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Lesson 3: Trusting Youth Abilities to Drive Solutions

In the exploration of youth participation in democratic processes, a recurring theme has emerged: the vital importance of creating an enabling environment for youth to engage and thrive in civic life. As the YDC unfolds ten case studies from Latin America to East Asia, it becomes clear that policymakers must strive to create inclusive systems empowering all youth to contribute. The authors found that, despite the unique contexts of each country, there are important policy lessons to be learned. In light of the findings of the study, five recommendations have been made. For this edition, the YDC presents a key policy lesson on trusting youth abilities:

Trusting youth abilities to drive solutions

Young people possess great potential to drive change and shape successful initiatives. Acknowledging their abilities and valuing their contributions are essential for encouraging youth leadership and meaningful participation. Believing in the innovative solutions that young people offer and providing the necessary resources to support their solutions is a key lesson stemming from the analysis of the case countries. 

Youth representation bodies exist in most case study countries analysed, although they take different shapes and forms. These bodies provide young people with the opportunity to directly shape decision-making processes. In Costa Rica and the Solomon Islands, youth assemblies are present at both municipal and national levels, demonstrating the commitment of these governments to youth participation at all governance levels. In Morocco, Child Parliaments were established as a means of raising political awareness from an early age. In the Philippines, the government’s response to the limited efficiency of local youth councils serves as a remarkable example of addressing challenges rather than abandoning the idea altogether or restricting the youth council’s competencies. The government initiated a reform process that focused on restructuring and granting them financial independence. This reform has been seen as a needed and valuable government-led initiative. Importantly, it contributed to building positive narratives around youth leadership and the indispensability of youth participation in public affairs. In Malta, the government is very intentional about conducting continuous engagement with the young people, forging partnerships with them to promote the national development agenda, and more importantly, giving young people the opportunity to meaningfully participate in elections from the age of 16 years old. This is also the case in Australia, where the government works with the Youth Advisory Groups to integrate the voices of young people into policy processes. The Australian government is significantly addressing the barriers limiting the inclusion of young people into public affairs, including providing financial support. 

Making a consistent effort to encourage youth leadership is essential. It has become evident that support for youth initiatives should not be solely dependent on the interests of the political party currently in power. Political dependency can lead to disengagement among young people, as they could perceive the available means of participation as unreliable and temporary. Political manipulation and repression are key obstacles to youth participation. To prevent youth disengagement, governments should ensure sustained and impartial support for youth-led projects, showing continuous trust in the abilities of young people. 

Policy Recommendations

To fully acknowledge the significant role and potential of young people in driving change, governments should treat youth as partners rather than beneficiaries of government-led initiatives. This paradigm shift can be achieved through the following:

  1. Youth representation bodies: Establish representative youth structures that are transparent, institutionally mandated, well-resourced, self-organised, inclusive, and adjusted to the local context. Only by entrusting young people with responsibilities and opportunities to take charge can governments tap into their innovative ideas and diverse perspectives. This includes acknowledging the capabilities of young people and truly inviting them to decision-making tables by granting them mandates, specific duties, and budgets for the implementation of their initiatives. Youth representation bodies can take diverse forms, including local youth councils, advisory groups, and national youth parliaments.
  2. Capacity building for government staff: Provide training programmes and workshops for government staff to enhance their understanding of youth engagement, and communication and collaboration skills. These programmes can cover topics such as active listening, cultural sensitivity, and youth-centred communication techniques. By equipping government employees with these skills, they can better engage with the youth and create more open and inclusive channels of communication that should be available throughout the policy cycle. At the policy design stage, governments should consult a representative number of young people, paying particular attention to the inclusion of youth from underrepresented communities. This could involve conducting focus group discussions, surveys, town hall meetings, and/or collaborating with youth organisations. At the policy implementation stage, youth partnerships based on mutual respect and equality should be prioritised. Throughout the policy cycle, governments should establish mechanisms for continuous feedback from the youth. This could involve regular public consultations or digital platforms that allow young people to share their thoughts on policy implementation progress and provide recommendations for improvements.
  3. Resources for youth-led projects: Allocate dedicated financial resources specifically for youth-led projects to ensure the successful execution of initiatives. These budgets should be shielded from the volatility of changing political interests, guaranteeing consistent financial support for initiatives that align with the nation’s long-term goals. Providing these youth-led initiatives with capacity-building support and granting them a substantial degree of autonomy is crucial. This autonomy develops a sense of ownership among young people, motivating them to be proactive and accountable for the outcomes of their projects. By showing trust in youth abilities by supporting their leadership, governments can provide young people with the tools they need to effectively implement solutions.