Omnichannel Spaces and Youth Engagement for Global Action

By: Sehaj Sahni

While the largest population of youth in the history of mankind in India and many other emerging economies is overflowing with aspirations in the connected world we live in, the virtual connectedness helps little to fuel these aspirations and greatly hinders the translation of impact into measurable and sizable action. The spaces that do exist like schools, colleges, coaching institutes, and corporates instill a feeling of competition rather than much-needed collaboration to fuel the Youth Power. On one hand, we have seen youth filled with aspirations to learn, work and earn in a global environment, the local infrastructure, tools, facilities, and labs available at institutes ranging from schools to corporates are biased towards a specific curriculum and don't necessarily appreciate our talents in the way our generation anticipates. Adding to that, with the advent of technology and social media; Youth is quite aware of their issues and many admit that the external pressure that comes in the form of assignments, appraisal cycles, etc is way too much to handle for today’s aspirational youth. Though we find that there are many physical and virtual channels for youth to connect, there is a need to integrate and unify the experiences for the current generation of young people that occur within and between contact channels.

Further, Youth suicide rates in India stands at >35% of the total police recorded suicide cases. The lack of social, safe, and affordable spaces for youth is a major obstruction in the path of development; and the youth development sector in general. On the other hand, we have found that there are also a lot of disused and underutilized spaces that can be converted into omnichannel spaces that have the potential to integrate and unify the online and offline experiences that can add up revenues for the owners while also providing affordable stays for youth in a specific region.

What is Omnichannel Strategy?

A term commonly used by today’s marketing and retails firm, might be the answer to the solutions of youth engagement at local, national, or global levels; omnichannel is broadly a new concept to understand the youth action given the immense improvements in technology available and a greater need to unify the experiences for the young people and adolescents. Multichannel engagement avenues are available for youth to connect with the positive actions in our communities, but without proper integration of shared synergies, the messages communicated towards localizing the global best practices become highly diluted and hence the overall impact takes a back seat.

As we see the business licensing and approval process further simplified by the Government of India, we also see an upsurge with a growing number of businesses specially categorized under the tag: Startups. There is certainly more ease in the commencement of businesses, but a serious lack of physical and virtual infrastructure to support the aspirations of the startup world worsens the situation for most of the leaders of tomorrow. Also, more than they need for offices, there is a need for spaces focussed on inviting new age innovators, changemakers, artists, digital marketers, campaigners, community builders, entrepreneurs, etc.

Further, In recent times, through our public surveys, we have concluded that most of the urban youth feel they are more aware than ever but less than 10% of the participants feel that they are properly engaged in matters of civic importance(IYC, 2019). Civic engagement if unchecked can lead to a disastrous path as the demographic dividend grows in the next decade. Enabling a self-sustaining model and instilling a creative community at spaces have been at a matter of importance as India takes a center stage in the World. Young people already speak out. We just need to be heard. Furthermore, the phenomenon of “Youth Bulge” poses great challenges for the socio-economic condition in India, while at the same time also presents vast opportunities for Young India, only if this share of the population is included in the formal decision-making process and young people are involved in local policymaking. The participation of the Youth is a major feature to be looked upon and how we engage our youth in the community and the World at large and provide leadership skills through informal collaborative activities shall primarily drive the socio-economic growth in our country in the future. As per World Economic Forum reports, the number of youth in NEET( Not in Education, Employment and Training) in India is more than 200 million which is a staggering figure considering the future of the world's largest cohort of people between the ages 10-24, is already at stake. Adding to that, the lack of data on marginalized and vulnerable youth makes addressing the special challenges even more difficult.

Spaces of Expression in Conflict Prone Regions:-

Safe spaces designed especially for the Youth in conflict zones such as Kashmir, Rakhine, Syria, etc. can enable a positive and cohesive environment around the issues they face and enable them to realize positive mental growth. If we provide more opportunities for Youth by enabling physical spaces where they can engage in meaningful conversations- a lot of issues over the radicalization of Youth can be solved.

Gladly, We have been working on researching the youth mindset for more than 5 years and also empowering and enabling safe spaces to express through a bundle of activities that have worked on the omnichannel model - an interplay of media, technology, local experiences. We started India’s first truly youth cafe, Urban Desi House with a triangular revenue model of coworking, events, and hangout space selling affordable food and beverages for urban youth. We learned that an omnichannel approach with the interplay of media, technology and localized experiences towards youth engagement can be introduced to enable informal learning and foster collaboration for youth at physical spaces at several centers in any nation to track and monitor young citizens and recognize the efforts shared through skills mainly through a single ticket system. Social credits that can be used to avail selective government schemes are perhaps one concrete way to create repositories of young people with new-age skills to harness the youth power. Also, community positions for youth ensure social support and attachment, alongside generating social capital that can be tracked and tagged to young individuals. #IndiaNeedYouthSpaces: Youth Cafe, a model hugely successful in Ireland have created an impact at grassroots and has enabled many young people and adolescents to identify their talents early when they attain puberty. Youth Cafes have also enabled spaces where youth have openly talked about the matters of civic importance on one hand and acted on them, while involved themselves in recreational and collaborative activities on the other. The spaces have played an important role in providing the youth an opportunity to attain much-needed leadership skills as they grow to become responsible adults. Similarly, We also wish this kind of solutions to engage and empower youth can lead to positive changes around the community and in India and World at large.

References: UN World Youth Report / NYP 2014 / IYC Report '19 / BBC News India

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