Young people represent our future – inventors, entrepreneurs, educators, engineers, community leaders, executives. If we truly want to have a positive impact on future generations, we need to work together to address the challenges they are facing today.

Health and education are two key foundations to the success and well-being of young people. In order to better understand the challenges facing young people in these two areas, Scotiabank, in partnership with an Advisory Council of ten leading international experts in the youth space, and GlobeScan, a global consultancy, created an Index called the Scotiabank Young People in the Community Index.

The goal of the Index is to give a snapshot of how young people are faring across multiple countries, helping to highlight areas that are lagging and where policies and social investments are needed, and to pinpoint examples of progress where certain countries are faring better than others in key areas of youth well-being. We recognize each country has, and will continue to have, its own unique set of challenges; which means that “one-size fits all” programs are not necessarily the most effective solution. We hope that this Index can help all of us in our efforts to impact the future of young people.

The Index is comprised of 19 indicators of health and education. In order to be included in the Index, it had to come from a publically available, reliable sources; had to be published frequently - ideally annually; had to be seen as a valid predictor of youth development; and had to be available across most of the 30 countries of interest to Scotiabank across North, South and Central America – representing a large portion of countries where Scotiabank operates In this process, we found that there is a real lack of available data on young people in many countries across the Americas, and, definitions of health, well-being and education vary considerably from country to country. Because of the gaps in data available, some of the indicators are serving as proxies to indicate the level of health and education (eg alcohol and tobacco consumption). Some indicators are also composites of related indicators (eg Nutrition includes obesity, stunting, underweight).

In particular, we found that consistent data is lacking on mental health, prevalence of child abuse, trafficking, training of educators, access to transportation and technology, health or nutrition education, physical activity levels, access to green spaces, sanitation and water sources, all of which are viewed by our Advisory Council as important indicators of youth development. Ultimately, our hope is that the Index will highlight the need to improve the measurement and monitoring of the well-being of youth.

By examining each country separately across all indicators, those looking to help – e.g. governments, non-profit organizations, and private organizations such as Scotiabank – can take actions that target gaps and areas that may need additional support.

Overall, countries such as Barbados, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica have generally lower than average scores on health and well-being, while young people from the U.S., Costa Rica, Uruguay and Canada enjoy far higher scores on most health and well-being indicators.

However, there is a fair bit of difference in the indicators across countries, such as the nutrition indicator where Guatemala, Guyana, Bolivia and Belize have some of the lowest scores, far behind countries such as Jamaica and Suriname.

Within Education, countries such as Guatemala, Grenada, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and St Lucia appear to fall behind the regional average on most educational indicators and are countries where more support may be needed for young people. An area of discrepancy is digital connectedness, where countries such as Cuba, Belize, and Guyana are lagging far behind the regional average. Digital connectedness is also an indicator where low scores are prevalent in both small and large economies, such as Honduras and Mexico.

Understanding the true state of young people is the only way that governments and organizations are going to make a meaningful, positive impact. We also have to collaborate better on these key issues in order to make a bigger impact, faster. Let’s work together to refine our approach to solving society’s issues to create a future in which everyone can become better off.