Many young people think they should have a right to truly participate with an active voice in decision-making, not as “token youth”, but FOR REAL. For real means: as decision-makers, voters, constituents, clients, members of civil society, minorities, indigenous youth, youth with AIDs, youth suffering from exploitation, prostitution, rape, murder, war, destitution, and as youth legitimately concerned about the world they will inherit.
Many adults, including world leaders like Koffi Annan of the United Nations, Enrique Iglesias of the Inter-American Development Bank, numerous Presidents of nations around the world, heads of major international foundations and nonprofits, and CEOs of leading global corporations agree that young people should have a voice and participate in civil society and government - at least to some degree.
Many people continue to make the case for youth. The subject is gaining popularity and importance. It is a sexy topic in international circles nowadays. The UN and other agencies host several initiatives specifically focused on increasing the visibility and participation of young people in local, national, and global venues.
But how is it really going? Is it working out? Is youth participation real and here to stay? Clearly much is being done and a growing foundation is in place, but the facts and evidence unfortunately do not support those who would argue that young people have true voice and power to participate in decision-making on issues that fundamentally affect them.
So what needs to be done?
1. The case for YP needs to be made, clearly, and better than it has been made to date. The Partnership Initiative document is a major effort, initiated, led, and spearheaded by young people themselves, to make the case more clearly, honestly, and vividly than it has ever been made.
2. The case needs to be taken to the streets, every street of the world
3. The case needs to be made and carried out honestly, proactively, responsibly, and peacefully, from a place of love, hope, trust, optimism, and enthusiasm, not one of despair, fear, anger, hatred or hopelessness.
4. The case matters because it is one factor, a truly fundamental factor, in determining the quality of life, even the very survival, of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of human beings and other living beings in coming decades.
5. The case needs to be made in a complete, clear way, separating weak, solicitous justifications from the essential, power-full, indisputable statistics, facts, and concepts which prove why the world will be a better place if the active participation of young people is fully and responsibly built into social life.
The Basic Version
Many different arguments and several emerging standard versions are passed around, largely by young people themselves, regarding why young people should be “given a chance to be heard and taken more seriously”, or more strongly, “to participate more directly in the formulation of decisions that affect their lives.”
Common arguments are:
Youth want a chance to be heard, to participate, and to be taken more seriously
Young people are the future of the world. A phrase often heard, along with the phrase “the leaders of the future”. This is true, and is, in fact one of the most powerful facts of life and reasons for investing in, and enabling youth participation. Sadly, the argument is generally very poorly made and is repeated ad nauseum which has converted it into a tired cliché with no bite. Worse, it oversteps the heart of the issue (and becomes an excuse for inaction) -- that young people live in the present too, want power, and have power as active members of civil society and as leaders now—and in the future, sometimes the very near future. Fortunately, more and more young people are quick to point this out.
Young people have an important contribution to make. As above, a powerful and valid argument, but also turned into a cliché and often not substantiated, either in words and even rarer still, in action, both by young people who claim to want to participate and adults who claim they support their participation. It is rare to find comprehensive, exhaustive analysis of how young people can—and how they actually do—participate effectively in civic life, in social change and development, or in the construction of better societies.
Because it works: As in any other social group, where people are allowed, invited, and empowered to truly participate in an effective, reasonable way, the well-being of all involved goes up. This is true in families, schools, private companies, nations, and entire cultures.
Making a Watertight Case
The above arguments are the ones most commonly made in documents and venues around the world, particularly large international conferences, especially UN-related ones. With the weaknesses and responses to the reasons elaborated on above, one could arguably already enter the halls of a powerful institution and reasonably make the case that:
· Investing in youth matters
· Youth participation matters
· Effective youth-serving and youth-led organizations should be supported and strengthened
But it is not enough. Dozens, maybe thousands, of declarations, memos, papers and other official and private documents exist making the case for investment in youth and youth participation. But it is not enough for the following reasons:
· The natural environment, humanity, young people in general are in a bad place and every day that goes by is one day less for creating actual solutions to potential disaster.
· Millions of children and young people are dying or will die in this decade unnecessarily, and many of them will die in painful, even horrible ways and this is morally unacceptable
· Too much time, money, and effort is made “making the case”. Thousands of battles around the world are being fought every day to ensure that young people will ultimately really benefit from a few meager crumbs rescued painfully from the billions of dollars allocated to international aid, social services, etc.
· Thousands of organizations and tens of thousands of effective, smart, compassionate, decent people –young and adult— are active out there every day, today, right now, working with and for youth to solve some of humanity’s most pressing problems but their efforts are fragmented, dispersed, and sometimes distorted, undone, or reversed. Progress is painful, slow, costly, and not as efficient as it can, and should be, given the tools, resources, and knowledge available today.
· Too much effort is still spent on theory and not enough in action. The most valuable resources—including very scarce time and money spent by and also for empowering, connecting, and enabling young people to make their case before the powers that be—is wasted because so much effort still goes into “making the case” and agreeing on what the case is.
For these reasons, our programs seek to:
1. Provide a conceptual framework that will largely “make the case” on a substantive, tangible level in broad outlines.
2. Serve as a foundation for further enriching and consolidating the case through the direct and active participation of many different people, groups, networks, and movements who want to add, enrich, improve –or change through carefully reasoned proof— etc.
3. Serve as a roadmap for action
4. Free us all up to get beyond thinking and arguing on why Youth Participation is important and instead address key global problems and focus on action