‘It’s important that young people have a seat at the table, not just to be heard, but to be listened to’

There are currently 1.8 billion young people in the world – the highest number ever. It’s projected that by 2030, there will be at least two billion young people seeking work and other opportunities to create a bright future for themselves. To give young people a voice in its policy processes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the National Youth Council, has set up the Youth Advisory Committee. Four committee members – Kevin Eustatia from the Netherlands, Salim Menaceur from Algeria, Daisy Kandole from Uganda and Grace Aguil Garang from South Sudan – talked about meaningful youth participation during the event ‘One Year Youth at Heart’.

One Year Youth at Heart event
Kevin, Salim, Grace and Daisy shared their thoughts on meaningful youth participation during the event ‘One Year Youth at Heart’. (Kevin at the table, Salim on screen)

The vast majority of the population in the Middle East and Africa is young (<35). This presents both opportunities and challenges. In shaping policy and programmes for these regions, significant benefits are possible by addressing the specific opportunities and challenges that young people face. ‘Sustainable development is possible only if we give young people a platform,’ Daisy says. ‘It’s important that young people have a seat at the table, not just to be heard, but to be listened to. For their opinion to be taken in high regards, to be well considered, and for them to be respected.’

The Youth Advisory Committee

Through the new Youth Advisory Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aims to include young people’s views, concerns and creative ideas in shaping, implementing and evaluating development policy. This will ensure their voices are heard in decisions and processes concerning policies and strategies that also, and especially, affect young people, such as programmes on education and youth employment.

Kevin and the other eight committee members were chosen from among more than 800 candidates. He is the only member from the Netherlands. The other committee members are from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, South Sudan and Uganda. The ministry and the National Youth Council jointly selected the members based on diversity and geographical distribution. Committee members range in age from 19 to 27.

The committee’s role

The committee is a pilot project and is currently slated to run for a period of 20 months. The committee works with the ministry on a number of different themes. Every few months they will cooperate with the ministry on different themes, ranging from youth entrepreneurship to sexual health education, to policies related to digitalisation. ‘We aim to empower and bring all topics that youth concern to the table,’ Salim explains.   

Individual committee members can also propose themes. For many members education is an important topic. ‘The focus should be on education’, according to Grace. ‘Not just on formal education, but also including informal education. Education that empowers young people to actually have value when they take a seat at the table.’ In November the committee met for the first time. During these (online) meetings the committee discusses ideas and projects, reaches agreements on new themes, and issues advisory opinions on the themes discussed.

Meaningful youth participation

‘The difference between meaningful youth participation and just youth participation is really important’, Kevin explains. ‘We see that young people are invited to the table. But that after the doors close and the negotiations start, the words of young people are never said again. With meaningful youth participation young people are actually at the table making those decisions. And not only at the table, but in a position of power to make these decisions.’  

Grace agrees with Kevin. ‘We don’t want young people to just take and occupy the seats. But rather have a meaningful engagement, and meaningful participation, and meaningful involvement in the decisions that we make.’

Representing youth worldwide

‘I believe the Youth Advisory Committee is a stepping stone. A chance for me not to speak on behalf of just Daisy, but to speak on behalf of every young person out there. Not just in Uganda, but all over the world’. Daisy touches on a point that all members seem to agree on: youth is a diverse group of people, but there are global issues that all young people have in common. Kevin: ‘For example climate change, job lost, education. These are nationwide, countrywide, and worldwide issues. It’s not only nine members, but we represent a whole community of young people.’