Ambassadors and young people talk about meaningful youth participation
Worldwide, there are more than 1.8 billion young people – the highest number ever. In particular, countries in Africa and the Middle East have young populations. Ambassadors from these regions talked to the Dutch Ambassador for Youth, Education and Employment, Jurriaan Middelhoff, and various youth representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about how they can apply meaningful youth participation in their own context.
During the 2023 Ambassadors' Conference (March 27 – March 30), Dutch representatives from all over the world came back to The Hague. The conference provided a perfect opportunity for ambassadors, Dutch youth representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Jurriaan Middelhoff, the new ambassador for Youth, Education and Employment to get to know each other at a personal level.
Youth at Heart strategy
Jurriaan opened the lunch session with an introduction to the Youth at Heart strategy. Since 2020, the Netherlands has had a strategy for youth participation and is therefore leading the way in that respect at international level. 'More and more countries are following the Dutch example', Jurriaan explains. For example, the European Union recently drew up a youth strategy which is similar to the Dutch Youth at Heart strategy.
The Ministry also has a youth advisory committee to share ideas on the development policy. The members are all under the age of 30 and come from nine different countries in Africa and the Middle East. The young people have already shared ideas on ten policy documents, including the foreign trade and development cooperation memorandum. Following a successful 20-month pilot, new committee members are now being recruited.
The Youth, Education and Employment team is committed to meaningful participation, and the issues which are important to young people. From The Hague, they also offer guidelines to the embassies. 'Youth participation isn't a theme in itself, but a perspective that we must include in all our policy themes, including at the missions,' Jurriaan explains. 'We provide a youth participation toolkit, and the missions then decide how they can use those tools in practice.'
After a short introduction, Jurriaan opened the floor so that the ambassadors could ask questions and share experiences. A number of ambassadors indicated that they had already set up their own local youth advisory committee or are in the process of doing so. In Nigeria, which is home to more than 100 million young people, the embassy is, for example, collaborating with a local youth advisory committee.
The ambassadors were also pleased to have the chance to ask questions of youth representatives on how to engage young people who are more difficult to reach, how to ensure that young people are involved in a meaningful way, and whether the youth representatives believe that they can truly make a difference.
The most important advice the youth representatives were able to give was that the ambassadors should start talking to local youth organisations and should not underestimate the innovative and creative ideas that young people can come up with. The short lunch session left many ambassadors keen to do more, and they exchanged contact details, so that they can continue talking with youth representatives at a later date.
Meaningful youth participation
The importance of meaningful youth participation was emphasised several times during the session. As Jurriaan summarised, 'Young people mustn't just be involved so that you can tick a box to say that someone of a certain age was present. Instead, it's important that young people are included throughout the entire process.'