The wellbeing of Timor-Leste’s young people is pivotal to the success of the young nation Timor-Leste

25 Sep 2016

 Timorese youth are pivotal to the success of the young nation Timor-Leste.

By Claudio Providas, Country Director of UNDP Timor-Leste

‘The wellbeing and success of Timor-Leste’s young people is pivotal to the success of the young Nation of Timor-Leste’, said H.E. Mr. Agio Pereira in his key note speech from July 2016 at a conference held at Flinders University, Australia. The future of Timor-Leste and its sovereignty rests on the wellbeing of its younger generation.

World leaders are increasingly acknowledging that GDP alone cannot provide a full picture of a country’s performance. The UN Secretary General noted in 2012 the shortcomings of using wealth alone as an indicator. As individuals, we are a part of our families, communities and our nation. We are also a part of the eco-system. Our wellbeing is shaped by many factors and the role of the state in improving the lives of citizens is fundamental. The public policies and programs success however cannot simply be measured based on economic terms.

Enhancing wellbeing means providing people the opportunities and means to live a healthy, happy and satisfactory life. In the context of sustainable development this requires that similar opportunities are being preserved for future generations to come.

UNDP’s Human Development Reports are at the forefront at steering the global consensus away from the importance on how countries are doing in terms of their GDP growth toward more holistic measures such as human development, human development derived indexes and measuring wellbeing in terms of sustainability.

When Human Development Index (HDI) was created in 1990, its role was to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. Still a fundamental component of the Human Development Reports, the HDI is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living.

With the world adopting a new development agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a greater availability of data, there is an opportunity to work towards even more meaningful inclusive development based on broader measures of the human development progress. In the past decade, more and more literature has been focusing on Human Wellbeing. A recent study published by the World Economic Forum for example analyzes how well 160 countries performed in the 2006-2014 period in translating their economic growth into wellbeing.

The results look extremely bright for Timor-Leste.

The study defines wellbeing through three fundamental elements: Economics, Investments and Sustainability. Under each element the report considers the following dimensions:

Economics Investments Sustainability
•Income •Health •Income Equality
•Economic Stability •Education •Civil Society
•Employment •Infrastructure •Governance


The study reports on the current levels of translating economic growth into wellbeing and the rate of progress made. Timor-Leste appears in the top ten countries and ranks 7th highest among 160 countries for its rate of progress. This is remarkable and needs acknowledgement.

Timor-Leste as a young nation faces many development challenges but the determination of its people for independence and nation building is something that is inspiring for the young generation.  The study is also encouraging, as noted by H.E. Mr. Agio Pereira, the Government Spokesperson and Minister of State and of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, as it serves as an indication of the positive direction of the young country’s development journey.

We congratulate Timor-Leste on the recent study results but also  for placing wellbeing as a government priority.

In March this year, the Government of Timor-Leste embarked on a collaborative project with UNDP to produce Timor-Leste’s 4th National Human Development Report with its focus on Youth, Wellbeing and Demographic Dividend. As a part of this project the Statistics Directorate has conducted a nationwide ‘Youth Wellbeing Survey’ with young people aged 15-34. We are excited to gather scientific evidence to understand the youth and their state of wellbeing. This is the first time such a holistic and innovative method is used to assess the state of youth development in Timor-Leste.

Why focus on youth? Timor-Leste is one of the most youthful populations in the world. According to Timor-Leste’s 2010 Census, 42 percent of the population is aged below 15 and 31 percent is aged between 15-34. The median age is as young as 18.8. With the 2015 Census results on its way, we are yet to see how this population structure has changed in the past 5 years.  

The youthful population offers the manpower, dynamism and energy for the transformation of this new young nation. However, there is a lot to be achieved in the areas of job creation, skills development and financial inclusion of the youth. Besides inclusion of the youth in economic life, our efforts need to concentrate on increasing youth participation in leadership and decision making processes.

Young people are vital stakeholders in conflict and peace-building. Youth can be a creative force and a dynamic source of innovations. Throughout history, they have undoubtedly contributed to important changes in political systems and power-sharing dynamisms.

We need to understand the youth better. We need to better engage with them and promote their meaningful participation in socio-economic and political life. What are their challenges, priorities and aspirations? How can we promote entrepreneurship among youth to contribute to the economic development? What are the education, training and skills development opportunities, financial incentives and communication systems we need to have in place to improve livelihoods?  What progressive social policies do we need to pursue in the context of economic growth and job creation?

We need to have and implement the sector strategies and policies in place now to yield benefits from Timor-Leste’s youthful population in the next 10-15 years, the National Youth Action Plan is a good start. Investing in the Timorese youth and their wellbeing also means we are investing in the sustained peace and development of Timor-Leste.

Through the NHDR project, we will be able to offer credible evidence for policies and programs aimed at improving wellbeing among the youth.  The report will be instrumental in helping us understand the youth better and guiding us in the right direction to support youth to become valuable members of the society and contributors to the economy and national development.

The journey toward high levels of wellbeing is a long one to be pursued. Yet UNDP is committed to walk alongside the Government and Civil Society as reliable partners supporting the wellbeing of Timorese people. The key to the success of our efforts is remembering that the young people of Timor-Leste are at the core of the sustainable development of this country.

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