On December 3rd 2018 ActionAid Denmark, Save the Children Denmark and the Danish Youth Council hosted an event with focus on youth and their democratic engagement with civil society. Speaking at the event was a panel of four powerful, young women engaged in the agenda from around the world; Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Faith Mvududu from ActionAid Activista Zimbabwe, Salimatou Moulaye Traoré from Youth Association for Active Citizenship and Democracy, and Natascha Skjaldgaard from the Danish Youth Council. The event was moderated by Sesheeni Joud Selvaratnam, International Programme and Policy Lead, ActionAid Denmark and Helle Gudmandsen, Head of International Education, Save the Children Denmark. Opening and closing remarks by Sara Brandt, Civil Society Advisor at Global Focus.

Positive stories 

Billede1Youth movements and organisation are usually very strong users of social media and new technology and thereby able to promote social change in innovative ways.

 

Salimatou Moulaye Traoré described how young people in Mali mobilised through social media to protest against a constitutional change that would have given the president extra power including being able to nominate a quarter of the Senate and remove the prime minister at will. After thousands of especially young people gathered to protest against the reform the government responded by postponing the referendum. 

 

The UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Ms. Wickramanayake, explained that young people in Buenos Aires had exposed how the elected politicians in the city council were neglecting their election promises in voting procedures. The young people developed an app that exposed this contradiction and ended up receiving 35% of the votes in the next election. 

 

These are only two of the positive stories where young people have used social media and new technology as a successful strategy to mobilise in informal ways with few resources. However, there is a need for resources to support youth activists through formal structures and other means.

 

Billede2International NGOs can help these initiatives by strengthening the cooperation between well-established organisations and young, vibrant movements. As Faith Mvududu from ActionAid Activista Zimbabwe told the audience: 

 

“We need to forget our differences and unite together. As long as we have the core elements in common – passion, commitment and dedication – we can create an understanding to move forward.”

Leaders of today

As a main point at the event, it was several times underlined how young people should not be seen as the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. The positive role young people play as change makers in society should instead be valued and pro-actively supported by governments, NGOs and other powerholders. The UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Ms. Wickramanayake stated: 

“The perception of age is a visual barrier that young people face to participate in politics, in civil society and in leadership. Labeling young people as ‘citizens in training’ or ‘leaders of tomorrow’ are misconceptions that are based in our society and must be changed.”

Youth at the frontline

Around the world, we are seeing young people joining large movements in an act of solidarity and a willingness to change things. The question is, how this momentum and progress is transmitted into the existing institutions. A way to rebuild trust between young people and institutions are for government donors and institutions to be more willing to consult youth leaders and to address the social and political issues that they may raise. As Natascha Skjaldgaard, the Danish Youth Delegate said: “You can support the structures and still want to make changes. (…) I believe in civil society and the change we can make and especially young people as change makers”

 

Young people should sit at the table when decisions are taken, because they have an opinion and a voice to be heard. For this to be achieved, education is a key element. Young people are over-represented in the demographics in many countries but it is only a small portion which have access to education. In order to improve the situation education must have a higher priority and young activists need to continue disproving decision-makers that they are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but can be the leaders of today. 

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