Editor's note: Klaus Schwab (left) is founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Muhtar Kent is chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company and chair of the World Economic Forum's International Business Council.
Imagine a country where no one can find a job and everyone is younger than 25. This country, which exists as a diaspora, threatens the economic vitality, social fabric and long-term stability of much of the world. It is a country of lost potential.
In Europe, 24% of youth are unemployed. The numbers are particularly bad in Greece, Portugal and Italy. They are also bad in the Middle East and North Africa.
Unemployment is a slow-burning yet acute crisis that needs continuous attention from the world's businesses and governments.
The human cost is incalculable. Jobless young people struggle to become positive contributors to their families, communities and countries. Creating more job opportunities accelerates a virtuous cycle that boosts productivity and wages, reinforces a host of social virtues — including greater stability, self-esteem, community commitment — and decreases crime.
For business, the opportunity is great. Research indicates that for every 1 percentage point of sustained improvement in global youth employment, worldwide economic consumption increases by an estimated $72 billion per year.
We believe leaders in business, government and civil society should make a collaborative, concerted and cohesive effort to address unemployment with urgency in 2014. We've asked the 120 global CEOs who make up the World Economic Forum's International Business Council to join us in a new drive to reduce youth unemployment, starting this week at the Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos.