Full Disclosure
January 16, 2009
Sustainable consumption and production among Youth Part 1

It is always important to recognize the role of our youth as key change advocates in all spheres of life. Today, marketing is fundamentally altering the experience of youth culture, and particularly so in our approach as young people to sustainable lifestyles.{{more}}

Have you ever considered what drives you to spend your money the way you do? What comes first to the mind of a young man or woman when he or she receives a pay cheque? Is it about what I intend to buy for my personal use, or is it what I can purchase so that I will be able to produce with the intention to eventually increase my income? These two questions may appear to be simple at first instance, or can even attract the criticism of being too theoretical. However, if they are properly assessed and applied to one’s personal life, it can bring tremendous returns, especially to those who are within the prime ranges of the economically active age group.

The practicality of the debate as to whether I concentrate my spending on producing or simply consuming, or a combination of both on whatever scale we may choose, is always purely a matter of choice. As a young person leaving the A’ Level or Technical College or returning from studies overseas, do I choose to borrow from the bank to purchase a car and live in a house where my rent is almost one half of my salary, or do I continue taking the bus to work and save towards opening my own business? It is always about choices. It will never be my intention to bash our youth as being over consumers; instead, it is really a wake up call to send the message that there must be a balance between what one spends purely on consumer goods, on the one hand, and where we place our investment in the potentially productive side of our lives on the other hand.

It is easy to conclude on the issue of consumption and youth that those who target our youth as consumers take a strongly deterministic view in which youth are the hopeless victims of corporate marketing. It is considered that “once we sell it, at least young people will always buy it if marketed properly, and not necessarily if they need it”. This shows that many of our young people fail to look closely at how we engage with commodities in our everyday lives. Some may extend the debate to say that this is true for all groups and not only the young among us. However, we must focus on our youth since we are the engines of change within the dynamics of any general movement for transformation.

Getting past the smoke screen, put in place by trained marketers eager for a profit, must be our objective. We must never lose our focus and fail to distinguish between what are really necessities and those things which are not. Our ability to be successful in life becomes more probable when we exercise financial prudence. We must not fail to try!

Today, in our society, consumption has become a primary means of forming identities through the intensive global marketing of niche lifestyles. So, I consider myself to be of a particular niche because of the size of my dwelling house; or the model and cost of the motor vehicle I purchase; or where I am able to spend my vacation. No one can justifiably take issue against someone who has earned and can afford to be a part of a niche lifestyle. However, the problems appear when persons who are outside of the income bracket which supports that high end niche lifestyle decide to spend their last dollar to be a part of a bracket that they cannot really afford. What should be done instead as a lower end income earner is to establish a careful budget, and to ensure that the excesses should be spent on improving your level of productivity.

The negative side of marketing has created many sad results in our world, and the impact will be felt most in countries like ours, where income levels among the youth are comparatively lower when measured against our young counterparts in the developed world. Marketing is fundamentally altering the experience of culture. Corporations have infiltrated the core activities and institutions of childhood and teenage life with virtually no resistance.

Trendy fashion is always an integral part of shaping identities among our youth, hence the reason why branding is synonymous with social identification. The baseline is that the young lady who wears an expensive pair of jeans is not transformed into another person simply by apparel. What we must use to distinguish ourselves is our ability to be more productive in a bid to build ourselves, our communities and our nation to the extent that we can reposition our region to succeed.

A challenge to the Ministries with responsibility for Education and Youth Affairs is as follows:

We must continue to ensure that we strengthen entrepreneurial creativity; raise awareness of entrepreneurship; develop a spirit of adventure and challenge and promote learning about self-responsibility, while we help the new generation of young people to prepare to construct an entrepreneurial society.

The objective is to encourage schools to place greater importance on entrepreneurship education, so that students learn the right way to start up a business through activities such as mock business programs and setting flexible vocational planning goals; and to organize entrepreneurship competitions to motivate young people to develop their potential and prepare them to be stars of tomorrow’s employment market.

Next week’s article will focus on the need for our youth to enter the main productive sectors of agriculture and tourism.

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.