Diogenes the Cynic once remarked that the “foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” More than 2,300 years later, cynical was an accurate description of the 27 teenagers who were rolling their eyes at me in an overheated classroom. My lesson that day was on the importance of civic engagement, but these young people had been taught their entire lives that young voices do not matter in politics.
Photo by Observador Electoral 2019. (from the Cueva)
My seatmate pulled out her phone the moment our packed plane touched down in El Salvador three days before the country’s February 3 presidential elections. She began furiously scrolling through her Facebook feed, her face lit up with campaign slogans, articles and the smiling faces of candidates Nayib Bukele, Carlos Calleja and Hugo Martinez. Peering over her shoulder, I watched as she punched out a comment lambasting corrupt status-quo politicians. “El Salvador doesn’t need another leader who steals from us,” she typed. “Bukele deserves a chance.” The goal of my trip to El Salvador was to assist our local partners with a USAID-funded election-day observation. NDI supported a consortium of Salvadoran universities and a civil society organization, together called Observador Electoral 2019, to recruit, train and deploy 850 Salvadoran election observers to monitor a statistically representative sample of 700 polling stations nationwide.
DemGames for Debates was developed in partnership with NDI’s Citizen Participation, and Latin America and Caribbean teams.
As the Technology Innovation team at NDI, we are always looking for new approaches to build intuitive platforms that make an impact for our partners in their particular context. One of our recent pilot projects – DemGames – offers partner organizations an opportunity to engage youth on civic and voter education issues through an interactive learning platform. Last April, as we began to think of the many ways a gaming platform could contribute to a youth debates program in Guatemala, we decided to run a three-day design sprint, adapting a human-centered design approach, to develop a prototype we could begin to test. Here are some of the lessons we have learned.
Youth from Albania develop action plans to address issues in their local communities during an NDI skills-building workshop in Durres on June 29, 2018. Credit: Dana Radojevic
It is easy to get lost in the details of one’s work. This happens in every field ranging from the neverending rounds made by a nurse to the countless strokes of an artist’s paintbrush. Supporting democracy and good governance is no different – thousands of dedicated activists across the world spend their days, nights and weekends lost in paperwork, meetings and strategy sessions, working to create a more inclusive, just and democratic world.
When we arrived in Jinja, a row of bicycles for rent were neatly lined up outside the partner organization’s office. We met inside, amidst bicycles in various states of repair, leaflets and posters on cycling and a stretcher designed to be hitched to bicycles. This all seemed a little incongruous, given a conversation about vote buying and selling. Eventually, I had to ask about the relationship between bicycles and vote buying.
Freedom, equality and solidarity should not just be a catchphrase, but a guaranteed right to all citizens. After the horrifying events survived by today’s youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we learned the most valuable lesson: don't hate. In the country where war memories are still fresh, there are young people who do not want that to ever happen again. And at a very young age, I learned that I am equal and can determine my future. Following the return from my studies, I knew things were not how I wanted them to be in BiH. I didn’t like the fact that we are divided, that the unemployment rate is high and that only a few opportunities for youth exist. While some people tend to let things go and wait to see what happens, I did not want to be observer. I wanted to be a participant. I became involved in politics to stand up and make a change.
As young people from different political parties, we have learned that violence should not be part of us and we should denounce violence at all costs. We must use every opportunity and avenue to advocate for youth-sensitive policies and political space that provides respect for freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of the press and access to information. We must become aware of our rights and opportunities to participate in decision-making so we can continue to shape our futures together.
NDI’s staff in DC, Silicon Valley, and 50+ offices around the world represent a deep repository of expertise and practical experience in the areas of democracy and international affairs. We promise to keep bringing you their insights and analysis through this platform, and to increasingly include the voices expert guest bloggers from our partner organizations. Here’s the list of DemWorks’ most read blog posts from 2018.
As 2018 draws to a close, I want to express my gratitude for your support in my transition back to NDI as its president – a true homecoming. Democracy faces serious challenges with the rise of new technologies and the resurgence of authoritarianism. While some may fall into fatalism, that is not NDI's way, and it is unworthy of those who have fought for freedom and democracy over many decades. NDI will continue to meet this moment head-on with innovative approaches that maximize potential opportunities as well as mitigate challenges, just as we did throughout 2018.