International Youth Day will be observed on 12 August, and mental health is to be given special attention this year. Pope Francis has already drawn attention to another area, namely social exclusion and unemployment in today’s competitive world, and he has highlighted the ‘losers’ through the biblical verse of Matt 5:3, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

The Pope frequently addresses the danger of lack of equality and inclusion, not least caused by unemployment that many countries experience today, and it affects the youth harder than others. It should be noted that the youth are eager to participate and contribute, but the labour market doesn’t always need them, neither in blue collar nor white collar jobs. In the future, the youth themselves – when they get into posts of responsibility – must find new ways of sharing resources, including jobs for all, for youth without work experience, for people with mental challenges, and others who are not strictly speaking, “winners.”

We often talk about youth as one category, one type of people. But the 15-24 year age group is a diverse one. Besides, there are factors other than age that define ‘youth,’ like thoughts and ideas. And that is why we need them to solve present day ailments: the conflicts in the Middle East and the Arab World, in Ukraine, and other geopolitical, economic, cultural and religious disagreements.

“We all want to live long, but no one wants to grow old,” my uncle used to say when I was a teenager. Somehow I was a bit surprised that he said it, because he was otherwise not a philosophical man. I suppose in truth, he was a deeper thinker than many others around him. He used to remind us to count our days, saying that a person’s age is seventy... after that, its just a bonus.

In Pakistan, when Imran Khan and other politicians say they want to give young people a chance in politics and decision making, we must ask them what they really mean. Are they thinking of people below a certain age, say 25, which would mean the majority of the country’s population? And have they included some of them in their leadership teams?

Instead of age, ‘young’ may mean people with different and alternative ideas; people who question existing ways, and search for other approaches to solve problems. Often, they will be young of age, but not always. It is not only the young who question the expression, ‘it cannot be done’. Older people who have tried to solve problems with and without success, may never give up on curiosity and keep turning more stones as the years go by.

Older people might indeed like to work with young people, because they are more willing to take risks and try the unknown – especially if most of the responsibility for the consequences rests with the older team. But young people’s ideas would be invaluable to the team. Besides, it is often the diversity in ideas that contributes to the best results. It is teams that are composed of young and old, men and women, educated and not so well educated, immigrants and persons from indigenous populations, and so on, that are most creative. There must always be a strong belief in a project, but there should also be people in the midst who are skeptical of everything, and have ‘third way’ suggestions.

Luckily then, since I am not young biologically any more, I can also be included in the good company’of young and innovative people, in diverse teams. After all, I am not quite beyond the ‘expiry date’, and I intend to keep participating actively for at least another 30 years! Since I am not from Pakistan, there are so many things I don’t know about local conditions, and still, I am always trying to learn. That keeps me young and humble. Furthermore, I was educated in a culture where everybody was Christian, caucasian, blond and blue-eyed; that’s how Norway was fifty or sixty years ago. I lived in the capital Oslo, when multicultural life was new and just taking off, with Pakistani immigrants driving trams and trains, running corner shops and serving potatoes and meatballs in restaurants and fast food kiosks. And there were students from Nigeria and the US, and a whole batch came from China. Some Asians had been expelled from Idi Amin’s Uganda and made Norway their new land. I studied and worked in the midst of all this. Later, I worked in Africa, America and Asia.

I believe my diverse cultural experience was a fantastic privilege, and it has helped keep me young at heart and mind. It has also helped me understand what I cherish in my own culture, as I have added new values; yet, it is important to have a foundation somewhere.

When one travels and lives abroad, one is reminded of limitations in one’s knowledge and skills, but also in one’s strength and competence. What is most important, is to reflect on what it means to live, and to try to be a decent human being wherever in the world we live; I often share views on this with young people, and it is an inspiration.

There are certain things that are universal, but the solutions to local problems can only be found in a local context. It is local usefulness that should guide us. But what that means must also be analyzed carefully because some may gain while others lose. In our globalized world, we see that all the time; often, small elites of foreigners and multinationals gain from new and innovative ideas and actions, while others lose out. And those outsiders may stand in the way of local companies. The locals may lack capital, not competence and creative ideas. I believe that the telecommunications sector is an example of locals being sidelined. In that field, as in many other fields, we must ask for local shares in an expanding business and industry. Don’t tell me Pakistan doesn’t have the young minds required to succeed; that, I will never believe.

 The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com