India’s young guns missing at G20 Youth Summit


Despite being set to be the youngest country in demographic terms by 2020, India was absent at the world’s most prestigious youth summit, missing an opportunity to discuss policy recommendations that address social and economic challenges, says Erin Watson Lynn

Indian delegates were noticeably missing at the table at the Group of Twenty (G20) Youth Summit (Y20). Around 94 delegates from G20 member countries, with the absence India and Saudi Arabia, convened at Boğaziçi University from 16 to 21 August in Turkey, Istanbul. In addition to the permanent observer countries, Spain and Singapore, four invited guests from low-income developing countries, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Mongolia and Vietnam were in attendance.

The world’s most prestigious youth summit, and one of only six official engagement groups of the G20, the Y20 is a platform for young people from member countries to have their voice heard. The Summit is a unique opportunity to discuss and negotiate policy recommendations that address some of the world’s most pressing social and economic challenges.

Building on two months of pre-departure discussion, Y20 delegates negotiate an official communiqué. The communiqué is delivered to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in November, where its content is given formal consideration. In only its third year, the Y20 is going from strength to strength as it successfully lobbies member country leaders for consideration of its recommendations.

With India set to be the youngest country in demographic terms by 2020, its absence was felt. And more important, India’s youth were stripped of the opportunity to contribute to the resolution of global problems.

The global problems brought to the agenda at the Y20, were youth unemployment, education in the 21st century, and youth’s contribution to peace. Similar to the Y20 2014, held in Brisbane, Australia, youth unemployment became the key focus at the Summit.

Youth unemployment rates are rising rapidly. Approximately 74 million young people are willing and able to work, but unable to secure a position. In Australia, youth unemployment rates hover around 14 per cent. In India, the rate is 10 per cent.

In both instances, youth unemployment is double the overall rate. Further to this, these figures do not consider underemployment or labour market withdrawal of discouraged workers. Questionable collection and dissemination of employment data in India, also distort the accuracy of these figures.

Across the other G20 member countries, unemployment rates vary significantly. In Germany, the rate is just 7 per cent. In contrast, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is over 50 per cent. While some developed countries are faring better than others, in developing countries with burgeoning youth populations the story is bleak.

However, this presents significant opportunity for governmental cooperation.

Take India and Australia, for instance. India is currently in the midst of a demographic challenge that juxtaposes Australia’s ageing population. Despite unemployment rates that appear comparatively strong, India’s youth population is the largest globally. And to maintain strong economic growth, it needs to create enough jobs to accommodate these young people in its labour market.

The exceptionally high youth unemployment rates across G20 member countries may be symptomatic of a mismatch between global education systems and labour markets. But this is where Australia and India’s bilateral opportunity may be realised.

As more and more Australians reach retirement age, enabling young Indians to easily migrate to Australia is a macroeconomic necessity. Australian Head Delegate Lachlan Campbell argued in his closing Troika speech that, “Liberalising economic migration, particularly qualification systems, will remove the limitation of young peoples’ ability to transfer skills across the world.”

But to recognise and capture these opportunities, all G20 member countries must be at the table. Given the significance of the Y20 and its potential for collective impact at the Leaders’ Summit, this begs the question. Why was India missing?

A failure of bureaucracy seems the most plausible reason for India’s absence.

In 2015, the selection process for each country’s delegates was managed through an officially endorsed non-governmental organisation or selected by the respective government. Dr Emre Cenker, Chair of the 2015 Summit, said that “a representative from the Indian Ministry of Finance reported in June that their section process was going on, and they would shortly inform the names of the Indian delegates”. “However, they did not,” he said. “As a result, the largest nominal youth population in the world was not represented. That is sad,” added Dr Cenker.

While India has missed this opportunity in 2015, next year’s Y20 Summit is scheduled to be held in China. It is critical that India acknowledges the importance of the Y20 for its youth population, and to ensure they are represented.

Furthermore, the diaspora can take advantage of their unique position with expert knowledge on both countries. Global Voices manages the Australian selection process, and the delegations are open to any Australian citizen, in accordance with the year’s sponsor universities.

Established in 2011, Global Voices is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to provide opportunities for young Australians to engage with international policy both at home and abroad. It does this through regular events and research and development opportunities at home, along with the coordination of youth delegations to important diplomatic forums abroad.

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