The median age of a person living in the slums of the world is 18. Or, in other words, as Daniel Ragan of UN Habitat (officially the United Nations Human Settlements Programme) told the group, most people in slums are youth. Further, Ragan explained, most of these youth do not have families. These variables create significant challenges in the the work of UN Habitat, which works to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Ragan spoke about a number of important projects in which they are trying to empower youth in slums to follow their entrepreneurial inclinations and develop businesses that will help them get out of the slums through modest financial grants from UN Habitat. Ragan noted that entrepreneurial projects of youth occur in spite of the allure of gangs, which often provide a much-needed sense of community to many of these kids.
One of the most riveting presentations at the breakfast was by Dr. Joan Clos, the head of UN Habitat who spoke about the worldwide trends of increased urbanization of the planet and how most cities and countries are failing to adequately prepare for this. Dr. Clos described how nearly three billion or almost half of the total global population is under 25. The majority of these populations are living in cities and towns in the developing world where nearly 90% of the world’s urban growth is taking place.
“We therefore need to change the current model of urbanization to create more productive cities by focusing on more strategic issues including urban legislation, land tenure, urban planning and designing, urban economy and municipal finance to prepare the cities to be places that generate jobs for its ever increasing population … Youth issues should be at the center stage of this urban transformation.”