At the "Youth Assembly" (3-4 September), a forum leading up to the CIVICUS World Assembly, young activists, engaged in social and civic justice from across the globe, came together to share their views on a new “social contract.”
Similarly to the World Assembly, the Youth Assembly was structured around three tracks: (1) Changing Nations through Citizens, (2) Building Partnerships for Social Innovation, and (3) Redefining Global Governance.
These tracks were addressed through various workshops and panel discussions, covering issues such as young people’s contribution to promoting creative action, campaigns, and movement-building; the use of social media in youth mobilization; social entrepreneurship; and the promotion of youth leadership in global governance, to name just a few examples.
During the first track (1), youth activists discussed their motivations to take part actively in civic participation. In the more “comfortable” societies – societies that are less characterized by political tensions, high levels of inequality, poverty, and other daily challenges that can limit civic engagement – youth seem to be more attracted by international development problems than by problems close to home. One explanation given was that the latter type of problems is less exotic and utopian in nature. In principle, youth seem to engage in activism because they are encouraged by their surroundings; strive for positive results; or were shocked by what they saw or experienced at a particular occasion (e.g. through travel). It is thus important to inspire youth for a particular cause by transmitting positive messages, including on the reasons behind social mobilization and engagement, and to keep them informed and involved in every step of the process. Participants further highlighted the need to revalorize youth engagement at the local and community level, as the causes closer to home are as urgent and relevant as those at the international level and deserve similar support.
During another session of this track, youth participants discussed the benefits of asset-based community development (ABCD) over needs-based community development. The main advantage is that the ABCD-method takes a more positive angle towards development as it builds on what people already have, rather than what they still need. By building on the skills and strengths of young people, this method empowers them, and consequently, triggers social change at the local level. Youth mobilization through social media was also explored, as participants identified both its strengths and its limitations. Whereas social media is useful for sharing information and mobilizing people for particular causes and at different levels, it does not yet reach every layer of the population due to reasons such as illiteracy and the digital divide. Another limitation is that social media is used for sharing an ongoing flow of information, which can be so overwhelming that specific causes get lost within that flow. To conclude, participants emphasized that mobilization through social media has to stay connected to “real people” (face-to-face interaction) and that local contexts should be taken into account.
The second track (2) promoted the benefits of alliance-building between different types of stakeholders. Partnerships with governments and the private sector could support civil society efforts to work towards a common cause and help identify new funding opportunities. Young social entrepreneurs noted that an innovative, relevant and practical code of conduct for partnerships should incorporate cultural practices; enhance cross-sector communication; and leverage a common value (the world’s well-being) as a unifying factor in social and business interactions. In discussing key success factors for social entrepreneurs, participants outlined the use of complementary teams, external mentors, gender mainstreaming, and global and online networks.
During another session under this track, youth discussed their views on international cooperation and their place in it. This session made clear that youth was of the opinion that a new development paradigm was needed that was based on common values (such as respect, altruism, honesty and humility); common criteria (transparency, justice, equality, mutual benefit and sustainability); and the real needs of the people. They suggested that civil society organizations would better incorporate local people’s real needs when starting a project (e.g. by holding a survey in advance to gather the right information in this respect). Moreover, in this new paradigm, youth should be considered as agents for change that need to be given more space to become more efficient in influencing governments, and in working with other youth. To conclude, the second track recognized the role that new technologies can play in establishing and sustaining new and existing networks and partnerships for development. As in the session on social media under track one, however, participants recalled that direct human interactions remained essential to build trust among individuals.
An important challenge for enhancing youth participation in global institutions is overcoming young people’s perception that they do not have enough influence (power) or qualifications to effect change, as they are not given enough engagement opportunities in such institutions; are insufficiently seen as credible actors; and lack access to relevant information. In an attempt to redefine global governance according to their vision (track 3), youth participants proposed a series of concrete actions marked by a willingness to increase their audibility in the international area. Recommendations made include the creation of a fund entirely run by youth for youth projects or organizations; the development of one unified youth movement to gain more visibility and become a greater force at the global level; the use of social media to improve public information; finding ways to reach out to those without Internet access; the promotion of youth leadership over youth participation; and the creation of a databank featuring key development issues and their solutions. On the political level, some participants called for a bottom-up approach in UN processes, in which young people could play a role. Others recommended strengthening the political dimension of civic assemblies, for instance publishing reports, launching petitions, or inviting parliament members to meetings. The participants also called for new economic policies, asking international organizations (such as the IMF) to cancel the debt of developing countries and to consider the “degrowth model” as a potential solution to the problems generated by growth today.
The Youth Assembly concluded with a “Youth Synthesis Forum,” an activity session aimed at gathering and structuring the main ideas of the Youth Assembly in order to deliver a clear message to the World Assembly. The Forum touched upon themes such as poverty, youth employment, education, economic growth, transparency, youth in politics and decision-making, and the funding of youth initiatives. It recalled the majority of the above-mentioned recommendations, but also gave rise to new ideas and allowed participants to reinforce certain key messages. Youth representatives, some of whom described themselves as “audacious rebels for sustainable change,” were of the opinion that better agricultural management, enhanced fair trade, and good governance were essential for tackling poverty and food security. In addition, growth (or progress) was perceived as something that goes beyond economics, and also involves psychological benefits, such as happiness and success. According to various participants, access to inclusive universal education could contribute to the latter, and schools could improve their impact if they concentrated more on helping orient their students towards overall well-being.
During the Forum, the young participants further underlined that youth should have a secured and active place in international bodies and decision-making processes. Only then, they continued, can real sustainable solutions and State policies be developed that will bring social progress and take youth preoccupations (e.g. the issue of youth unemployment) into consideration. The participants underscored that young people are well placed to lead innovation in social change, among others by using new technologies that help connect stakeholders (such as youth movements from different parts of the world).
In terms of assistance, youth representatives called for financial support of their development initiatives and for a better connection between grassroots initiatives and donors. To enhance the transparency and accountability of their activities, they proposed scaling up their knowledge of finance and basic accounting tools, as well as using free technologies such as “Google docs” to share financial information.
Finally, participants affirmed that the World Assembly was a vital opportunity for networking, mutual learning and mobilization among global civil society. The outcomes of the Youth Assembly are part of a larger consultation process, initiated by CIVICUS, that should lead to a “definition of a new social contract,” and that will be presented as a post-2015 joint action plan in 2015.