guaranteed fundamental rights stated in the constitution of India.
  2. Right to participate in the decision making in the relevant schemes and programs for self and society’s development.
  1. Right to enabling environment and equal opportunities to access and quality education.
  2. Right to livelihood in order to lead a dignified and productive life.
  3. Right to organize and participate in democratic, autonomous student and non-student organizations and governance mechanisms.
  4. Right to live a healthy life in a clean environment.
  5. Right to exercise choice in their sexual and reproductive life.
  6. Right to be protected from all forms of discrimination, abuse and exploitation.




This policy recognises that youth have an important role to play in society’s development; hence in addition to the rights of youth, the following responsibilities and duties of the youth have been put forth:

  1. To promote peace, security and development.
  2. To promote human dignity and respect for all.
  3. To contribute in building a society free from all forms of violence, crime, discrimination and exploitation.
  4. To appreciate and respect diverse cultures, languages, religions and political affiliations.
  5. To contribute constructively to the development process through national and state services, community service and voluntary endeavors.
  6. To respect public property and the properties of others.
  7. To be sensitive to ecological balance and protect and preserve the same.
  8. To be a responsible citizen.


Source: Maharashtra State Youth Policy Declaration, 2010


The draft policy clearly empowers youth from all sections of society with rights and duties as detailed in Box 2. In addition, the document acknowledges empowerment of disabled youth as a priority area. However, Kanchan Majumdar from Reliance Industries Limited raised the issue of various government policies failing to specifically address the rights of, and to support, disabled citizens – especially the youth. In this regard, it was suggested that more focussed efforts should be made to identify and address the challenges faced by disabled youth.

It was also recognised that language could be a potential barrier, creating inequalities in opportunities for youth. The participants of the roundtable discussion were all of the opinion that no youth should be excluded on the basis of language, and they should not be denied the right to information because they cannot access resources in their local languages. Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni said, “That is one of the focus areas of ORF. We are actively promoting non-English Indian languages and it is a major point of our advocacy.” The need to promote various national and international schemes, funding opportunities in local languages for the larger audience through media was expressed by Ms Sunita Dhaka, especially in an effort to reach students and youth in vernacular schools. It was pointed out that capacity building workshop should also be conducted in government schools and colleges to equip the youth with latest technological skills, to give them better access to information available through new media and online mediums.

Just as use of technology has grown extensively among the young, so have new means of engagement with society and social problems. The youth of today have taken a different path from their predecessors and are increasingly turning their efforts into social enterprises. However, a number of such youth organisations have no institutional or administrative backing and often have no means of accessing funds on a systematic and sustained basis. They do not have a brand name or a track record that they can show to corporate funders. Youth start-ups especially face large sunk costs and cannot afford to invest a lot of money in advertising and PR activities. Abhinav Mehra, a student from H.R College has started a social enterprise named Chirag, which is working towards solar electrification in rural areas. He said, “As a start-up, I faced huge problems when I looked for funding, because I had no brand name. What we lacked was infrastructure.” There are many funding options available for youth-led projects today but they should be publicised and accessed in a channelised way. The biggest challenge for these youth-led social enterprises are sustaining projects on a long term basis.  In addressing this issue, Mr. Sorlie said, “It is very important to fund the right projects with social goals and help the entrepreneur to generate their own profit that can be reinvested when the scholarships or donation stops flowing in.” He assured participants that the UN takes great care in selecting projects and that only the very best and most deserving projects get funding, and yet he said that when they call for project ideas they get a number of very good proposals including from hundreds of young people and youth organisations in India. In addition to launching the Youth Fund, UN-HABITAT is working to make more information available to young people and will soon UN-HABITAT will soon launch a portal ‘Global Youth Help Desk’. “The main idea is to have a site which the young people can use to put up their own content, ideas, stories and solutions.” Mr.Sorlie said.

Box 3

UN-HABITAT – Global Youth Helpdesk (GYH)

  • The central focus of the GYH is to provide young people with the resources needed to launch and undertake innovative projects that address social, economic and cultural challenges in the community.
  • The objective is to empower youth with information and knowledge, skill building opportunities and a means of creating an enriching space for like minded young people.
  • The portal will also be a fun place for you to launch virtual communities, take part in contests, engage in dialogue, share music and videos and photographs, listen to experts and much more.
  • Importantly, it is a collaborative website and will be as exciting as the youth want to make it!
  • It will be closely linked to collaborative community radio stations managed by youth and featuring youth programmes.


Source: Presentation by Mr Eirik Sorlie at ORF Mumbai on 28th August 2010

In concluding the discussions, Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni commended the efforts being made by UN-HABITAT and e-SocialSciences, and thanked the speakers and participants for their valuable comments and suggestions. He was especially appreciative of Ms. Sule’s candid remarks and the work she is doing to promote the rights of the youth in Maharashtra.  He further emphasised the need for promoting dialogue between rural and urban youth and said that ORF would continue its engagement with this important topic, which would actively involve rural and urban NGOs and youth groups. In complementing these efforts, ORF would also endeavour to support information dissemination of opportunities for the youth in the form of local language publications and interactions with local activists.  

* * *

For further information about this event please contact Ms. Varsha Raj by phone at 6131 3825 or by e-mail to


One comment on “Newsletter: Opportunities for Youth-led Development in Urban India

  1. kalendarze

    really interesting article, good and easy to read. Thanks!

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