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. 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.

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, they need to hear their voices.

Taking Wing: Creating lasting change in Burkina Faso

There is a widespread belief among young people in Burkina Faso that the current political class lacks a credible vision that takes into account the aspirations of the nation’s youth. The only way to solve this is for young people to stand for election, and to propose new and alternative ideas for the development of our country. This is particularly true when it comes to the nation’s long-term economic well-being – which will affect the lives and futures of the nation’s young citizens the most. But youth are also concerned about other pressing issues, such as the independence of the judicial system and a lack of security from extremist groups (especially in the northern regions). There is no single, defining “youth issue,” nor is there a single youth perspective on the challenges our country faces. Young people must have seats at the table so that we can play an active role in building our own future.

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Taking Wing: Pathways to participation and leadership through youth wings

For more than three decades, NDI has supported political party youth wings as a means of engaging young people in formal politics. Youth wings are semi-independent bodies within a political party. Although structures differ, most youth wings have an established age for membership (e.g., 16-35), work to initiate young people into party politics and strengthen a party’s ability to address youth-specific policy issues – among other core functions. Organized youth wings, across party systems, are indicative of an important minority of young people trying to satisfy political aspirations through political party involvement. Youth wings can be a source of creativity and dynamism within a political party and are enabled when they have opportunities to shape party policies and participate in decision making.

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Politically active young people need safe spaces

In honor of International Youth Day 2018 let’s discuss the importance of safe spaces for youth political agency and participation. Safe spaces can mean formal or informal spaces in which young people feel emotionally and physically safe, and can exist without discrimination for who they are or what they believe. While these spaces are formed for a variety of reasons, creating safe civic and political spaces can help young people securely participate in political processes, interact with political institutions and engage more meaningfully with decision-makers.

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Turn up the volume: Adolescent girls and young women using their voice

Today, in celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child, I wanted to reflect on the recent event focused on the political leadership of adolescent and young girls that took place on September 18 in New York City. Among the persistent honking, blaring sirens and crowds of people common with each convening of the United Nations General Assembly, seven young women -- all under the age of 30 -- took to a microphone to share their stories of political engagement. These women were from Kenya, Honduras, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ireland and the United States, but their stories declared a common theme: in order to ensure that we have an equal, representative pool of young women who are politically engaged, we must reach and encourage them before they reach the age to vote.

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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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A New Side of Skills Development

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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Grounding Theory in Practice: Youth programs in Jordan and Kosovo

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

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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Citizen participation: What’s ART got to do with it?

The Civic Update is a production of NDI’s Citizen Participation Team which highlights innovative practices, approaches and lessons from NDI programs. The January 2017 video edition, Art for Campaigning, focuses on how NDI has supported local partners to use art as part of their organizing. It includes examples from the Central African Republic, Guatemala, Kosovo, Macedonia, Nepal and Nigeria.

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Youth are driving change in Latin America

Twelve young Latin American political leaders and activists recently gathered in Guatemala for an NDI-led workshop on youth political participation. Conversations ranged from what motivates youth to get involved in politics, to how sociocultural norms about youth affect their work, and what tactics youth have used to elevate their political voices in their home countries of El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Amidst widespread myths about youth political apathy, these diverse young activists represent a generation that is motivated to build more inclusive, democratic societies.

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Youth Want More Than a Seat at the Table

International Youth Day 2016 comes at a time when the United Nations and other members of the international development community are recognizing youth as champions for sustainable development. This reflects an ongoing shift in perspectives from fearing the ‘youth bulge’ as a problem to be solved, to partnership with young women and men as leaders and a demographic dividend that can accelerate global progress. Today’s youth – the most connected, educated and open-minded generation the world has seen – have the power to foster innovative and transformative change.

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