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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Youth Revolutions: We’ve Only Seen the Beginning

The revolts and protests we’re hearing about every day in the news have a few ingredients in common. Have you noticed them?

– They are led by a swelling population of young adults.
– They occur when youth have too much time on their hands.
– They happen when established leaders don’t know how to lead them.

    “Young people without jobs, young people who are waiting for a chance, young people without hope…they’re waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Tarik Yousef, dean of the Dubai School of Government. “At some point, you reach a threshold of patience.”

    Kids are saying things like: I want to be able to elect who represents me. I want my government to be transparent. I want education and decent health care, and decent job opportunities — just like any reasonable human being would ask for. Young adults in the Middle East are part of a “youth bulge,” a rise in the young population.

    Young adults, 15- to 29-years old, make up over 30% of the population in most of the Arab countries, according to a report by the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. For many nations, like Yemen, it is much higher.

    Does this sound strangely familiar? “It’s a bit like the baby boom generation in this country,” said Ragui Assaad, an Egyptian-American and professor of planning and public affairs at the University of Minnesota. “What makes the youth bulge problematic is that it’s coupled with economic conditions that have made it hard to employ these young people in productive ways.” Sadly, these young people are educated and under-employed.

    Again, does this sound familiar? In the U.S. today, we have a swelling population of youth. Generation Y (1984-2002) has passed up the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) in size. And unemployment is highest among that demographic.

    “It sets up a demand for social-economic transformation… that has to be focused on addressing the needs of this particular segment of the population,” professor Assaad said. “Most of the Arab governments have precisely failed to do that. Their approach and response to it has been one of, ‘Let’s repress it.” As a result, sometimes an individual can ignite a revolution.

    What will we do with our young people in these economic times? Will we do anything?  Do we think we’re immune to a revolt on their part as they become frustrated with poor leadership from the adults who are in charge?

    I know, I know. You don’t feel you have any authority to make a change. Maybe not. But you do have influence. May I suggest a few steps anyone can take right now?

    1. Start small. Identify one young person and meet with them to process how they feel about life, about their future and about their dreams.

    2. Hire young people when possible. Even small jobs around your home or office can be given to youth. Just be clear with them & reward hard work.

    3. Encourage people you know who do have authority to prioritize students in the community. Become mentors, encouragers, employers & friends to them.

      This is our chance to save their future.


      (Check out my new book, Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, at:


      1. Jon M on March 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

        Great insights and suggestions on the new generation. I also think, sometimes, we adults get in the way. We scare off youth by only focusing on the ones we like or attend the things we think they should attend. Youth programs get stuck, doing the same thing over and over again. We focus on a small set of people and “hope” the rest will figure it out at some point in time. We need to embrace new ways, new people; we need to get unstuck in our approach. Thanks for generating the conversations!

      2. Charles Flemming on March 9, 2011 at 7:43 am

        My children have had no problems at all getting a job. My number three, 18 years old, has two jobs.

        As I’ve talked with various employers in a variety of businesses, their number one reason for not hiring young people: lack of work ethic and a built-in sense of entitlement.

        BTW… among the many people I know and work with in their 20s or teens, not one of them thinks of healthcare as an issue relevant to their own lives.

      3. Beth Davies-Stofka on March 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm

        The problem here is quite similar to the problem in the Arab world — high unemployment. The problem here is also starting to resemble the problem in the Arab world — a decidedly large gap between the rich and everybody else. They have an additional problems over there: corrupt despotism and widespread desperate poverty. We don’t yet have these problems. But economic reform and job creation should be the priority of anyone who wants to extend a hand to American youth. We might also start thinking about getting kids back into homes and making sure they have enough to eat. 20 percent of our kids live in poverty! It’s shameful.

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      Youth Revolutions: We’ve Only Seen the Beginning