NL MFA Welcomes New Cohort of Youth Advisory Committee

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NL MFA) is thrilled to announce the addition of a new cohort to its esteemed Youth Advisory Committee (YAC). Following a rigorous selection process from over 2,000 applications, committee members from Burkina Faso, Iraq, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Jordan have been chosen. In a video introduction, these diverse and talented individuals present themselves, ready to embark on a journey of shaping policies and bringing the youth perspective to the forefront.

Youth Advisory Committee

The new YAC

Comprising both experienced senior members from the first cohort and newly recruited junior members, the new YAC forms a dynamic team primed for innovative collaborations. Before diving into their policy work over the summer, the committee will undergo an onboarding training program in May and June. NL MFA policy officers will engage with the YAC members to explore new policy questions, paving the way for fruitful partnerships. 

The Journey So Far

Originating from the Youth at Heart strategy, the international YAC has been in operation since November 2021. After a successful pilot phase of 20 months, the project has received a multi-annual follow-up, demonstrating its efficacy in shaping policies that resonate with young people. The National Youth Council, responsible for coordinating the project, has utilized the lessons learned during the pilot to enhance collaboration between the YAC and policy officers. A comprehensive roadmap has been created, offering valuable insights and tips on effective cooperation with YAC members.

The YAC has actively engaged in seven long-term assignments called "tracks" and participated in numerous short-term engagements called "sprints” during the pilot phase. The long-term tracks included topics such as Prospects II (a partnership focusing on refugees and forced displacement), the new Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Higher Education programme and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). These initiatives provided the committee members with opportunities to offer valuable insights and recommendations to NL MFA policy officers.

TVET and Higher Education Programme

Policy Officer Theodore Klouvas was one of the first pioneers to cooperate with the YAC in the pilot phase. After exploring different areas of collaboration, his team and the YAC ended up focusing on the design of the new TVET and Higher Education Programme, the scholarships part in particular. The critique of the YAC members was that the majority of global scholarships are elitist in nature as they do not cater to the needs of the majority of young people. Collectively, the YAC and Theodore came up with the research question: “How to democratize scholarships?”  The YAC delivered a paper which recommendations, which was used by Theodore and his in team in the design in the programme.

Working with the YAC has been an interesting experience for him. “Youth are not homogeneous and neither is the group. Putting different cultures together in one digital group forces them and us to keep an eye on cultural differences and perceptions.” Besides overcoming some cultural differences, Theodore stresses that having young people actively involved in the problem setting, policy formulations, scenario analysis and decision making process is crucial as, in his words: “We cannot talk about them without them. We should encourage colleagues inside the ministry and also at out representations to actively seek - and if possible setup - such structures and get their view, advice and opinions.”

“Having active youth people involved is crucial (…) We cannot talk about them without them.”

Theodore is hopeful about the role that youth can play in shaping social and political realities: “ In the past 10 years I have worked with youth in Africa and the Middle East I have seen the vocality of youth increasing tremendously and that makes me hopeful. With the right guidance and support they can align and draft tangible solutions for their own challenges. I am a firm believer that if they are part of the process then they will also be custodians of the execution of it. Various examples illustrate this, from the revolution in Sudan where young people took up the lead to overthrow the leader, to laws and regulations regarding online sexual harassment in Gambia and Senegal initiated by youth leaders.

The Jordanian Sinan Abderrahim Assaid was one of the first members of the Youth Advisory Committee. He collaborated with Theodore on the policy questions of opportunities in higher education and TVET programs. “As the focal point for this task, I played an active role in the discussion and decision-making process. I organized multiple YAC meetings to discuss and research the matter thoroughly. By engaging with fellow committee members and conducting in-depth analysis, we were able to identify key considerations and potential solutions.”

“ Firsthand knowledge of our economies, cultures, and religions enriched the decision-making process within the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs”

Sinan will his work for NL MFA in the coming year as a senior YAC member. Reflecting on their contribution to the work of NL MFA, Sinan states that “the work of the YAC provided important insights into the realities and dynamics of our countries. This firsthand knowledge of our economies, cultures, and religions enriched the decision-making process within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our deep dives into policy matters with the officers allowed us to combine technical knowledge with contextual insights, uncovering hidden risks and offering innovative solutions.”

Sexual Health Education Initiative

Another track that exemplifies the importance of YAC’s context specific knowledge the Sexual Health Education (SHE) initiative. The YAC critically analyzed the annual plan for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and contributed provided their opinions on the topic through videos to the MFA colleagues working on CSHR, SRHR & CSE. The final product of their collaboration was the development of the CSE toolkit, a valuable resource for promoting comprehensive sexual health education.

The YAC ensured that the toolkit incorporated insights from young people within their respective regions, amplifying their voices and making the contribution even more impactful. Engaging with youths in their home countries, the YAC formulated relevant questions to foster meaningful discussions and inclusion. Policy officer Lizelotte de Rijk cooperated with the YAC on CSE :“They have such ambition for the themes they work for and, in the case of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), work on very on a difficult and contested topic in a complex context. I experienced mutual learning and had a lot of respect for the way they work.”

“This experience definitely made me realize that when young people and adults work together as a team, a lot can be accomplished.”

For senior YAC member Daisy Kandole from Uganda, the assignment was unforgettable. Daisy: “As the focal person for this track, I enjoyed coordinating my fellow peers in bringing together not only their thoughts, but also the thoughts of young people within their youth networks on topics like male involvement in sexual and reproductive health, digitalization as a means of creating awareness, and the importance of pleasure based sexual education to mention but a few. This assignment was also very fulfilling because we worked hand in hand with the policy officers to shape the document in terms of content and even design, what I would call the embodiment of youth adult partnerships. This experience definitely made me realize that when young people and adults work together as a team, a lot can be accomplished.”

Looking Ahead

The newly established YAC will start its work over the summer. Sinan’s advice to the new junior members: “Embrace the diversity of opinions and ideas within the committee and the ministry. Maintain open-mindedness, actively listen, and contribute your insights with transparency. Intellectual discourse is the catalyst for progress and positive change. Dare to challenge existing paradigms and propose bold ideas. Diplomats have to be politically correct and diplomatic, you don't. You are a young person here to help with creating global lasting social impact! So speak up! Go for it!”

Daisy also recommends the new members to seize every opportunity that is given: “NL MFA has, through the Youth at Heart Strategy, proven that creating a supportive environment for young people to tap into their strengths. I have been a part of this journey, and because of it, I am positive that I have contributed immensely to seeing youth ideas incorporated into policy change. Therefore, rise up, take the chance, and use it to change the narrative by driving youth led change across the world!”

The YAC members are scheduled to visit the Netherlands in August 2023 for a week-long program, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the ministry and forge stronger connections. Throughout the upcoming year, 5-8 tracks will be completed on various themes and policy subjects proposed by NL MFA or YAC members. Additionally, there are opportunities for one-time activities where the YAC can provide valuable support to the Ministry.