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Youth: A driving force for change but a neglected group in our society

Last Friday I sat down with an influential figure who told me about several initiatives he is leading to increase youth involvement in international policy. Youth, he said, play a critical role in driving change. They have been at the forefront of every major revolution, advocacy campaign and movement for social change - yet, they are rarely incorporated in the development of new policies. Instead they are ignored, their contribution overlooked and their ability to contribute to progress denied. We fail, as a global society, to maximize the impact we can have when addressing major global issues because we do not effectively include youth advocates in the conversation.

I couldn't help but notice that as he said this, a poster of Malala Yousafzai, now a worldwide figure of pacifism, female empowerment and education for girls, hung behind him.

This was someone worth talking to, I realized. He is someone who believes that individuals like myself can actually make a difference, that what we have to say and what we can do is not only valuable, but essential in order to effectively promote change and find solutions to international issues. He has faith that our generation is more than just a bunch of spoiled, lazy individuals who think they are entitled to have anything and everything they want. He is someone who will listen.

In my youth and time spent in the field of journalism and international studies, I have met a number of influential figures who have played an important role in promoting change. They have told me stories about their work, their experiences and how they got to where they are today. I listened intently and respectfully because I believed they all had something important to say, but rarely did they ask me in return what I thought or what I have would like to see happen. Because of my youth and lack of experience, I couldn't possibly have something useful to contribute. Or so it seemed.

You would think that as drivers of change, as leaders of revolutions and movements that have significantly affected every corner of the world, youth would also be included in developing new policies. Yet in most regions, it is quite the opposite. After the movement subsides and the leaders are elected, our voices are ignored and our society suffers greatly for it.

I have seen my peers in action. I have watched them build houses, start companies and overcome language barriers to teach children from other countries how to manage revolutionary innovations. I have seen them tirelessly travel around the world to promote peace, cultural understanding and an end to environmental destruction with motivation that would exhaust most individuals.

There is no negating the fact that they played an important role in driving change and finding solutions. And there is no negating the fact that their youth helped them in doing so.

Thus, I stand beside my new friend in supporting the incorporation of youth in developing international policies. I will work alongside him, as a peer, to gain the recognition we deserve for our ability to act as leaders in society and find solutions to major global issues. I will not stop until we are seen as equals who have something important to say and contribute.

Comments

JaniceW's picture

Incorporating youth voices

I, and I am sure many, appreciate you raising this topic. Today’s youth are connected in unprecedented ways, representing a global generation faced with many harsh realities, a portion of which we were barely aware of only a generation ago. I have worked with and witnessed young people pushing back for their futures and rising up in beautiful movements around the world.

Your generation has an opportunity to make big changes and I encourage you to collectively challenge the status quo. Demand a seat at the table, not as inexperienced observers (such as in the practice of youth councils) but as people who bring fresh eyes, insights, and ideas to the problems.

I have no doubt your generation will move mountains -- you have the tools to make change, and now must find the will to organize and take action.

courtmiller03's picture

Here here Janice!

Thank you for your support and encouragement Janice! Sometimes it feels like neglect, other times it feels like a great deal of responsibility weighing down on our shoulders - both can be eliminated if we work together to amplify our role in society and receive the recognition and respect we need to maximize the affect we have on decision making.

I appreciate your input and for appreciating the value youth add to the conversation.

It is my great hope that we will utilize the resources and tools we have been given to move such mountains.

Courtney Michelle Miller
Digital Communications Strategist and Multimedia Producer
http://courtneymichellemiller.org

Wendyiscalm's picture

I love what you are

I love what you are doing.

Thank you for your article. It is so important what you write. I am sure you get discouraged sometimes but you are making a difference. Sort of like the butterfly effect and you are a wonderful role model.

I love that you encouraged so strongly in your article for more people to listen to and take seriously the youth of the world. Young people have so many ideas, such energy and you are so right that we need to include them and their thoughts and ideas much more.

Thank you again for this article.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ikirimat's picture

Demographic Dividend or Burden?

I agree 100% with you. Just like in Uganda young people constituent over two thirds of its population. We are in what is called 'demographic window of opportunity' which requires the country to either invest in the youth and harness the 'demographic dividend' or miss this opportunity and suffer the 'demographic burden'. So i agree that youth are a force worth investing in and partnering with if we have to see development.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

I wonder if setting up real

I wonder if setting up real small youth groups to discuss and pick some one thing they will do together to forward the youth movement would be a good idea. They could pick the activity themselves, plan it and execute it. It could be as simple as having a letter writing night where they write to a certain person in power and mail it. But this at least would give them an action rather than just talking, they would feel they are contributing AND eventually people will pay attention because there are all these little youth groups around. They could even compete with each other for the best idea.

Just an idea.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

We're working to develop an opportunity to bring youth advocates to the forefront of discussion with leaders from around the world. There are a number of small groups already taking place among youth in every region, but we need them to be included in the main conversation.

As someone who was involved in discussions surrounding global issues and MDGs from a young age, I have seen youth advocates in action. I have heard their thoughts and ideas and it was these group settings that motivated me to take things a step further. They showed me that youth have a significant contribution to make - as you ladies have so wonderfully acknowledged and supported - and that they deserve to be heard as equals.

We cannot maximize our impact in decision making and finding solutions without being directly involved in the development and implementation of international policies.

Courtney Michelle Miller
Digital Communications Strategist and Multimedia Producer
http://courtneymichellemiller.org

Wendyiscalm's picture

You are amazing and thanks

You are amazing and thanks for sharing.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

courtmiller03's picture

Likewise

Thanks for listening and showing such enthusiasm and support!

Courtney Michelle Miller
Digital Communications Strategist and Multimedia Producer
http://courtneymichellemiller.org

Pushpa Achanta's picture

Young minds and hearts

Thanks dear Courtney for your viewpoint.

Let us remember that youth are the present and future symbolizing reality and hope. Ignoring or undervaluing the young is foolish and shows the egocentricity of the 'old', 'experienced' lot.

Warmth,
Pushpa

Greengirl's picture

Very Important and Timely Piece

I like the idea of engaging and integrating the opinions of young people in international policy development processes and forums. I reason too that the same approach will be needed at country levels. If only this can happen in Nigeria, I am sure that a significant number of problems bedeviling the country will become a thing of the past. I say this because politicians would rather have the youth enlisted among their army of thugs than providing a platform that will ensure that their intellectual capabilities are constructively tapped into.

I admire your efforts and I am sure it will yield positive results.

Greengirl

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