I can’t remember the last time someone used the word "cool" to describe me, or what I do.  Obviously it doesn’t happen very often. But just the other day, I participated in a roundtable discussion, Youth and Global Development; A Conversation on Prosperity and Security, hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, DC. When it was my turn to be introduced as the CEO of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), the moderator explained that our organization had been building public-private partnerships to advance our global youth agenda for over twenty years—way before it was "cool" to do so. I was thrilled, needless to say.

In fact, over the past few months, I feel IYF’s efforts to prepare today’s youth to be healthy, productive and civically engaged citizens has gained a new level of acceptance and support among public and private sector leaders that was hard to imagine even a short while ago. For more than two decades, we’ve been advocating that you can’t tackle the toughest issues of our time—such as poverty, or education, or jobs—unless you bring the private sector, and governments, and civil society organizations to the table to create positive, scalable and sustainable change. For years, we’ve been saying that to turn the "youth bulge" liability  into an opportunity—or in fact,  a demographic dividend for greater economic growth and security—we must empower today’s young people with the skills they need to be successful in life, on the job, and in society.  And for more times than I can count, I’ve made the case that the urgency for action demands we scale up proven-practice programs that can reach and benefit not hundreds, but tens of thousands, really millions  of young people, and have lasting impact.

Now, high level leaders are not just listening to our call to action.  A growing number of them are working with us and others to find measurable solutions.

Take, for example, my experience at the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland. It’s a place where world leaders come together every year to examine the major issues facing society– and discuss what to do about them. This year was different, with the issue of youth unemployment taking center stage. This was, due in large part, to the fact that the number of young people who can’t find decent work is still rising—a figure that I believe to be well over 100 million, even though official statistics put it at 75 million—which is dragging down economic growth and at times causing alarming unrest not just in the developing world but across Europe and the United States. But I also think our collaborative approach and successful scaling-up of programs proven to work have demonstrated we know what we’re talking about. Panel after panel in Davos focused on what governments and businesses can and must do to turn the global economy around and how we must work together—multiple stakeholders—to get anything accomplished.  In other words, they were talking our language, and supporting our strategies.

The highlight for me in Davos though was joining a group of corporate and government leaders in a hotel to hear Chris Nassetta, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide, talk about his company’s efforts to prepare millions of young people for jobs in his industry over the next few years. He understands that “doing good” – by investing in education and job training programs – is also good for the growth of his company and the health of the global economy. “We have a tremendous opportunity to prevent a lost generation of young people by helping them acquire the life skills and job training they need to be successful in the workplace, and beyond,” he told the crowd.  “As a global citizen and a leader in one of the largest industries in the world, we at Hilton  have a business imperative and responsibility to develop solutions that preserve our collective futures.”  That evening, Hilton and IYF also released a white paper, Creating Opportunities for Youth in Hospitality, that details the economic and social struggles facing our youth today, and offers a roadmap for the hospitality industry to create meaningful career pathways for this emerging workforce.  

This is a huge opportunity.  The travel and tourism sector, which alone employs 255 million people globally, is expected to generate a staggering 73 million new jobs by 2022.  Here’s an industry that has the enormous potential to truly address global youth unemployment—and a passionate, articulate leader committed to recruiting others to join his vision. Imagine what could be accomplished if we could have other global industries make youth employment their priority for investment.

Creating new jobs and ensuring young people have the right skills to meet existing workforce needs will not be solved by one company or one government alone.  But the message is finally getting out that public-private partnerships give us the collective resources and knowledge to scale up programs that have real impact. The result? Millions more youth will become not only the drivers of economic growth but also the faces of change in their communities. It helps too, I think, that more people are beginning to think this kind of work is "cool."