Comparing India, China and Egypt

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SummaryThe country that will thrive most is the one that most successfully converts its youth bulge into a demographic dividend

The country that will thrive most is the one that most successfully converts its youth bulge into a demographic dividend
Thomas L. Friedman

It’s hard to escape a visit to India without someone asking you to compare it to China. This visit was no exception, but I think it’s more revealing to widen the aperture and compare India, China and Egypt. India has a weak Central government but a really strong civil society, bubbling with elections and associations at every level. China has a muscular central government but a weak civil society, yet one that is clearly straining to express itself more.

Egypt, alas, has a weak government and a very weak civil society, one that was suppressed for 50 years, denied real elections and, therefore, is easy prey to have its revolution diverted by the one group that could organise, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the one free space, the mosque. But there is one thing all three have in common: gigantic youth bulges under the age of 30, increasingly connected by technology but very unevenly educated.

My view: of these three, the one that will thrive the most in the 21st century will be the one that is most successful at converting its youth bulge into a “demographic dividend” that keeps paying off every decade, as opposed to a “demographic bomb” that keeps going off every decade. That will be the society that provides more of its youth with the education, jobs and voice they seek to realise their full potential.

This race is about “who can enable and inspire more of its youth to help build broad societal prosperity,” argues Dov Seidman, the author of How and CEO of LRN, which has an operating centre in India. “And that’s all about leaders, parents and teachers creating environments where young people can be on a quest, not just for a job, but for a career — for a better life that doesn’t just surpass but far surpasses their parents.” Countries that fail to do that will have a youth bulge that is not only unemployed, but unemployable, he argued. “They will be disconnected in a connected world, despairing as they watch others build and realise their potential and curiosity.”

If your country has either a strong government or a strong civil society, it has the ability to rise to this challenge. If it has neither, it will have real problems, which is why

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