“We are listened to, but not heard”… How many times should we notice this assumption on global news before we, adults, decide to take action? Your Public Value has launched a two-year project to “hear” young people and accompany them while they shape the future of our planet, our future.

Caesar Kaba Kogoziga, is a youth activist from Ghana and a member of  the Youth Public Value Voices Project Team. He shares his thoughts here, following a recorded discussion with young people from Africa and Europe.

Meaningful Youth Participation and Engagement is a concept that has become very important in the global development space, and it is believed to be synonymous to sustainable development. For decades, multilateral International Organizations such as the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) have been championing the active involvement of young people in decision making, implementation and evaluation of developmental initiatives at every level across the globe.

Considering that the current global population is the youngest the world has ever seen, youth participation has become critical more than ever. However though, young people have demonstrated their readiness and wiliness to be actively involved in shaping the future, they continue to face challenges in engaging institutions and persons in authority. Even with the growing youth population, limited opportunities exist for young people to translate their youthful exuberance and innovation into real actions to help find solutions to Global Problems, especially in Africa where nearly half of the world’s young people live. Access to safe spaces and opportunities to be part of and influence decisions and have their voices heard and honored continue to be a struggle; hindering progress to meaningful youth participation. Aside that, the few young people who have had the privilege to air their views continue to lament the lack of action based on their views.

Your Public Value launched a global initiative, Youth Public Value Voices, to hear the needs of young people in their own words and listen to how they envisage solutions to current challenges. Through these interviews, a platform has been created to enable young people to share their ideas, opinions and visions with their peers, older generations, experts and policy makers. A key revelation in these interviews so far has been that, young people are making a general assertion that “we are listened to, but not heard.” To explore this claim further, a discussion was held with a group of African and European Young Leaders.

How relatable is this assertion “we are listened to, but not heard” among African and European Youth?

Generally, young people understand the need to participate in shaping the future of the globe and are making efforts at different levels to have their voices heard. However, there is general dissatisfaction among young people about the readiness of the older generation to engage and put to action the numerous innovations they bring on board. According to the youth, it has become discouraging and demeaning to see the older generation creating the platforms for Young People to express their views and end up not taking these views seriously. Kamil, a European Youth Leader says, “that is why they (young people) are so hesitant to express their views, because they don’t really see true change” based on the views of young people. This occurrence can be described as is a symbolic performance, where leaders want to be seen as involving the youth rather than actually doing so. According to Victoire de Marans, “The future we are going to live in will be shaped by actions we are taking now. So ignoring the youth demands and excluding youth from getting a grasp on this and concretely influencing it (policy) is completely unfair.” Elsa Roudot also lamented that “they keep telling us; we want more youth, we want more youth; but once we reach out to them, we are not taken into consideration.”

Most of these young people shared at least one personal experience of a situation where their ideas and proposals have been ignored by the older generation. Anna Igelstrom, after sharing a frustrating experience where she had to opt out after realizing that her participation in the European Youth Parliament to develop very wonderful concepts and proposals received no action, also shared a positive example of her involvement in a youth project in the university which focused on racism and anti-Semitism. According to her, their actions had attention from political leaders with some sponsorship. She added that “It actually felt great, because we could notice that the politicians are actually listening.” Elsa Roudot also shared a story of how 150 people the French government selected to participate in a citizens’ assembly to find 150 solutions to environmental issues, only to be told to go back home and talk to their local authorities about the solutions they just invented. According to her it was really frustrating, as there is no point “having 150 people to come all the way to Paris to get solutions, only to be told that they should go back after doing the job to plead more”.

Some of the youth believe the unwillingness of global leaders to commit resources to investing in the ideas young people express is the cause of this situation. Regardless of the frustrations shared, the youth still made a brave call by pushing for the response to go beyond ‘hearing’ young people to involving them in seeing through the ideas that they propose. As stated by Noha Kawanna, an Egyptian youth engagement specialist living in Berlin, “when the youth suggest a project or an idea on how to solve a situation, they must also be part of the people who are changing it. We want to be engaged, and that is how we can feel connected to our community and feel the responsibility towards it.”

What would be a concrete sign that leaders and key players on the global scene have heard your voice?

There is disparity in what the youth considers as a satisfactory level of Youth involvement as compared to what the older generation sees as meaningful youth Participation. But what will be a satisfactory sign that the voices of young people are being heard?

In relation to the environment and climate change which is very important to the youth, Victoire de Marans believes that the first concrete sign that the voices of young people calling for measures to mitigate Climate change are being heard is to see leaders “act within the recommendations of the scientific community; because those are really tangible”. They also want to see young people integrated into the political system to take decisions at the national level by creating a political platform for the youth. Brian, a youth activist from Kenya, also stated that, “integrating young people into leadership platforms so as to impact social change into their peers and the world in general” would be a concrete sign that their voices are heard. Comparing the average age of African presidents to the extremely youthful African population, there must be more opportunities for young people to contest and win political power and take center stage in decision making.

What could be done for young people to get access to the decision-making process? What structures and mechanisms should be put in place to create an effective platform for youth engagement and action?

The most important action that will enhance youth participation is empowering young people with adequate knowledge and skills to confront systems, change norms and contribute effective innovations to development. As advocacy continues for the creation of proper mechanisms and structures to ensure the meaningful participation of young people in decision making, the youth believe that demonstrations are still a very important and powerful tool for young people to get attention. According to them, demonstrations “allow you to actually determine how many people, real people, are with you with a particular concern.” The youth also demanded that a platform be created to track progress. According to them, “it can be really difficult to track what the politicians are doing concretely. So we have to try to see what they are doing so that we can hold them accountable to their actions, or non-actions”, Victoire de Marans stated.

There was also a general consensus that story telling is the best way to communicate one’s feeling and get other people to relate with the trends of youth engagement. The participants, therefore, proposed the generation of a network of young people on different platforms that allows them to share their stories with the world, and possibly get attention and action based on those stories. According to them, since visuals communicate better, the posting of photos and videos with hashtags on issues that are of great concern to young people could help bring about change.

Can youth voices be heard the same way on both continents?

Clearly, access to information, education, empowerment opportunities and engagement platforms has been enhanced across the globe through digitalization. However, the unequal access to technology and internet across Europe and Africa continues to pose a serious challenge to young people. The struggle of the four (4) other African youth, who failed to to participate in the discussion because of poor internet connection, also sparked a huge discussion.  The moderator, a global Youth Mentor and Coach, Leah Black, stated that Internet connect has become a major obstacle in youth participation, especially in Africa. She demanded that this situation be tackled immediately.

In conclusion, the youth need effective channels of communication as well as respect for their opinions. Though opportunities for meaningful youth participation and action are limited, the youth believe that “We have ideas; we have solutions that are not difficult to implement; and all we need is help and attention.” In the absence of effective structures for engagement, these young leaders cautioned their peers not to compare the results of their actions. They were clear that “not all ideas can become global movements, but your ideas can get results someday.”

Young people continue to demand more action. To achieve this, there must be a systemic change to create proper structures for youth engagement. World leaders must appreciate that the voices of young people matter. They are the innovative bridge to the future, and must, therefore, be given a chance.

Listen to Caesar Kaba Kogoziga when he explains what public value means to him and why youth should demand accountability and action.

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