More young people facing a worldwide “Opportunity Divide”

15 May 2012 | Michele Bedford Thistle, Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

The last few decades have been driven by technological and social change. Amid this time of change, the focus for many, including Microsoft, has been to expand equitable access to technology worldwide, enabling underserved countries and their citizens to realize their full potential. While this focus is still valid, Microsoft has recently committed to helping narrow another type of divide that exists today, which may have just as far-reaching implications. To learn more, I recently caught-up with my colleague Yvonne Thomas, Senior Manager of Global Programs for Microsoft Corporate Citizenship & Public Affairs.

Can you talk a little about the other divide that Microsoft is seeing in the world today?

As technology continues to saturate all areas of commerce and is increasingly tied to the economic success of nations, it has been our mission to partner with countries to extend technology access to their citizens. The commonly-used term is bridging the “digital divide.” However, beyond the digital divide, there appears to be a new kind of divide emerging, which we call the “opportunity divide.” In essence, what we’re seeing is that, for young people especially, there appears to be a growing divide in access to opportunities to help them realize their full potential.

Where is this “opportunity divide” most visible for young people?

While in many areas of the world we’ve made great strides in extending technology access, our world’s youth seem to have increasingly disproportionate access to things like education, technical skills training, and career development opportunities. Young people are our future. As a global community, we cannot succeed if our future generations do not have the opportunity to do so. To better understand this issue, we recently commissioned a study from the International Youth Foundation, which resulted in a report called the Opportunity for Action Report.

What are some of the major findings in this report?

One of the major findings in the Opportunity for Action Report is that nearly 75 million young people around the world are unemployed. To put that number into context, 75 million represents a global unemployment rate of 12.7 percent for young people—more than double the global average for unemployment. In addition, many young people are grossly underemployed in low-skill, low-quality jobs. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 72 percent of young people earn less than $2.00 (USD) per day simply to survive.

Worldwide, the report also found that currently only 44 percent of youth pursue education to the equivalent of a high school-level education in the United States. As nations participate in an increasingly globalized economy, this puts a vast majority of young people—who lack higher levels of skill and education—at a serious competitive disadvantage.

Other issues raised in the report include the low education completion rates of youth in Latin America, despite having greater access to education than ever before. In addition, while education completion rates and the pursuit of advanced degrees continue to remain low in some regions, in others, the issue is with access to high-skill jobs. In the Middle East and Africa, for example, the report found that despite a growing number of young people earning a university education, many are struggling to find jobs that match their advanced skills.

Collectively, this points to a growing opportunity divide that is keeping these young people from realizing their full potential. Looking at the big picture, for countries in which this divide is more pronounced, there are massive implications for how this will affect their ability to compete globally in the future. Meeting this challenge will require a collaborative partnership between public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

How is Microsoft working to narrow the opportunity divide for young people?

For more than a decade, Microsoft has invested in programs and partnerships that are helping millions of young people around the world create a better future for themselves. To learn more about this work, I encourage your readers to visit our opportunity for youth website and join the conversation on Facebook. There, they can also access an executive summary of the Opportunity for Action Report.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Have a question for the author? Please e-mail us at

Michele Bedford Thistle
Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

About the Author

Michele Bedford Thistle | Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

Michele is focused on sharing stories from government customers creating real impact for citizens, employees, economies, and students. She joined the worldwide team from Microsoft Canada, where she was also marketing lead for several technology start-ups.