This past weekend, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) brought together business, government, youth activists, and civil society leaders from nearly 50 countries for Youth@Work: Bridging the Opportunity Divide, a three-day conference designed to address the unprecedented needs of unemployed youth through expanded multi-sector partnerships.

“With millions of young people today out of work, disempowered, and marginalized in their communities, the time to act is now,” said William S. Reese, President and CEO of IYF. “To be effective, our response must be immediate, collaborative, and global – and we’re here today to push that action agenda forward.” Providing the context for the discussions is a recently published paper, Opportunity for Action: Preparing Youth for 21st Century Livelihood, that identifies the educational and employment challenges facing young people across six regions of the world, and concludes with a global ‘call to action’ addressed to governments, busin esses, civil society organizations, and youth.

Christopher J. Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide and a newly elected member of IYF’s Board of Directors, gave the keynote address. “I believe that in every community across this earth, there is a future leader who can transform his or her village, town, city or country and as a result, change our world for the better,” he said. “They are the keys to resolving the entrenched problems that our generation has failed to fix…their achievements will clearly benefit us all.”

Forum panelists included top corporate executives from Caterpillar, CEMEX, Laureate Education Inc., MasterCard Worldwide, and Microsoft, who all have launched recent initiatives with IYF aimed at closing the opportunity divide. They joined officials from the State Department, USAID, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and others to discuss what remains to be done in addition to on-going efforts to more effectively prepare today’s youth to either enter the workforce or start their own businesses.

In her remarks, Martha Herrera-Gonzalez, Director of CSR at CEMEX in Mexico, discussed her global company’s plans to address youth unemployment. “We want to be part of a strong, long-term alliance that has a real impact; that will engage and prepare youth for decent jobs; and to be a broker within the private sector to help mobilize others to take action.”

Representatives of IYF’s global partner network—more than 100 NGO leaders from nearly 50 countries—participated in the many panel discussions. In addition, young leaders from around the world offered their insights and perspectives. According to Naadiya Moosajee, a 2009 YouthActionNet® Fellow from South Africa: “There’s been a lot of talk about needing more youth voices here today,” she said. “We already have voices! We just need people to listen to us, and we need champions!”