With about 30 per cent of the population being in the age group between 10 and 24 years, Bangladesh faces a humongous challenge of harnessing the potential of this enormous youth workforce. And the challenge had never been so crucial as now when the bulk of this youth population is facing a new kind of uncertainty about their future, a condition attributable to the covid-19 pandemic. With the pandemic-created uncertainties being unsparing across the globe, Bangladesh as a developing economy on the verge of attaining middle income status cannot allow itself to be deflected from the trajectory it had painstakingly been saddled in. Thus, Bangladesh is left to count on the bountiful reserve of its young population and exploit its potential in the best possible way.
The way the pandemic has descended upon us in an unanticipated manner, it has forced all concerned including social thinkers, policymakers in the government and businesses to have a rethink on how first to protect and then develop and exploit the potential of our youth force in the nation-building activities both in the present and in the post-pandemic dispensations. At a recent webinar, acknowledging the peculiarities of the present situation, a regional platform of economists as well as some NGO activists delineated the multi-faceted risks and challenges now facing our youth community and came up with some suggestions on how better to address those. Predominantly, the government would have to play a major role by way of expanding its social safety network to accommodate the unemployed youths, addressing issues relating to their physical and mental health, education, employment, income, poverty-situation and making necessary national planning and targeted policy interventions to that end. At the same time, while the private sector is now battling to face a new normal, the NGOs, both national and international, the local bodies and voluntary can ensure a hands-on community involvement
The pandemic has effected a radical change in our traditional thinking about social and economic development. The youth being the prime mover of national development or progress, it would be necessary to change the prevailing outlook about how the policymakers at all levels in society and the economy would want them (the youths) to get engaged in the development activities. So, one would be required to think outside the box and encourage and help the youths not just to somehow procure a job, but also to create a condition where they can generate employment and inspire others to emulate.
The government can come in a big way to motivate the youths in new entrepreneurial skills suitable to the demands of the digital age. To this end, scope, accessibility and affordability of distance learning should be increased. Such youths as are already trying to set up medium, small or micro-level enterprises would need supports like cheap credit facilities as well as help regarding technical knowhow, training, etc.
Meanwhile, the government should not forget the entrepreneurs of freelancing start-ups who had earlier demonstrated their talent by their innovative approaches and ideas in providing various services. But they have been forced to drastically scale down their business due to the pandemic. They deserve to be covered by a generous stimulus package so they may cope with the present situation and hope for better days once the pandemic is over. The pandemic has also a silver lining; it has taught us to sit back, take stock of things and think through problems in a different light. Hopefully, the lesson would, along with the new knowledge of the world, help us immeasurably in avoiding the mistakes of the past and forge right ahead.
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