Adam Heuman, Vice-President Global Development and Communication, EMpower – The Emerging Markets Foundation, sheds light on the challenge of COVID-19 for emerging markets
Indonesia recently surpassed India as the country with the maximum number of cases reported in a single day, with the number of daily deaths exceeding 1,000. As emerging market countries struggle to contain the medical emergency prompted by the Delta variant, there is also a growing awareness of the long-term repercussions of the pandemic for young people, whose education and job prospects have been put on hold.
This hidden crisis hits hardest in emerging markets, where 85% of the world’s youth population is concentrated. Global inequality is nothing new – in 2015, the SDGs spelt out ambitious goals for job creation and poverty reduction globally by 2030. COVID-19 has exacerbated these inequalities and multiplied the barriers faced by young people. There are now fewer investments being made, fewer job openings and decreased opportunities for learning.
A crisis for young people
Research conducted by EMpower – The Emerging Markets Foundation shows how the crisis has exacerbated inequities for young people, especially for the most marginalised. The closing of schools and shift to online education has widened disparities in who can access learning. The digital divide is clear and growing; those with less access to mobile devices and the internet, those with language barriers, and those with competing pressures on their time are faring worse. This is especially the case for girls, for whom the lockdowns have compounded the house chores and caretaking, often at the expense of their education and learning.
Young people have lost work opportunities or have been unable to make the transition from school to work. They are being forced to take undesired, informal and unsafe jobs, if they can find work at all. Marginalised and low-income young people now have to compete against more experienced adults and those with more resources who can accept unpaid internships. As a result of all these factors, many report mental health distress and emotional trauma that underpins the other challenges they are experiencing.
Is the funding getting through?
Global financing in the wake of the pandemic has been significant, with estimates of over $21 trillion per year committed to combating the virus. Yet questions persist over how and where funding decisions are being made.
Our research showed that many local organisations are experiencing a funding crisis alongside the crisis they see in their communities. A year after the pandemic, with international travel still restricted, local organisations are uniquely able to get support to where it’s needed most. Yet many are reporting that they find it harder to secure funds than ever before. What funding is available often comes with strings attached. Decisions are still being made and programmes designed in the global north. Local organisations are viewed as implementers, instead of being given the freedom and resources to design local solutions for the communities they serve.
Changing the power dynamic
The true and long-term impact of COVID-19 is not yet known. What we do know is that those who are most affected by the issues are uniquely qualified to make decisions about how to solve them.
Power structures have continued to exist across the international development sector. To move forward, we must “unlearn” what has not been effective until now. We must seek to build back more inclusively. We must listen to young people, centre their voices, entrust them with decision-making responsibilities and invest in them. Most importantly, we must recognise young people’s right to author their own futures.