Happy International Youth Day!

Happy International Youth Day! I remember watching President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he said. As a teenager, those words had a profound impact on me, and they still resonate today. Most people who dedicate their lives to public service can tell a similar story of inspiration -- an epiphany that drove them to change their communities for the better. But going from inspiration to action can be daunting. Many young people who are inspired to make a mark on their communities don’t feel like they have the support or know-how to get started.

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Inclusion Matters: From the Paralympics to NDI

Aoki at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit. Photo: Simon Bruty, Sports Illustrated

Growing up, I dreamed of playing professional sports. When I first met a person who used a wheelchair like me and was a competitive athlete, I felt like I could do anything. Even if I had not made it to the Paralympic level, knowing that there existed a place where my disability and I were explicitly welcomed was heartening. The same is true at NDI. Inclusion is at the crux of what we do, whether it be with youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, or ethnic and religious minorities. When NDI and its partners explicitly talk about the importance of inclusion, it resonates with those who often feel excluded. NDI, and organizations like NDI, that take inclusion seriously and embrace it in their work are a source of hope for those of us in the disability space who can, at times, feel invisible. I can say from first hand experience, that true inclusion really does change lives.

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Progress toward youth-inclusive politics

Today’s youth are at a critical juncture. The current young generation - the largest in global history - is disproportionately affected by unemployment, insufficient access to education, violent conflict and a number of other challenges. Eager to play a role in changing their communities and nations for the better, many young people have become frustrated with political processes that seem out of reach, out of touch and ineffective, and have since turned to other ways to give back to their communities. To encourage youth to “opt-in” to the state, governments need to give them more than a seat at the table to address matters affecting their lives. Failure to do so may further widen the growing rift between youth and political institutions, and make youth more vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups.

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Lebanese Youth Leaders Unite to Advocate for Reform

A young Lebanese activist participates in a discussion during the Youth Activism Academy

 

Youth in Lebanon have not had much opportunity to learn about democracy or how they can be involved in democratic governance. NDI conducted a survey in April 2017 suggesting nearly one-third of the electorate has never voted in parliamentary elections—not because they do not want to, but because parliamentary elections have not been held in the eight years since they became eligible to vote. Yet, despite the challenges they face, many young Lebanese men and women are highly motivated to act to improve their living conditions and basic rights.

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Internally Displaced People and Refugees Must Take Part in Political Life

Participants in Colombia’s Victims Participation Roundtables

Arabic 

One person is forced to flee their home every second according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center. The current estimated number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) around the world is 65.3 million, a number equivalent to the total population of the United Kingdom. These numbers show that new and protracted crises are driving people from their homes at an alarming rate. Humanitarian systems devote huge efforts to ease refugees’ suffering, specially focused on providing basic needs like food and shelter. Though these interventions are crucial, political participation for refugees and IDPs is also important and can be the first step to finding viable long-term solutions for their plight.

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A New Side of Skills Development

Participants in Moldova’s Challenger program canvass and get out the vote for parliamentary elections.

What helps citizens succeed as political leaders and activists? Beyond providing technical skills and tools, NDI has noted that developing certain attitudes and behaviors can help citizens participate more meaningfully in public life. Young political activists have consistently mentioned the need for improved “soft skills” to work effectively and succeed as leaders. USAID and other donor agencies are also recognizing the importance of putting these skills at the center of human development.

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Naija Women on the Rise: Making Every Voice Count

2017 Andi Parhamovich Fellow, Ashley Dauda, with NDI Chairman and former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at NDI's annual MKA Luncheon.

I recently attended a conference on ‘the Political Economy of Gender and Women’s Empowerment in Africa,’ organized by the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. Gretchen Bauer, a Professor of Political Science and International Relations from the University of Delaware, held a presentation on the global ranking of women’s representation in national parliaments.  As Bauer passed through the slides of her presentation, I didn’t bother to look for Nigeria since I already knew where we stood on the list globally:  181 out of 191—the lowest in Africa.

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Grounding Theory in Practice: Youth programs in Jordan and Kosovo

Usharek+ participants in Jordan launch their advocacy campaign with the goal of improving traffic safety. 

NDI’s new theory of change unifies important elements of youth political participation programs and depicts how they can interplay to change practices of youth participation. This theory, which I blogged about last month, was not merely academic exercise from the “ivory tower.” It draws on discussions with young politically active women and men across Africa and Latin America, collaborative discussions with democracy and governance practitioners from around the world, and deep reviews of effective youth programs NDI is conducting in Jordan and Kosovo. The Jordan and Kosovo programs show how the theory of change can play out in practice.

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Needing A Longer Runway: Inspiring Young Women’s Political Engagement

Participants in NDI Kosovo's 2017 Week of Women discuss citizen concerns with political leaders.

Take a moment to reflect on what you wanted to become when you were eight years old—which, if you are a woman, was when you were at your most confident. How did that change by the time you turned eighteen? For those who were (or are) aspiring politicians, you might be interested to know that research in the U.S. says girls are equally politically confident—for example, in running for class president and student councils—as boys until high school, when it drops by half. NDI’s Gender, Women and Democracy team has taken on the task of finding out what this political confidence gap looks like on a global scale and, more importantly, how to address it.

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How to help youth strengthen their participation and influence

Surging youth activism and leadership has the potential to change the world. Accordingly, young people are increasingly being recognized as indispensable agents for sustainable development and the source of a demographic dividend. But more work is necessary to support their active engagement and satisfy young people’s desire to have more than just a seat at the table. To help meet this need, NDI recently developed a unified theory of change, illustrated in the graphic above, which depicts the process of institutionalizing meaningful youth political participation.

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