Even in the fast-paced and often chaotic world in which all of us live, sometimes the stars arrange themselves in ways that help us see a clear path forward. I recently participated in a series of events—some of them years in the making—that reflected this rare alignment.

On March 27, in Washington DC, we released a paper commissioned by Microsoft that documents the growing economic and social challenges facing youth around the world. Opportunity for Action: Preparing Youth for 21st Century Livelihoods demonstrates in dramatic detail the pressing need to ensure today’s young people have the education, skills and employment opportunities so necessary for them to be successful. The report concludes with a global call to action for all of us—corporations, governments, civil society organizations and young people—to work together to address these challenges. That response, according to the paper, must be “collective, massive, and global.”

Two weeks later, on April 13, I participated in the CEO Summit of regional business leaders that met alongside the heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. There IYF joined the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and five of the leading employers in Latin America – Caterpillar, Microsoft, CEMEX, Arcos Dorados (McDonalds), and Walmart to announce a daring and ambitious plan. This alliance, called NEO (New Employment Opportunities), is committing to expand job opportunities for one million at-risk youth in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next decade. IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno declared the importance of such a high level initiative aimed to address the region’s dual crises: soaring youth unemployment and the unmet demand by local and global companies for skilled workers. “The announcement we are making today is just the beginning," he said. "We invite governments and other companies to join NEO and help us make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people.”

This Cartagena event, for me, was the culmination of so much that IYF has worked toward over the past decade: our focus on expanding job opportunities for vulnerable youth; our work to develop entra21, our highly acclaimed employability program in Latin America and the Caribbean; the ongoing partnership with the MIF and IDB which has enabled us to make such headway on these youth unemployment issues; and our growing capacity to bring the private sector together with governments and CSOs to tackle these challenges.

Even as we celebrated this latest milestone, however, we were reminded, once again, that while this cause is gaining strength—we still have a long way to go. A few days after Cartagena, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released its latest report on the global youth unemployment crisis—with a severe warning. If we don’t address the issues of employment, alienation, and economic and social exclusion among today’s youth, the result will only intensify the inequalities “that could reshape the entire social fabric and economic system in unpredictable and unwelcome ways.”

It was a remarkable few weeks that captured—sometimes in dramatic fashion—what we try to accomplish every day throughout the year. We must work together to turn the global youth bulge into a “demographic dividend” that will improve young people’s lives and boost economic prosperity for decades to come. To fail in this mission is to invite serious challenges to our communities, our national security and our stability.