“Driving Impact Today for a Brighter Tomorrow” is a theme that could animate many a social cause these days -- locally or globally. It certainly is in accord with our work at the International Youth Foundation  (IYF) and other youth-serving organizations around the world who adhere to the “positive youth development” school of thought. What does that mean? That we are deeply committed to ensuring the world’s young people have the skills, values and confidence in their own power to drive their futures and be productive and engaged citizens. This positive agenda, with its focus on investing in youth as invaluable assets in society, is increasingly shared by others—including the private sector.

In fact, “Driving Impact Today for a Brighter Tomorrow” was the title and central theme of a Government Leaders Forum I attended recently hosted by Microsoft in Rio de Janeiro. It attracted some 300 Latin officials—including heads of state, ministers, policy makers and business leaders. For two days, I joined conversations ranging from women and gender issues to technology and innovation and from economic growth and cities to opportunities for youth; all topics that must be addressed for nations to build productive, peaceful and vibrant societies. The diverse make up of the Forum reflected, as well, the reality that these global challenges can only be fixed when everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society and young people themselves—join forces.

IYF is proud to have been working with Microsoft for  over 13 years in a whole range of public-private partnerships. Together, we've engaged governments and other businesses to build brighter futures for youth by opening up doors of opportunity for jobs, livelihoods and entrepreneurship. There are no silver bullets in these efforts, but what we have learned is that real solutions can only be found if we invest in scaling up proven practice programs. This means developing well designed, already proven job training and internships that prepare greater numbers of young people for a life of work and productivity.

I like to say that today we know what “sustainable development” means for cities and nations, and businesses too. But for a poor person, sustainable development means a job that he or she can get and keep and begin to build a career. It can also mean the ability of a young person to start a small business and be a successful entrepreneur. Either path can provide a reliable income and help a young person begin to think of having a family, a home, and the dignity that comes with driving one’s own future.

A year ago this April, at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Microsoft and IYF— along with the Inter-American Development Bank, CEMEX, Walmart, Caterpillar and Arcos Dorados/McDonalds—jointly announced a highly ambitious plan: to help train one million out-of-school and out-of-work youth in the Americas for jobs over the next decade. We call this initiative New Employment Opportunities (NEO). That pledge itself draws on a paper Microsoft commissioned IYF to write entitled Opportunity for Action: Preparing Youth for 21st Century Livelihoods, which calls on governments, companies, civil society organizations and youth themselves to work together to address the staggering economic and social challenges facing young people today.

The Latin American governmental leaders participating in this recent Microsoft meeting in Rio made it very clear that they too are urgently looking to build scalable, evidence-based strategies that will attract business and the public sector to work together to invest in youth. The pay off or return on investment, they argued, can turn the proverbial youth bulge—the demographic reality of a billion youth needing to find new jobs in the next 10 years—into a demographic dividend. However, failure to produce these jobs and the sense of hope that accompanies that success—is a prescription for growing frustration, instability, and economic decline.

I’m an optimist by nature. But I’m also a realist. That’s why we are helping to build a global community of action that believes young people are the drivers of our future peace and prosperity—and thus are embracing the tough work of making that vision a reality in communities around the world.  Join us as we work together to create that brighter future—for our youth and for us all.