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A Once In A Generation Opportunity for Laos: Focusing on Youth as Drivers for Sustainable Development

Almost one third of people in the Lao PDR are aged between 10 and 24 years old, making it one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia.

As this number is only set to increase over the next ten years, the Lao PDR has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to benefit from this demographic dividend entering the workforce. Currently, 39% of the youth population are not in education, employment, or training, which is the highest in the region.

Within this context, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) are together preparing the 6th Human Development Report for the Lao PDR, focusing on ‘Youth as Drivers for Sustainable Development’. To explore the opportunities and challenges, UNDP and MPI held a multi-stakeholder consultation on May 27 at the Landmark Hotel.

Co-chaired by Vice Minister of Planning and Investment Sathabandith Inisiengmai, and UNDP Resident Representative Ricarda Rieger, the consultation aimed to receive feedback from key stakeholders on priority areas for youth development.

There was a highly engaging discussion with diverse representatives from Government, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+, youth groups, youth entrepreneurs and civil society organisations both in person and virtually.

Following the presentation of report chapters by UNDP and plenary discussions, feedback was provided by leading youth groups, including the Huam Jai Association, Zero Waste Laos and the Association for the Deaf. The draft report was validated by participants, who provided critical feedback on the relevance and accuracy of the preliminary findings, which UNDP will further incorporate into the final NHDR.

“The government recognizes that the promotion and development of youth is critical to improving human capital and increasing workforce participation, as indicated, and prioritized in the 9th Five Year Socio-Economic Plan. It is our priority to develop the skills of our youth, improve job access and increase youth capacity to participate in local and socio-economic development in the Lao PDR,” said Vice-Minister of Planning and Investment Sathabandith Inisiengmai.

Resident Representative of UNDP to the Lao PDR Ricarda Rieger appraised the extensive participation from the stakeholders and youth representatives. “The feedback received today, to be incorporated into National Human Development Report, will not only complement the current national plans and strategies, but provide key recommendations for advancing youth participation in the Lao PDR and prioritizing youth as agents of change.”

The interlinkages between youth development and national growth trajectory cannot be understated, this is particularly pertinent considering the compounding socio-economic impacts the Lao PDR is currently experiencing. Investment in youth development, in conjunction with increasing youth participation in decision making, will be vital for human development and be a potential factor to helping the Lao PDR smoothly graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) Status by 2026.

The NHDR seeks to examine the state of youth to assess their human development potential, needs and challenges. To date, UNDP have surveyed almost 7,000 young people across priority provinces and conducted extensive focus group discussions and interviews with youth from a diverse range of backgrounds.

This data and lived experiences of youth collected will enable a better understanding of the barriers youth face and identify the potential strategies and actions to overcome these barriers.

The NHDR aims to foster greater participation of young people in decision-making processes across all sectors, which will be critical to capitalizing on this once in a generation opportunity and contributing to the sustainable development of the Lao PDR.

The NHDR will be launched later this year and will provide key recommendations to ensure that Lao youth not only benefit from Government policies but have the opportunity to lead empowered lives and drive sustainable development for the country.

Source: Lao News Agency