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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the delegates' closing remarks at the 2016 Fragility Forum, from left to right: Stella Ngwu (Nigeria), Aissata Toure Diallo (Mali), Besa Rizvanolli (NDI), Clara Rojas (Colombia), Sabina Dario Lokolong (South Sudan), Dr. Sultana Mismari (Libya)
In fragile and violent places, whether it is Colombia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, or South Sudan, the role of women during crisis, war, and post-conflict reconstruction has been critical. Conflicts often force women to get organized and to safeguard the basic necessities that bolster day-to-day life in each family. They also participate in fighting wars, and in rebuilding their communities. Women act as peacekeepers, relief workers, and mediators. Yet, when peace talks occur, women are not invited to the table and peace agreements are often drafted without the critical perspectives of women.
With this reality in mind, under USAID’s Global Women’s Leadership Program (GWLP), NDI brought a delegation of women members of parliament (MPs) to the World Bank Group Fragility Conflict and Violence Forum 2016 (also referred to as the Fragility Forum) in Washington, DC in early March.
Members of the GWLP delegation of women parliamentarians to the COP21 Summit in Paris, from left to right: Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, Uganda; Ake Camille Epse Akoun, Ivory Coast; Joséphine Drabo Kanyoulou, Burkina Faso; and Tayeba Zahidi, Afghanistan. Photo by Aretha Francis.
Under the Global Women's Ledership Program supported by USAID, NDI sent four women parliamentarians to the COP21 climate change summit in Paris.
Andrea Fernandez, NDI resident program officer in Colombia, recently interviewed Flavia Freidenberg, researcher and professor at the Institute of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Flavia answered a number of questions about strategies to increase women’s political participation in Latin America. Read highlights from their interview or watch a video of the full discussion.
The LGBTI communities in Guatemala uses art to increase tolerance, understanding and political participation.
In the captivating play “Transforming Thoughts: The Realities of the LGBTI Communities,” members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) communities showed the harsh realities of life as a transgender woman in Guatemala. Drawing on stories from their personal lives, and the broader LGBTI communities, the actors weave together scenes demonstrating lack of opportunity, abuse and survival. I