Youth important support for SCO

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Vladimir Norov

“Young people with their energy, innovative and bold ideas are an important support on the way to further development of SCO”, said Vladimir Norov – the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

On August 12, International Youth Day is celebrated each year. The holiday was established by the decision of the UN General Assembly on December 17, 1999, on the proposal of the World Conference of Ministers of Youth, which was held  on             8-12 August 1998 in Lisbon.

In 1995 the UN adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth, which was later expanded in 2007. The document outlined measures to strengthen the Activities of States in youth policy. The Programme of Action covers 15 directions: education, employment, hunger and poverty, health care, environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, leisure organization, girls and young women, full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and decision-making process, globalization, information and communication technologies, HIV/AIDS, armed conflicts, and issues of intergenerational relations.

On the threshold of celebrating International Youth Day,the SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov shared his vision of youth development and youth policy of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Young people are a progressive part of society

The world community recognizes that young people in all countries are a major human resource, a key mediator of social change, economic development, and technological innovation. International organizations, especially the United Nations, have also paid considerable attention to youth issues.

The UN Youth Agenda is guided by the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), adopted by the General Assembly in 1995, which provides a policy framework as well as practical guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of youth around the world.

In his new strategy “Youth 2030”, which was launched on the eve of the general policy debate at the 73rd Session of the General Assemblyin 2018, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres identified five priority areas to improve the lives of young people: to involve them in solving contemporary problems; to increase access to education and health; to improve their economic situation; to ensure conditions for the exercise of their civil and political rights, and to support young people in conflict and crisis.

He stressed that the Youth 2030 strategy would be underpinned by the “Unlimited Opportunity Generation” initiative. The project is aimed to empower young people, especially in terms of quality education and decent work.

  1. Youth policy within the SCO.

Today, the world is home to 1.8 billion young people, the largest number in the history of humankind. Almost half of the world’s young people live in the SCO region (approximately 800 million people).

Young people with their energy, innovative and bold ideas are an important pillar on the way to further development of SCO in various aspects of its activities.

That is why our organization is focused on young people. The SCO Member States attach great importance to the development of youth cooperation, aimed at promoting the physical, mental, and spiritual development of the young generation and involving them in large-scale plans for joint development.

The responsible body for implementing the policy is the SCO Youth Council, which was established in 2009 on the initiative of Youth Organizations of the Organization’s Member Countries.

Its purpose is cooperation and exchange of experiences of representatives of the young generation of SCO countries in various areas of development of young personality to ensure fundamental continuity of SCO policy and contribute to the implementation of its historical mission.

The SCO Youth Council is an effective mechanism for protecting young people from various destructive ideas by creating favorable conditions for them in terms ofavailing modern education, acquiring professional skills, generating business opportunities, and innovative projects to accommodate maximum employment, self-realization, enhancing spiritual potential and prosperity.

Involving young people in interstate cultural, economic, scientific and educational processes contributes to the discovery of the creative, social, educational and spiritual and moral potential of the young generation besides strengthening friendship and mutual understanding among the young people of the participating countries, which could serve to further develop good-neighborly relations and strengthen inter-ethnic and interfaith cooperation.

For this purpose, discussions, conferences, cultural and sporting events, as well as youth forums are organized annually within the framework of the SCO Youth Council along with the project of the International Service “SCO Youth Map”, which successfully implemented international festivals “SCO and BRICS Student Spring”, including SCO marathons are held annually.

As part of the “Our Common Home” project, the SCO Secretariat works with young people, providing them technical support as well as a platform for organizing various events. These events range from SCO model meetings to intellectual contests on various themes such as “Leader of the 21stCentury”.

Also, since 2016 the SCO Secretariat organizes an “Open Day” for students and schoolchildrenevery year, during which visitors are given a tour of the SCO headquarters and briefed about the Organization’s activities and national peculiarities of its member states.

All these events once again confirm that young people are the main bearers of society’s intellectual potential.They have great abilities to work, to create life in all spheres, and are capable of mastering new knowledge, professions, and specialties faster than other social groups in the society.

All activities of the Youth Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are built in the spirit of mutual respect and trust, equality and mutual benefit, taking into account the interests of the parties and resolving all issues by consensus under the principles of the “Shanghai spirit” and the Regulations on the Youth Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Last year, the Youth Council celebrated its 10thanniversary. Its activities were highly appreciated by the heads of state at the SCO Summit in Bishkek, which was heldon 13-14 June 2019. A vivid illustration of this was the joint photographof leaders of Member and Observers States with representatives of Youth Council, for the first time in the history of SCO.

  1. Interaction within SCO against the radicalization of youth.

In the declaration which was adopted after the Bishkek Summit, the Heads of SCO Member States stressed the importance of intensifying joint efforts of the international community to counter attempts to involving young people in terrorist, separatist and extremist groups.

Indeed, young people are considered one of the vulnerable parts of the society. International terrorism and extremism, turbulence in the world economy and aggravation of social problems – these besides other factors exacerbate the challenges faced by the young people. They have been targeted by various destructive and terrorist forces seeking to lure young men and women into criminal activities through the manipulation of the immaculate mind.

Statistics have shown that the most extremist and violent crimes in the world are committed by people under the age of 30, including minors. There are about 300,000 young people under the age of 18 in the ranks of religious and extremist organizations across the world.

Taking these trends into account, the SCO is also responding appropriatelywhich isaimed at countering the involvement of young people in terrorist, separatist, and extremist structures.

Particularly, following the SCO Summit in Qingdao in 2018, the Heads of states adopted a joint appeal to youth and a Programme of Action, aimed at actively involving young people in creating a decent future, promoting the physical, mental, and spiritual development of the younger generationfor its implementation. The documents emphasize the utmost importance of ensuring favorable social and economic conditions, availability of opportunities for education, self-expression, disclosure of creative potential, and realization of labor activity for young population groups.

One of the SCO’s events aimed at the practical implementation of the Joint Statement of the Heads of State was the Assembly of Youth Representatives of the Organization’s countries which were held in November 2018in Dushanbe. The event confirmed that the young people of SCO strive for creation and development, and share the goals and principles, ideals, and values which were enshrined in the Heads of States’ Addresses. They are ready to contribute to strengthening security and stability as well asto ensuring sustainable joint development in unification.

  1. Involvement of youth in Entrepreneurship.

The coronavirus pandemic has ruined the ways, millions of people used to live. In six months, what was considered important in previous decades has been devalued before our eyes.Consumer society has been transformed into a society of safety. People who used to travel found themselves trapped within the borders of their countries, cities, and even apartments.Sports competitions, concerts, and other favorite and familiar entertainment were canceled and, resultantly, has directly affected the routine daily life of the young generation.

Today, one-quarter of the world’s working population is young, but it is also worth considering that half of the world’s unemployed are also young.

The International Labour Organization has stated that young people are worst affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, and they have been affected by the current crisis in terms of mental and physical health, education, professional development, and civic engagement – in all of the cited areas besides young people also face significant changes and challenges.

In the current climate, the development and support of youth entrepreneurship have become a priority for our Governments. For young people, this could be a solution to the problem regarding their employment and self-realization because today many young people want to work and create something socially significant.

For young entrepreneurs, the crisis is also a challenge that is not comparable in scale to their capabilities. The situation when old strategies stop working and new ones are yet to be developed, in such dramatically changed conditions many entrepreneurs must master some new areas of activity.Because the old ones are no longer effective and profitable.

In this regard, the SCO is actively working to attract young people to business activities. The member states are in favor of developing business incubators to improve the business climate in the region and support youth start-up projects. The project “International Youth Business Incubator of the SCO countries” is being implemented within the framework of the SCO Youth Council, and is designed to assist training mentors for start-ups, opening up a space of business incubators for young people, and conducting internships projectsin the Member States.

Since innovation and the digital economy is key a factor of economic growth, therefore, the SCO attaches great importance to cooperation in the development of e-commerce and promotion of startup initiatives. As an example, China and Russia have launched youth incubators to develop startups in the SCO region.

India is also not lagging in this area, with the launch of the “Startup India” movement in 2016 to create an ecosystem for the development of innovations and startups in the country and to involve young professionals in this activity. To ensure knowledge sharing, a single web portal, Startup India Hub, has been launched in 40 different languages, including the languages of all SCO countries: English, Russian, Chinese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek.

Besides, the International Youth Entrepreneurship Forum was held in Qingdao in April 2019, which became an effective platform for promoting youth entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable economic development in the SCO region.

  1. Youth and modern information technologies

Under the circumstances of the pandemic, we are witnessing a real increase in youth activity in the sphere of information and communication technologies. It is worth mentioning that young people’s interest in new sciences and technological development has led to the growth of e-commerce, andmany experts believe that the world economy will keep afloat.Thanks to the digital economy.

The coronavirus pandemic had triggered the development of the digital economy and has forced many to rethink their vision of the future economy. The phenomenon has forced the young generation, considered to be the most advanced in the use of ICT, to seek new solutions to painlessly circumvent the negative effects of the epidemic as well as protecting themselves and others from the virus.

To be more actively involved in this area, the SCO Secretariat, together with the SCOLAR Network – Youth Platform, in partnership with the Innoway Technology Park and Alibaba Group, has held a conference on “Digital Economy and E-commerce: Challenges and Opportunities in the SCO Region”, and a webinar on “Digital Action for Entrepreneurs in the COVID-19 Era: Lessons from Alibaba”. The events were attended by more than 600 young adapted in the digital economy and 45 were from “SCO Family” countries besides Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

In this regard, it is very important for the young generation of the SCO space to actively improve their skills in using software and other eminent platforms that are used by technological specialties. A huge number of training materials, on almost any skill, can be found on the Internet. We need to move towards our goal, to achieve our luck, not to sit back nor to retreat.

  1. Ensuring full education in the context of the pandemic

The SCO countries attach importance to channeling the energy of the younger generation to a creative direction, first and foremost, through accessible, high-quality, innovative education that makes it possible to realize the full potential of the individual.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the global crisis caused by the pandemic has put education on the back burner, as governments today are more focused on health, economic, and social policy measures aimed at overcoming the pandemic and its consequences.

The main response to the spread of the epidemic, virtually all over the world, has been the closure of educational institutions and the conversion of education into an online format. The crisis came at a time when most education systems were not prepared for the world of digital learning opportunities. This has created a range of problems ranging from a lack of preparedness of infrastructure and teachers to a lack of motivation to educate young people, potentially leading to a significant increase in educational differentiation.

Despite the obvious negative consequences of the pandemic, it has provided several opportunities and an understanding of today’s unpredictable world.It is essential to bridge the digital divide and develop skills to resist various threats. The crisis has accelerated the process of piloting and adapting online learning in most countries.

As is the case around the world, all, or part of the countries of our Organization have closed their educational institutions and many students have switched to distance learning. In China alone, a total of 120 million students at 140,000 schools across China have returned to classes using DingTalk, a communication application developed by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba. Half of the students in China are now “attending classes” through the app, which was originally a mobile office app.

The pandemic came at a time when most education systems, as shown by the latest round of the OECD’s International Student Assessment Programme (ISAP), were unwilling to take advantage of new digital learning opportunities.

The closure of higher education institutions, colleges, schools, and the emergency transition to distance learning presents problems mainly due to insufficient technical equipment. Internet bandwidth is sufficientagainst a significantly increased workload.

Considering these trends, during the first organizational meeting of the SCO University Coordination Council which was held on 30 June 2020, the member states discussed the issues of conversion of educational programmes to distance learning. The SCO Secretariat believes it is important to compile the experience of our countries in the development of distance education and to develop an appropriate multilateral cooperation programme. At the same time, SCO University should become a reliable platform for the development of online education in the SCO region.

Education is an integral part of humanitarian cooperation within the SCO. As soon as the spread of COVID-19 became under control, the return of students to educational institutions is now one of the top priorities of the governments of the SCO Member States. The Meeting of Education Ministers of SCO Member States has been effective in this regard.

  1. Participation of young people of SCO countries in volunteer activities

I would also like to separately mention the volunteer movements in our countries in which the young people actively participated during the pandemic like; voluntarily assisting physicians, the sick, the poor, and those in need. During these difficult days, they distributing medicines and food and young medical volunteers providing first aid to those who are unable to reach doctors is an invaluable contribution to supporting those who need help during these difficult times.

In the SCO region, almost 200 million young people have volunteered to help their citizens.

In India, volunteer programmes organized by the Government of the country have brought together over 10 million volunteers to help. Moreover, in some states, citizens-initiated community programmes also brought together many volunteers for this purpose.

According to the Ministry of Civil Administration of China, the number of registered volunteers in China has reached 172 million, and 735,000 volunteer organizations were registered in the country, most of which took part in combating the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan and other cities.

In Kyrgyzstan, since its founding, volunteers from the Daryger Youth Initiative have helped more than 15 hospitals with personal protective equipment, respirators, medicines, soaps, detergents, masks, and antiseptics. To this day, the volunteers continue to provide meals to medical workers andcoordination of transportation of doctors from home to work and back.

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of young people have registered with the civil youth movement “Tiger Force” to help the government and masses to counter the spread of the epidemic.

In Russia, they have launched the All-Russian Action of Mutual Assistance – “We are together”. The participants of the action help the poor and needy segments of the population. Almost 120,000 Russian young people have responded to help medical professionals and the needy during these difficult days.

Tajikistan’s young people have also stood by and are helping the population and medical facilities. The Committee on Youth and Sports under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan has established a volunteer movement “Followers of the Leader of the Nation”. Members of this movement have organized mobile groups that deliver necessities to the needy and carry out awareness among the population on prevention and prevention of the spread of the pandemic.

To assist the sick and needy in Uzbekistan, on the initiative of the Agency for Youth Affairs, volunteer.uz website was launched, which currently has several tens of thousands of volunteers registered. They actively assist charitable organizations in distributing food to needy families and work even in the so-called red zones, day, and night, as well as in hospitals to somehow compensate for the shortage of medical personnel.

The courage, firmness, and selflessness shown by young people in the activities of volunteer organizations in the fight against the pandemic, are highly appreciated by the Heads of state of all SCO Member States.

We are deeply convinced that the future development of the entire SCO region depends on the participation of young people in political, socio-economic, and public life at both the national and international levels. That is why we believe that it is necessary to build a society in the SCO region where all young people will have the opportunity to realize their potential, their ability and contribution to the development of their countries, and to building a recognized future.

The writer is the Secretary General of SCO.