It is Time for BRICS to Engage on Youth Empowerment

Neeraj Singh Manhas
19th September 2021

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

Since Jim O’Neil coined the term BRIC in 2001, it evolved to include South Africa in 2010. One should remember that the BRICS countries grew amid a period of substantial global upheaval. It was a time when the 9/11 attacks were transforming global politics, China had joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Russia was rebounding from the 1998 financial crisis, and India was also emerging from sanctions imposed following the 1998 nuclear test. The BRICS nations were seen as very different from one another, but there was a lot of complementarity. China was seen as the “manufacturing factory of the world,” India as the “pharmacy of the world” and an IT power. Brazil was seen as the “granary of the world,” Russia as the “energy hub of the world,” and later South Africa was included as one of the most significant economies in Africa. While China had the largest population in the world, India was beginning to show the dividends of a huge young working population.

On the landmark occasion on September 9, 2021, BRICS Summit, “BRICS@15: Intra BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation, and Consensus,” as the title suggests, honours the 15th anniversary of BRICS and so provides a perfect opportunity to assess its actions. The article discusses how the BRICS countries can assist governments in providing education and training to the younger people, as well as how they can establish a pool of medical healthcare experts. It is also critical to recognise that the BRICS represent more than just a political arrangement, but also the economic potential to provide developing countries with a larger voice. Throughout the epidemic, India’s youthful population has encountered several challenges in terms of education and training, acquiring respectable jobs, mental health, and the digital divide, and the time has come for the BRICS to prioritise these issues.

BRICS recognised that the 15th anniversary is a good time to reflect on its many accomplishments, such as the New Development Bank, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, the Energy Research Cooperation Platform, the Partnership for the New Industrial Revolution, and the Science, Technology and Innovation Framework. It commended India for continuing previous rotational BRICS Chairs’ work on unifying BRICS operations across institutional platforms and processes to improve their relevance, efficiency, and efficacy.  It reaffirmed the commitment to sustaining and strengthening consensus-based working procedures in BRICS at all levels. The NDB has provided funding for 18 development projects in India, including Covid-19 emergency relief, the rapid rail transit network, metro, highways, bridges, irrigation, renewable energy, and others. The NDB has already approved a USD 1 billion loan for India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGA). The NDB’s regional office in India would offer young people job opportunities as well as the chance to participate in the decision-making process for new project proposals. India should surely prioritise youth empowerment by supporting new and embryonic start-ups by the country’s youth. The Make in India initiative, launched by the Indian government, sought to inspire young entrepreneurs.

There are several challenges for the youth, but the China-India Galwan dispute in May 2020 has also posed substantial challenges to BRICS cohesion and created a significant trust deficit. Young people’s anti-China attitudes are on the rise. As a result of the conflict, India levied a slew of economic sanctions on China, including the cancellation of an Indian Railways contract and opposition to contracts being issued to Chinese firms for the construction of the Rapid Railroad Transport System between Delhi and Meerut (this is the same development project that had been granted funding by the NDB in India). The Indian government banned 52 Chinese apps, including Tiktok and We Chat, in India, causing huge income losses for these companies. With over 200 million Tiktok users in India, a substantial portion of this population is young. Last year, Indian influencers on applications such as Tiktok were hurt and pushed to seek alternate platforms, resulting in a loss of about USD 15 million.

As a result of Covid-19, a significant number of young people have also lost one or both of their parents. While the government has developed different programmes to give free education to such children and adolescents, but all know that it will be insufficient. There are several ways in which such people can be helped. The governments of the BRICS countries must think about providing adequate education and training to the next generation. India already has a strong network in place for providing tele-education to a wide range of countries. As a result, the idea of establishing a BRICS Virtual University, where young people can choose from a variety of courses from hundreds of BRICS universities, has been proposed. This would also assist them in finding suitable employment. The BRICS countries should also collaborate to assist young people in finding suitable professions in their respective countries. Many Indian doctors and nurses work all around the world. Many young individuals move to Russia to study medicine and eventually become doctors or paramedics. A major structure for providing employment for these young people in BRICS countries may be put in place.

Mental health should be given special focus in India through education. Families, peer networks, religious organisations, and caste organisations have made little progress in addressing mental health issues. Despite the fact that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has made school counsellors mandatory, only about 3% of private institutions have implemented them. The importance of recognising the problem before attempting to address it should be emphasised in solutions. Making mental health a part of the curriculum will tremendously help school-age children understand the basics and seek therapy when necessary.

In India, healthcare services are in short supply. According to the WHO, the density of doctors per 1000 people should be one, however only six Indian states have reached this level. Many other states are experiencing a significant lack of doctors. The bulk of doctors are also concentrated in urban areas, resulting in a medical professional scarcity in rural healthcare. Suggestions to the BRICS countries could include creating a pool of medical healthcare specialists to help the youth.

The BRICS countries can help India’s rural areas improve their information technology. Specialized IT training for rural residents should begin. The NDB can also fund such training programmes to build IT infrastructure in rural villages so that students in schools and colleges can take online classes. Because the epidemic is here to stay and online courses are becoming more feasible, IT centres with fibre broadband internet connections can be built in rural areas to give students with space and resources to conduct their lectures.

The repercussions of the epidemic for a country like India are significant. Despite the aid that India has been able to provide to many regions of the world, India requires international support. India’s economy should be able to improve by the time it hosts the G20 Summit in 2023. The evolving relationship of each of these two emerging groups within these different institutional settings demonstrates a degree of agentic commonality and distinction. Membership in the BRICS grouping would offer mutual benefits and recognize the importance of experience and knowledge sharing at the BRICS Symposium on Traditional Medicines, the High-Level Segment on Traditional Medicines and the Meeting of BRICS Experts on Traditional Medicines and encourage further exchanges in the area of traditional medicines. The importance of international efforts on mutual recognition of national documents of vaccination against COVID-19 and respective testing, especially for purpose of international travel should become a priority agenda for the BRICS countries.  As a result, it is time for India to call on the BRICS to help each other recover from the pandemic and combine efforts towards real and sustainable youth empowerment.

*The Author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies


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