The global changes taking place in political economies, technology and population growth requires evolving dynamic tools of analysis. Today, global divisions are no longer perceived along the axis of East-West, but rather North-South. Nations and governments struggle to respond to these rapid changes, inflicted upon them by the heightened pace of globalisation and trade liberalisation; accompanied by the revolution in communications and information technology. These changes have been accompanied by rising levels of unemployment, poverty and lack of social integration in many countries of the South; and most countries are trapped in a cycle of deprivation, poverty and marginalization.
Globally, the major issues affecting youth in specific ways are lack of adequate education and employment, lack of assets and property rights. A number of national economies have not been able to generate sufficient job opportunities for their young people. Nor, have they been able to devise strategies that would deal effectively with the existing situation on a long term- basis.
In response to such challenges, the concept of social exclusion has gained wide currency in the public policy context worldwide as more countries embrace globalisation and the free market system. It has been effectively used to reflect the complex set of linked problems, centred on lack of opportunities and diminished life circumstances, including unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, poor health and family breakdown.
In the process of developing inclusion goals, the citizenship status, contribution and participation of young people has also come to the fore. On one hand, youth participation and apathy has been a subject of debates and contention for a while, especially when the criterion used is voting. The seeming decline in youth voting at international level, serves as an indicator of alienation as well as growing evidence that youth are a segment of the population that is hard hit by socio - economic problems. The search for strategies to bring about participation and democratic renewal has led to a resurgence of a dialogue on an old idea, national youth service. Government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) throughout the world, have initiated youth programmes which are categorised as youth service initiatives. The history and rationale for these programmes differ from country to country, and the reasons for initiating the programmes are instrumental in shaping their nature and purpose.
Whilst introducing (youth) participation as a strategy for inclusion, this text recognises the existence of other strategies to deal with social exclusion, including the capabilities approach as advocated by Amatyra Sen (1992), the rights-based approach and other interventions aimed at dealing with unemployment, poverty and other social challenges. Whilst acknowledging that the dictionary style definitions do not assist us to untangle the complexities assosciated with certain concepts, an attempt is made to define concepts used, including social exclusion, participation, governance and others.