During the quieter summer time, we have updated our Structures, Spaces & Places page, which provides details of the regional forums, global movements and international processes that young people can participate in. Each of the 28 profiles has a full description, links to social media, as well as the outcome documents, communiqués and event reports. While much of our work has focused on the global trends, the academic literature and the philosophical debates surrounding participation, the Structures, Spaces & Places page, focuses on the immediate avenues for participation.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, a significant amount of our work has explored the current landscape for young people’s participation. Here’s a reminder of what we found our recently:
- As part of the Case for Space initiative, we discovered – with the help of young researchers around the world – that informal networks are increasingly the spaces where young people invest their energies, rather than in formal structures such as youth councils or parliaments. They want to see change, not discussion, and disassociate themselves when power is not genuinely shared.
- In our recent Working Paper on children and young people’s participation, we considered the contradiction between adult and youth expectations: adults seek individual character change as a result of youth participation, while young people seek radical social change that improves directly on their lives.
- And in the forthcoming Youth Development Index, we discuss how young people’s political participation has changed – and continues to change – and how the environment for youth activism is increasingly constrained, restricted and repressive.
Throughout the research process, we noticed some themes emerging. These reflections are rough, instantaneous and unscientific – but hopefully give an upshot into what participation looks like practically.
- Less generic youth events – When we first created this page in 2013, global participation focused more on big, one-off events, such as the Global Youth Forum (Bali, 2013), the World Youth Conference (Colombo, 2014), and the World Bank Youth Summits (2013;2014). In 2016, the number of events is less and is more focused on institutions, such as The Commonwealth, Y7/Y20, or the European Commission. Events are more specific in their approach, such as the ECOSOC Youth Forum as an accountability platform for the SDGs on youth or the World Urban Youth Assembly focusing on the challenges of urbanisation. This saves flying young people – often the same young people – around the world for a conference – but could also signify that the rhetoric and investment in youth has peaked. Certainly there is less money, but does that mean less commitment?
- Cross-sectoral collapse? – In a post Post-2015 world, are we seeing a return to more thematically specific participation mechanisms? The Sustainable Development Goal process saw a great “coming together” of varying sectors – along with a bunch of generic youth conferences. Now, it seems that the main participation structures are returning to their main focus: the CIVICUS YAT focusing on youth civil society; the Major Groups for Children & Youth on climate change, the environment, and biodiversity; the Advisory Council on Youth at the Council of Europe on institutionalising youth programmes and financing. Is this good or bad? At this point, we don’t know.
- The voice of young Africans – There is – at best – confusion over who is the functioning and legitimate regional platform for Africa. We have listed the Pan-African Youth Union as the regional platform based on discussions with experts in the region, as well as their recent cooperation agreement with the Commonwealth Youth Council. However, numerous platforms are competing for influence, such as the African Union Youth Council, which risks a lack of collaboration and influence as a region on the world stage. It is encouraging to see the Commonwealth Secretariat playing an active role in the region – a stronger African platform will be good for everyone – just as they have in the Caribbean, which has a Regional Youth Council, CARICOM Youth Ambassadors, and a new Youth Policy Institute.
- Lost continents – In contrast to the competing organisations across Africa, the regions of Asia and South America seem to lack any coordinated regional youth platform. Though we have listed the Asian Youth Council as a platform, we are not convinced that it remains active or representative of young people or youth organisations across the region. ICMYO, the global coordinating group for youth organisations, also lists the Asia Youth and Students Association, but little information can be found. For South America, we list FLAJ, also an ICMYO member, but we could trace very little information online to demonstrate that they remain an active body across the region. These are huge regions – over 750 million young people live in Asia alone – and the absence of a strong regional platform fails to ensure youth issues are prioritised. Unsurprisingly, Africa and Asia are the regions with the lowest number of countries that have a national youth policy.
- Renewing the sector – In this round of revisions we took down a number of long-standing structures: the World Youth Congress; Global Changemakers; World Assembly of Youth; and UNEP Tunza. Though these organisations and events pre-dated the rapid influx of youth structures, events and processes, they appear either inactive, have no recent or upcoming events, or have morphed into a different type of organisation. Though it is sad to see organisations go – especially ones that have contributed so much – civil society does not need dinosaurs to stick around. Rather it needs constant change to keep apace with today’s young people that responds to the way they want to engage. The loss of organisations allows something new and fresh to be started in its place – such as the Nexus Youth Summit which connects high-skilled young innovators with philanthropists to accelerate social change through technology and entrepreneurs.
For those young people who have the time, knowledge, interest and access to engage, there are spaces for participation on a range of topics – from civil society and social innovation to climate change and biodiversity. There are philosophical, theoretical and practical challenges concerning youth participation – and we talk about it a lot – but there remain numerous opportunities for young people to be involved at the regional and international level.