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A Policymaker’s Perspective: Empowering Pakistani Youth, the Young Development Fellowship Programme

By Professor Ahsan Iqbal. Prof Iqbal is the Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Reform. He is also a Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan. He tweets @betterpakistan

YUBN - A Policymaker’s Perspective: Empowering Pakistani Youth, the Young Development Fellowship Programme

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is definitely among one of the biggest achievements of my career. It is one of the largest foreign direct investment projects in Pakistan’s history and it has rightly been called a game changer for the entire region.

I am honored and pleased to play my role in the CPEC. But in the last three years, as a Federal Minister of Planning, Development & Reform, I worked on other initiatives that might not get as much media attention but which are highly significant in the context of socio-economic development in Pakistan. One such project is the Young Development Fellowship Programme that I envisioned and launched. It is the first project of its nature in Pakistan and empowers youth through their active participation and inclusion in the processes of policy making at the premier think tank of the government: the Planning Commission of Pakistan.

The population of Pakistan includes an exceptionally high proportion of young people, 64% of the population is under the age of 30. This youth bulge is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it means that the government has to allocate a major chunk of its resources to provide access to quality education, professional training and employment to millions of young Pakistanis who enter the job market every year. On the other hand, the youth bulge provides an unprecedented opportunity for Pakistan to reach new avenues of development by utilizing the potential and talent of its educated young population.

Due to multiple historical factors, the most detrimental of which has been military interventions — the public sector in Pakistan still needs to catch up to develop its institutional capacity and human resource. In the government plan Pakistan Vision 2025, an immediate need to modernize the public sector has been stipulated and my objective is to turn the goals set out in Vision 2025 into reality.

I have taught across Pakistan in different universities and have seen firsthand how when the right opportunities are provided to the young people of Pakistan, they tend to shine and blossom. The pool of educated and talented young people has increased multifold in Pakistan in the last two decades. But when I assumed the portfolio of a Federal Minister in 2013, the first thing I noticed was disproportionately less representation of the young people in the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform.

This was problematic on two major accounts. First, it meant that the public sector was missing out on a quality human resource that could be easily available to it. Second, the educated youth of Pakistan was not being mentored to lead public sector institutions. There was also another huge challenge. The perception of public sector institutions among educated and talented Pakistani youth was not quite exemplary. Consequently, the majority of the educated young Pakistanis (especially those who have studied in the UK and the US) didn’t even consider joining the public sector in Pakistan. Therefore the quality of human resource was not improving at the desired rate in the public sector of Pakistan.

It was a major reflection on the public sector and policy making institutions that they do not have robust mechanisms in place to incorporate talented and educated youngsters. Furthermore, the necessary incentives for the educated youth of Pakistan to contribute to the welfare of their country through public sector employment were not in placed. It meant that the public sector in Pakistan was unable to accrue the benefits of the burgeoning educated and innovative young population on which the government spends a lot especially in higher education.

Dynamic and healthy interactions between educated and energetic youth and experienced civil servants and bureaucrats are necessary for the transfusion of innovative ideas. But due to the aforementioned factors, there were major bottlenecks in the way. The youth of Pakistan felt that access to policy making institutions was reserved for political and economic elites only. This fueled the sense of alienation and exclusion among them.

It is in this backdrop, I envisioned Young Development Fellowship Programme for the youth of Pakistan. This programme offers a one year fellowship with a competitive stipend to people under the age of 30 in the premier think-tank of the country: the Planning Commission of Pakistan. Every year 40Young Development Fellows (YDFs) are selected based on academic merit. Graduates of Pakistan’s top universities apply for this programme. Moreover, Ivy League graduates have returned to Pakistan from the US to join the YDF programme.

I would like to point out here that many YDFs can easily get attractive salaries in the private sector but yet they choose to serve in the public sector to make a positive contribution towards the development of their homeland. This shows that through a concerted effort the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform has been able to attract the top young talent of the country.

YDFs work with the highest offices in each section of the Planning Commission. Moreover, they are required to write an academic research paper in collaboration with top professionals of the Planning Commission. Moreover, YDFs get a chance to live for a year in the capital of Pakistan with regular interaction with government officials from other Ministries, representatives of development agencies and others. This is a rich and a unique experience that allows YDFs to not only understand the processes of consultation between different stakeholders but  also to participate in these processes.

YDFs have energized the work environment at the Ministry. Moreover, the digital footprint on social media of the Planning Commission and its initiatives has substantially increased. Moreover, through social media the Ministry gets regular feedback from different stakeholders, especially the public on different development initiatives. The role of the YDFs has been central in this.

Those who have successfully completed their fellowship are able to secure admission tothe top universities of the world for graduate studies. Some YDFs have continued working for the Ministry, while others have taken up positions in other public sector institutions. The leading international development agencies have also picked up some of the graduates of the YDF programme.

Today fresh graduates from all over Pakistan are keen to join the Planning Commission of Pakistan through the Young Development Fellowship Programme. This shows that Pakistani youth are not just highly talented but they also want to contribute to the welfare of their country by utilizing their skills. The YDF programme is one such platform which provides them this opportunity.

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