Participation & Governance

The role of youth within global strategies for change - key messages from 5 leading figures

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In ‘Which structures really change the world?’ five leading figures from the world of politics, social movements, grassroots action and international NGOs gave their perspectives on the levers for policy change at national and international levels and the entry points for positive intervention in local communities. Before continuing with the blog series, we need to pause and reflect on their key messages and see how this takes us forward.

Jettisoning the top-down structures?

While there was a divergence of thought around top-down institutions and the possible influence of individuals within them, there was strong agreement on the challenges facing individuals and the need for action - in whatever form.
Though vastly different in their approaches, both Jeremy and Dr Badiul conclude the failure of top-down approaches in ‘providing better lives for most citizens’ and label them maintainers of ‘the existing power dynamics, inequalities, and injustices of the status quo.’

Both foresee social movements, from the grassroots to international digital campaigns, as drivers of monumental change.

Dr Baidul

“Achieving such lives would require social movements, engaging citizens from the bottom up, not only to assert their ‘rights’ to entitlements and freedom, but also to assume responsibility to take both individual and collective action to improve their own conditions.”

Jeremy Heimans“Movements are dynamic social structures that aggregate our voices, leverage and tap into institutional power while resisting the pressures to become institutionalized and static. Movements provide a model structure for organizing and coordinating ourselves in a way that is agile, lean, and responsive.”

Social movements, digital campaigning and online organising has certainly transformed the ability of individuals to influence - or at least register their protest - to crimes, injustices and unethical actions around the globe. But their presence has also been criticised with the rise of ‘clicktivism’ and which one columnist in The Guardian described as “to blame for alienating a generation of would-be activists with their ineffectual campaigns that resemble marketing.”

Change from within

Though Ravi and Kirsty didn’t disagree with the power of social movements and global action, they advocated change from within existing structures, be it elected politics or the tangled web of UN institutions.
Kirsty McNeil

“Electoral politics is slow and hard and often boring, but Europe’s young people simply can’t reverse the coordinated austerity which is costing them their futures without it.”

ravikarkara“…the greatest test will be how youth worldwide are recognised through their voice, action and partnership in the UN systems and beyond.”

But the greatest test will really be to what extent citizens are able to influence policy making at national government and international institution level, rather than just being recognised as process stakeholders or project beneficiaries.

While we are all able to disagree on the methods to achieve local, national or global policy change, each vehicle - be it elected politics, the UN, grassroots action, NGO lobby or digital platforms - is only the means to better policy and change in the lives of people around the world. Our collective sense of social responsibility and moral outrage is no longer limited by parliamentary constituencies or national borders, but the question as to which avenue for action is most effective remains unanswered.

The role of youth

In this series of exploration, we now want to explore how young people are interacting within global governance and in which ways they are engaging in international affairs to bring about the sweeping reform and change that their campaigns, outcome documents and worldwide events are calling for. The first piece offered a snapshot at the structures in place that offer a platform for action and change. Now we need to hear how young people and youth leaders are maximising these and leveraging the change they seek.

The next article will focus specifically on youth with a panel discussion hosted by the /participation team with youth leaders, activists and organisations around the world each with differing resources, formalities and perspectives on the process of change. We’ll be asking:

  • How are young peopleorganisingthemselves, or being organised, within the context of global governance?
  • How can youth be most effective in achieving change on global policy?
  • Should young people continue going to global youth events?
  • Is representation an issue for youth movements and organisations?
  • What does the youth movement need to do differently to become more influential in international decision making?

Look out for the article in the coming weeks.