A Word with the Experts – Afsar Syed Mohammad, ILO/AIDS

by Matt Hamilton

I hear a lot of statistics these days, many of which are hard to digest.

Take the following, for example:

Given increasing access to information, it shocked me that young people would continue to be affected so strongly by HIV/AIDS. 5 million young people live with HIV

Yet as I spoke with Mr. Afsar Syed Mohammad, Senior Technical Specialist at ILO’s AIDS Programme, it became clear that not enough is being done to help young people understand and live with HIV/AIDS.

According to Mohammad, recent studies have shown that 41% of new infections occur in young people. He cites a lack of information and empowerment among youth as a reason for why such a high rate occurs.  For this reason, youth employment programs should also “take into concern these 5 million young people living with HIV.”

For Mohammad, “there is no reason [those affected] should not be given a right to work.” As part of its HIV/AIDS strategy, the ILO published the Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS in the World of Work, the “first human rights instrument to focus on HIV and AIDS in the world of work.” ILO will also be taking part in this year’s International AIDS Conference, to be held this July in Washington, DC.

For more information on ILO/AIDS, check out these links: eng fr esp


Youth Employment Forum: “A Great Setting to Share Great Stories”

Young people active in the promotion of decent work are discussing ways to promote employment and entrepreneurship in the face of a global jobs crisis that affects 75 million youth. Over 100 young men and women from around the world took part in the Youth Employment Forum at the ILO in Geneva, sharing their experiences and points of view.

Watch all the highlights from the Youth Employment Forum on ILO TV

A Word with the Experts – Kees van der Ree, ILO Green Jobs Programme

I had the chance to sit down with Kees van der Ree, coordinator of ILO’s Green Jobs Programme, and hear his thoughts on green entrepreneurship, carbon taxes, and what’s coming up for the ILO at Rio+20.

It seemed that “entrepreneurship” was the buzzword of the day, including green start-ups and businesses.  Listening to the discussions, I had one burning question: “How can the average graduate in in the United States try to start a business with so much student loan debt?”   Reports have shown that student loan debt in the United States has exceeded $1 trillion, more than the total amount of outstanding credit card debt.  That figure translates into an average debt load of $25,000 for US graduates.

Mr. van der Ree suggested that governments utilize carbon taxes to help lower the costs of starting a new business, helping young entrepreneurs. According to him, “a few cents of tax doesn’t harm consumption,” while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and “providing support for green investments.” However, as others have also pointed out, poorly planned carbon taxes can have negative economic effects, especially on poorer populations.  For that reason, van der Ree supports creating carbon taxes that are “socially sensitive,” taking into account the various needs of each population segment.

ILO will partner with UNEP to produce a major side event, “Green Jobs: A Chance for Youth.” To be held on June 15th in Rio de Janiero, the side event will explore how the growing “green economy” can help create new jobs, particularly for young people. The event is sure to include some interesting dialogue, so be sure to stay tuned!

For more info on ILO’s Green Jobs Programme, click here: eng fr es

– Matt Hamilton

Lessons to be Learned from China…


Twenty years ago, discussing what Western countries could learn from Eastern countries would be unimaginable. Today, the discussion topic is becoming a norm. Over the past thirty years, the Chinese economy has grown rapidly, in ways the world has never seen before. China has experienced double digit growth for the past twenty years. And they show no signs of slowing down.  While the West is experiencing some of the worst unemployment rates in the world, the East is enjoying some of the best. This leads me to question: “Why has not the West attempted to learn from the East.” According to Louisa Peacock, Jobs Editor for The Daily Telegraph, “We are in a Time of Real Change.” I could not agree more!!

According to Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the Executive Director of the ILO Employment Sector, there are many key lessons to be learned from China. Salazer believes that we need to focus on youth entrepreneurship and on creating “public-private partnerships.” In addition, Xi Liu, a Chinese journalist (picture in the middle above) who is a correspondent for CCTV, believes that youth need to “know what [they] are looking for…perhaps it is better to acquire practical skills as opposed to getting a diploma that does not lead to a job, or to major in more technical fields…” In agreement I, Tiffany Taylor, an ILO youth journalist believe that we need to focus on encouraging students to study the fields of business, economics, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics more. However, it is clear that in order to solve the global youth employment problem, it will take public and private partnerships, youth taking more responsiblity for creating jobs and not relying too much on the government, as well as the government helping to “create a framework for all of this to exist in.”

Not Your Average Youth Conference – Matt’s Recap from this Morning’s Opening

The opening session of today’s Youth Employment Forum was anything but ordinary. As over 150 guests and participants shuttled into the ILO Library this morning, a few perplexed looks spread over many faces. The standard scene of formal seating and faceless placards was nowhere to be found. In its place, cups of colored pencils rested playfully on a dozen round tables, each dotted with balloons. It was easy enough to read their minds, “Am I in the right place?”

Fortunately for them, it was. Following a brief introduction, forum facilitators Emil Chireno and Elodie Goury jumped in to get things moving…literally. Guests were instructed to move to four different corners of the room, each representing north, south, east and west. As each person found his or her place, Emil and Elodie glided across the room like a pair of talk show hosts. With mic in hand, the two MCs for the morning put participants in the spotlight, introducing the audience to a host of new faces from the get-go.

While all that action certainly shaved off a few calories, conference organizers had more in mind than waistlines. In his opening remarks, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia explained to rows of eager eyes and ears that movement gives “a sense of what this meeting is all about.” By bringing together youth from all corners of the world, the forum aims to give young people the chance not just to listen, but also to be heard.

From the few stories shared over the course of the morning, participants illustrated the stark situation faced by young people worldwide. Professor Ola El-Taliawi of the American University in Cairo relayed some of the bleak figures covered in a recent ILO report, “The Youth Employment Crisis: Time for Action.”

99% of Zambian youth employed in the informal sector…4 out of 10 young people unemployed in Greece and Spain…26% of highly-educated youth in the Middle East unable to find work.

With such startling statistics, Somavia pointed out that today’s youth feel disconnected and disillusioned by a system that treats work “like a commodity.” Faced with the difficult choice to “swim against the current,” he urged participants to continue fighting for a world that includes decent work for all.

“Am I in the right place?” For those ready for change, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

Tiffany and Rajneesh Interview Director-General Juan Somavia

Mr. Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization, was kind enough to give budding journalists some of his time to discuss the issues facing youth. Mr. Juan Somavia pointed out that there are many opportunities for youth today if we dig deep to find them. “Times have changed,” said Mr. Juan Somavia, and youth must adapt to these changes through “mobilizing [our] powers together” to create the type of change the world needs. Mr. Somavia also spoke about the need for youth to realize their potential in creating change; “Youth need to know that they are capable of creating changes” and we can do this by “making sure” our voices are heard and that we are creating platforms for the mass to hear our voices. How will you voice your opinion today?!