BRICS Youth: Agents of Change (2016)

The BRICS economies are rising global powers whose young population and sheer size give them huge potential.

In 2015, a special edition of Policy in Focus, a United Nations Development Programme report, urged BRICS countries to focus on generating employment opportunities for youth as a means of meeting development projections.

While young people in these countries may face an uncertain future, China’s example shows that the youth bulge can be a positive agent for change, UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies Professor Sohail Inayatullah told The BRICS Post in an exclusive interview after attending last week’s Futures Summit at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth South Africa.

This follows the BRICS Youth Summit in early July in India, where the theme of the summit was Youth as Bridge for Intra-BRICS Exchanges.

“Either youth find purpose and become entrepreneurs or they stay unemployed and create havoc – [these] are the extremes of a continuum of potential outcomes,” Inayatullah says.

BRICS countries are encouraged to act inclusively on health, education and employment, in order to maximize this demographic dividend’s potential to inject new dynamism into their economies.

“In futures studies we explore alternatives and build in agency and uncertainty to our scenarios and visions, so we have developed four scenarios to help youth cope with an uncertain future,” he said.

Inayatullah says that three drivers of these scenarios are a move from a focus gross domestic product to a triple bottom line that includes the environment, prosperity and inclusion.

There will also be a focus on job sharing since employment opportunities may not be as available to the same extent as robots will increasingly take over functions performed by humans. This will see more flexible work times – instead of a few working seven days a week and many working far less, or remaining unemployed.

The third driver is to create platform cooperatives – in other words, creating more with shared power.

Scenario one

The first scenario is one where the youth bulge results in a demographic dividend as it did in China after 1980. New technologies, which are youth friendly, and new social structures are created by the peer-to-peer sharing economy (economic democracy, cyber cooperatives) leading to youth contributing in ensuring a more equitable, peaceful and prosperous world.

The youth bulge leads to technological innovation as we see currently in places like southern California – the youth create the new “apps” for genomic, robot, big data and peer to peer transformed worlds.

Youth mentor the elderly and the elderly mentor youth. Educational institutions from the university to the primary school create pathways for this mentoring to occur, Inayatullah says.

The other scenarios

In the second scenario, youth are not only unemployed but they feel disempowered as well. Their expectations of a better world are not met, so they take to arms or social media to voice their discontent as we saw in South Africa in the #Feesmustfall campaign. So the youth become increasingly disruptive.

In the third scenario, youth unable to gain their perceived fair share of political power create their own artificial worlds, retreating to this altered reality. Within this world, they create their own forms of currency – bitcoin today, for example – and forms of identity – avatars, for example.

In a way, this is similar to the reality of many developing nations where some youth live in traditional agrarian societies, others live in growing middle class urban environment and others in westernized enclaves in capital and commercial cities with direct links to youth from all over the world.

In the fragmented future, the inter-generational links become broken with extended families in developing nations disappearing and coming together, if at all, only for economic reasons.

Inayatullah explains that digital natives are not in conflict with the elderly – they live in different worlds. The main assumption behind this future is that the new technologies allow the creation of alternative worlds. Groups can be in similar physical spaces but different techno-mental spaces – strangers in the virtual night.

In the fourth long-term 2050 prediction, a shift in the nature of the world economy makes issues of youth and ageing far less important as we move to a post-capitalist society.

Whether this occurs because of new sharing technologies or by developments in 3D printing and other low cost manufacturing revolutions or through Big Data and the full transparent information society is not certain.

But what is clear is that in this future, the youth bulge becomes far less of an incendiary issue as jobs are far less tied to wealth.

In a post-capitalist society where technology allows for survival for all, fighting over scarce resources becomes a non-issue. Finding meaning, engaging in politics, creating new sources of wealth and exploration become far more important. With jobs and identity and jobs and survival de-linked, the real issue will become which societies can create harmony and identity.

“Teaching will be focused on preparing futures not just for the new jobs, but in a world where many traditional jobs will disappear. The focus will be on teaching flexibility as some students will have portfolio careers – what they can do, not positions held – and multiple careers (changing careers every few years),” Inayatullah says.

Some will stay focused in one area, but many will wander innovating to create new types of work. Technology will create new categories of jobs, some unimaginable through today’s lenses,” he said.

“If developments in robotics continue at their current pace and universal basic income becomes the planetary norm, we would enter a post-scarcity world, where current ways of acting and being would be disadvantageous. Believing that tomorrow will be like today is a precursor to obsolescence,” he concluded.

Helmo Preuss for The BRICS Post in Pretoria

Published on August 23, 2013


Posted in Emerging Issues and Trends, Interviews & Biographical.