By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Microsoft Corporate Citizenship

Since 1999, the United Nations has been celebrating International Youth Day, taking a moment each year to focus the world’s attention on one of the most important segments of the population. Celebrated on August 12, this year’s International Youth Day theme is focused on “Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth” and is closely aligned with Microsoft’s commitment to closing the opportunity divide among young people. As part of this year’s Youth Day theme, the United Nations is calling for further attention and feedback on priority areas of the Secretary-General’s Five-Year Action Agenda. These areas include employment, entrepreneurship, education, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights. Earlier this year, the International Youth Foundation released the Opportunity for Action report, commissioned by Microsoft, which addresses a large portion of these priority issues.

At a time when we have more young people – 1.2 billion – than at any time in the planet’s history, there’s an urgent need to provide them with the education, skills and employment opportunities they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing global economy. The Opportunity for Action report reveals that nearly 75 million young people around the world are unemployed, and currently only 44 percent of youth worldwide pursue education as far as the equivalent of the high school level in the United States. In addition, the global unemployment rate for young people is currently 12.7 percent - more than double global average for unemployment as a whole. While some youth are prospering, many others who lack access to education, skills and opportunities, face growing challenges. As the global youth population grows over time, the gap risks widening even further between those with opportunity and those without.

As the United Nations continues to gather information and feedback from this year’s event with the goal of building out a critical UN System Wide Action Plan on Youth, Microsoft will continue to build on the momentum gained from the Innovate4Good event series earlier this year. Innovate4Good@Microsoft is a series of global events focused on helping youth realize their opportunity in the world, whether they aspire to reach higher levels of education, start or grow their career, become an entrepreneur or generate social good. The events bring young people together to collaborate, inspire and support each other and to discover how others have used Microsoft technology and programs to do amazing things.

From March to June, we hosted six Innovate4Good events around the globe in Redmond, Washington; Egypt; Belgium; Singapore; China; and Mexico. Each of which had more than 100 youth leaders and change-makers participating. Regardless of the geography, we found youth around the globe were consistently facing similar challenges with an inspiring amount of energy and optimism. These challenges are very much aligned with the United Nations emphasis on employment, entrepreneurship, education, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights. Many youth in attendance had already become successful in their efforts to create a business or start a social enterprise and were able to inspire their peers on how to not only help themselves, but to do so in a way that also helps others.

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Participants at the Innovate4Good@Microsoft event in Singapore.

At Microsoft, we know the opportunity divide between youth who have the access, skills and resources to succeed and those who don’t is real and we need new and innovative ways to bridge this divide. Creating a movement of youth change-makers through the Innovate4Good event series is part of our commitment to bridge this divide and create an opportunity dividend.

Innovate4Good@Microsoft is one step we are taking towards “Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth”, and we are proud to help the United Nations celebrate International Youth Day.

How do you plan to make a difference?