A very high portion of Timor-Leste’s population is young. How can we unlock their full potential?

By: Claudio Providas, Country Director of UNDP Timor-Leste


Almost 70% of the population is under 25.

Timor-Leste is one of the eleven countries in the Asia Pacific region blessed with a large portion of young people. Almost 70 per cent of its population is young people aged under twenty-five. Many of these young people are neither studying nor working. The unemployment rate is on the rise.

Young people are often perceived as the group who causes ‘problem’, but they are actually the next generation of decision makers, leaders and workers who if educated, skilled and employed, will help boost the economic growth and sustainable development of this country. If we don’t invest in youth and priorities their meaningful and productive participation in the economy and society now, we will lose the opportunity to have a better and prosperous future.

Our recent Regional Human Development Report 2016 (RHDR) explores how governments can take this great demographic opportunity to nurture the potential of young people, boost their productivity through decent work opportunities, and achieve government’s’ commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report calls the governments to take three policy actions to empower youth and boost economic gains through productive employment:

Policy Action 1: Invest in basic capabilities such as education and health 

  • There is a need to increase public investment in improving quality education and ensuring that this education is accessible to all young people, especially the poor and rural children and youth.
  • While investing in quality education, we need to make sure that this education provides youth with the skills relevant to current and future labor market demand.
  • Health care should be universal. This means that health services need to be available to everyone, as well as affordable, and of good quality.


Policy Action 2: Smooth the transition from school to employment so that youth graduating from schools and universities have access to decent jobs, and vocational training that can get them those decent jobs.

  • Expanding opportunities for technical education and vocational training is essential to prepare youth with skills demanded by the labor market. However, a systematic assessment of the demand and supply of skills will serve as the basis to shape a work-study program with clear market demand, and thereby minimize mismatches between available jobs and skills.
  • Establishment of Centers to provide youth with career counselling, job matching assistance, internships or volunteerism arrangement, information and legal advice, and training and mentoring will help youth get decent jobs and mitigate informal jobs and migration both to urban areas and abroad.
  • Helping youth to establish small and medium enterprises is also essential as it will not only bring new products and ideas to markets, but also increases employment.
  • Improved access to finance as well as technical support related to business management and legal advice will help youth to start and grow their business.
  • Bringing more women to paid workforce will also boost employment.


Policy Action 3: Encourage youth participation by providing young people the opportunities to be engaged in civic and political life, so that they can have a say in the choices that will affect them now and in the future

  • Civic education will help youth understand how political systems work in order to effectively engage in civic and political life.
  • Volunteerism is a great opportunity to provide youth, the roles to play in development decision from an initial stage to the end, including consultation, budgeting, program implementation, and monitoring progress and feedback

As the United Nations agency with 50 years of experience in the development field, we do have a youth specific strategy and have been working in around 170 countries to empower youth and increase their participation.

In Timor-Leste, we are working on several projects to help strengthen youth productivity and engagement in innovation and integrated incentive-based schemes:

  • Working with the Government and civil society on using the SDG framework as a renewed effort to influence and shape the policy debate and as a tool to inform the national budget prioritization exercise.


  •  In partnership with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Environment (MCIE), we are working to create jobs and improve livelihoods through our Social Business Programme. For example water bottle recycling business within this programme has created jobs for around 100 youth who currently manage their own business.


  • In partnership with the Secretary of State for Energy, we are working on promoting Improved Cook Stoves (ICS) which provides livelihood opportunities for youth who engage in production of these environmental-friendly cook stoves.


  • We are also working with the Ministry of Social Solidarity to train youth to be the agents for peace by providing them conflict resolution skills, so that they can help prevent conflict and build social cohesion in their village.


  • Supporting a Smarter & Innovative Institutional Structure of the Authority of the Oe-Cusse Special Administrative (SAR) Region and Special Economic Zones for Social Market Economy (ZEESM) to deliver services and achieve results, from using IT to policies including incentives package for foreign investors.


  • In partnership with the Timor-Leste National Commercial Bank (BNCTL), we are working to set-up a social business fund to help youth access the financial support they need to support their business. We are also starting a new Business Incubator project to provide youth with business ideas, skills, and training to help them grow their businesses.


  • We have recently started a new project to produce Timor-Leste’s National Human Development Report on Youth Wellbeing and Demographic Dividend. This report will provide the evidence base to track human wellbeing among young women and men and in rural and urban areas through a nation-wide survey. The report will help policy makers and development partners to develop evidence-based policies and strategies for youth development, empowerment and employment.


In conclusion, governments with large number of young people such as Timor-Leste need to plan now for their demographic situation, provide more and better quality education, improve access to quality health, increase employment opportunities and ensure meaning participation for its young people. This will help the government to translate seize the youth bulge into an opportunity where young people can become productive workers and boost economic growth in the future. Missing this opportunity can lead to the danger of frustrated youth, and the risk of social instability.


We at UNDP are ready to provide our global expertise and best practices to support Timor-Leste’s efforts in empowering young people, boosting their employment opportunities, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through multilateral as well as bilateral cooperation mechanisms with the Government.


Related Links:

Microsite: www.asia-pacific.undp.org/hdr

Full Report: on.undp.org/dF8

Hashtag: #RHDR2016