HELSINKI: It is now easier to access information whenever you need it. You can find a hotel on an interactive map, and book a hotel room from anywhere in the world. You can pay a bill in the middle of the night in your pyjamas and share photos with friends around the globe, all in less than a second. One-third of the world s population has access to the websites that enable these processes through the internet. Amazing, isn t it?
It is also amazing because these hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tools are second nature to young people, and in many cases, it is individuals in their twenties who are driving these innovations. These young adults, born to the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) generation, have focused their knowledge, energy and innovative ideas to make better use of online technology.
Young adults are the most important group in the networked society of our Information Age. They have grown up with information technology and, with this comfort-level and ability, they have developed from kids obsessed with video games to become technology experts and entrepreneurs.
Using ICT in a meaningful way is now the golden key to success for youth. The e of electronic that we put in front of so many words today also denotes other vital e words, such as education, employment, entrepreneurship, and entertainment. It is therefore crucial to empower youth through ICT, especially in the developing world, in an effort to bridge the digital divide.
We could summarize the digital divide as the gap between those who have ICT and those who do not. People might be digitally divided for various reasons: they might not be able to afford hardware and software; they might not have the necessary infrastructure where they live; or they might lack the education and skills to use technology in a meaningful way. Moreover if they don t speak English they can t profit from the majority of online information.
In many countries, men and women don t have equal access to ICT. This gender divide is a big problem, especially in societies where women can t enjoy the same rights as men.
This lack of access to ICT occurs predominantly in the developing world, and, if not addressed, the digital divide will grow as fast as the technology itself.
As a result, technology training for young people in the developing world is crucial. Youth empowerment in ICT would not only enable youth to access better information and improve communication but it also allows them to benefit from e-learning and e-employment opportunities. They can obtain the same quality education as their international peers with online learning programs. They can also post their CV, get professional advice, find jobs and even work online with e-employment practices. Most importantly, they can gain the training that will enable them to become ICT entrepreneurs and innovators themselves.
Civil society in Turkey is well aware of the importance of technology. The leading non-profit youth organization in Turkey, Youth Association for Habitat (www.youthforhab.org.tr), has been a pioneer in youth work in the country since its establishment in 1996. They have established youth centers, councils and initiatives in their aim of empowering youth through awareness and capacity building projects throughout the country.
Youth Association for Habitat has undertaken several youth empowerment projects in partnership with public, private and civil sector actors at the national level. These projects empower Turkey s youth with skills for future careers in the communication and technology sector.
One project, Empowerment of Youth for e-Governance in Turkey, has been implemented in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The project strengthens local youth centers and councils that are established through Turkey s Local Agenda 21 Program, an initiative that aims to provide sustainable development through local programs. Within this framework, basic computer training was provided for 2,500 young people – both men and women – in the last few years. Phase Two, which began in March 2006, will provide training for an additional 100,000 socially disadvantaged youth over the next three years. This training is currently taking place in 43 cities throughout Turkey, and early results have shown that many program graduates have already found work in Turkey s technology industry.
In addition to the educational and economic advantages gained as a result of these programs, access to ICT can also contribute to a working democracy. As opposed to traditional media, such as television and radio, ICT and new media offer two-way communication. This means that the public not only has better access to information, but also is also able to contribute information. Information empowers people. It improves communication between citizens and their elected representatives, enabling them to participate as active citizens and express their views on policies and decisions affecting their lives, leading to an increased level of participatory democracy.
In a country where the majority of the population is under 25, empowerment of youth in the technological realm would result in a strengthened democracy and an improved economy in Turkey.
Itir Akdoganis a PhD candidate and lecturer at the University of Helsinki. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.