Interview with Daisy Kandole, former member of the Youth Advisory Committee

Youth at Heart is all over the world, both within the work of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and beyond.

This interview series gives a spotlight to relevant youth leaders across the world. What are their experiences, their recent thoughts, and their future plans? The first interview in this series is with Daisy Kandole, a former member of the Youth Advisory Committee. 

Youth Advisory Committee
Youth Advisory Committee 2023-2024, with Daisy Kandole on the front row on the far left

Outside of the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), what do you do in everyday life?

“By profession, I’m a social worker; by passion, I’m a sexual reproductive health and rights advocate and activist. I work with an organization called Reproductive Health Uganda, which operates on a national level here in Uganda.

Our focus is to provide access to sexual reproductive health and right (SRHR) services to young people. We also look at other marginalized communities: people in rural areas, people with HIV, adolescent girls and women, etc.

With the organization, I support youth programming while working as a project officer for the PROMISE program. A lot of my work revolves around young people, policies surrounding them, and not leaving young people behind when crafting solutions that relate to them.

All in all, I try to put young people at the center of different developmental stages and policy creation regarding SRHR in Uganda. In a nutshell, that’s what I do.”

When did you first hear about the YAC and why did you decide to join?

“I only saw the application three days before the deadline. Luckily, my organization was already related in some sense to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), so that helped to get the vacancy on my radar to begin with.

When I saw that it had to do with meaningful youth participation, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get a grasp of how that looks like on an international scale.

So really, my reason for applying was to take my experience with meaningful youth participation on a local level and use it internationally. Also, I was looking forward to join a youthful group and work towards change. And, it was a great opportunity to bring the Ugandan perspective into the international sphere.

I came to realize that a lot of the work that we do is intertwined, so foreign policy influences the projects I conduct with the NGO. Especially, international policy on young people and how they are taken into account influences the work I do.

Having the opportunity to also contribute from my personal experiences towards such a policy has been one of my motivations to join and apply.”

Were you able to draw on your previous expertise within the YAC, or was your energy also funneled to topics outside of your initial expertise?

“One of the things that I appreciate about the YAC is the recognition that, regardless of who we are or what we’re doing in our country, we’re all young people that are striving to create change.

At the ministry, that’s also really the focus: let’s bring in young people regardless of their background or expertise and let them tell us where they want what to change. I don’t have 20 year of experience, nor 10. So a large part of what I bring to the table is my passion, and a little bit of experience or expertise.

The ministry and the National Youth Council made it really clear to us from the start: we don’t expect you to be experts and nor are we in this field. So from the start, it was really about working as a collective and brainstorming ideas. Some of it, sure, it’s relating to the expertise of each individual.

But some of it is also pretty new. And I think it’s important to realize that it’s a learning process. Everybody recognized that these new, unfamiliar, people are in the same team. As such, we recognized that we collectively should determine the agenda and how to approach it. Still, foreign policy was quite big, for all of us. When we were first introduced to the YAC, the documents were so huge and complex language.

But it was really nice to see that the policy officers tried to narrow it down and make it as clear as possible regarding how the ministry works and how to be effective in tweaking things or changing things. As such, we also had to respect that not everything will be integrated immediately into policy, since that’s not always how politics works.

But the main thing is that the ministry listens to young people and inquires about their ideas. So to come back to your question, it’s a little bit about expertise, but maybe more so about collectively working and understanding the challenges that you want to tackle together.”

Daisy Kandole
Daisy Kandole

Could you reflect on your two year tenure with the YAC, and also how the influx of five new YAC members after a year influenced group processes?

“Really, different experiences across the board. When you start of with a team, you build a bond together. There was definitely a bond between the first YAC members and the National Youth Council. Everything was new, so setting the foundation for the young people to come was exciting and setting the pace.

We started off very strong. And then, the second cohort comes in, which had so much new energy and ideas, with many different cultural backgrounds. Still, it was also scary, because it meant a transition. The project coordination also changed: there was a new coordinator to which we now had to talk to, and same for the Ambassador of Youth, Education and Work. For anyone, that can be overwhelming since you have to build all new relationships and everything.

Sometimes we needed to take a step back and think about where the gaps in our collective understanding were and what new entry points could be taken for emerging problems. Definitely challenging in itself, but that’s also exactly what the process should look like. The project is meant to see new faces at least every year, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.

Simultaneously, it installs a mechanism of reflection for the whole group. The reflection process was really valuable, recognizing that we’re not experts who are working in silos, but a group of young people with energy that they funnel into specific areas. When the group changes, this energy will also be somewhat redirected.

For me, the past two years have therefore been a process of learning and accepting the importance of diversity and inclusivity in perspectives, but also understanding what it truly means for young people’s voices to  be represented.

Just in general, to have a seat on the table and actually being listened to; have conversations with the MFA and feel that they value your input. It’s been a true journey but I’m super excited to see what the future holds for the YAC.”

The Youth at Heart strategy is, amongst others, about empowering young people. Could you reflect on this idea and if it was apparent in the YAC?

“I definitely felt empowered. Which was also reflected in the chance or opportunity to connect with younger people here in Uganda and pick their mind regarding the focus areas of  the YAC; or rather translating their input into something tangible.

For example, I was the focal person in the first year of the track SRHR. Based on the opinions from our youth network in Uganda and Sudan, we created a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) toolkit for policy officers that focused on these areas. It served as an overview of where the priorities of young people lie regarding conversations on SRHR.

We had consultations with young people within our networks just to understand what topics are important to them and how they would like to see this emerge in international policy. It not only gave me a chance to connect to the young people in my community, but also to link them with the community at the MFA.

This was also helped by the fact the we are linked with the Dutch embassies in our countries, for those who are fortunate enough to have embassies. At the moment, I’m still in contact with the embassy to see how we can realize the next local YAC that will focus on advising the embassy on different policy topics.

It’s important that our countries are seeing the impact of a YAC on the local environment, mainly because it can cause a chain reaction of promoting meaningful youth participation internationally.”

Could you elaborate on the CSE toolkit, what it is, and how can it be used?

“It’s a product from the first cohort and really just a document that highlights topics that we advised the department would focus on.

We had a chance with our team to connect with young people in our countries and have conversations around sexuality, conversations around mental health, conversations around menstrual health; especially considering the fact that many young people still don’t have access to menstrual products or water sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Equally, it touches on engagement of men and boys with SRHR and how they become part of the conversation. There is, for example here in Uganda, still the assumption that sexual health is a women thing. But to understand different ideas and different orientations, people that identify with any gender should be part of the conversation.

So the CSE is a mix of different perspectives on topics of different countries, simply because Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt and South-Sudan were represented in the working group. The different contexts allowed for a diverse palette of where the directory could focus on.

To be able to create a toolkit along our own lines – a colorful document with illustrations – was very valuable. It consisted of topics that people really resonated with from the bottom up.

To work with the ministry on this topic was really important, also to generate awareness that collaboration within the ministry and between departments is needed to achieve SRHR goals. For example education: so important to just get people knowledgeable on the latest information. All in all, the toolkit provides parameters for SRHR based on the perspectives of youth from different countries within the Dutch focus areas.”

If you reflect on your time with the YAC, what are you most proud of?

“The first thing is that I’m simply proud to be part of the first cohort. We got to learn together as a team, so being able to do that in this setting will always be one of my proudest moments; starting the journey with the YAC.

I really still feel it was a starting point internationally to put youth at the heart of international policy. Simply being part of a pioneering project that believes that young people can actually be at the center of driving change is one of my proudest moments.

But specifically in relation to the concrete work that we’ve been doing; being able to influence policy within different spaces within and beyond my expertise has been a great learning curve for me. If you’re too focused on just one specific area, you are somewhat blind to anything beyond that. The committee made me realize that this often results in working in silos.

But with the YAC, it made me realize that only collectively we can push for change, simply because all the different topics intersect. You can’t speak about health without empowering young people, but you also can’t talk about health without talking about decent work and employment. So learning beyond what I already knew is also something I’m proud of.

Additionally, just taking a leadership role within the committee. How the YAC works is that there are different focal person for the different tracks and really take the lead. Coming up with the CSE toolkit and even influencing the annual plan of the wider department at the ministry, has been pretty huge for me. It’s not daily that young people can come up with something like a strategic plan for a policy directory.

And of course, I’m proud of the collaboration and linking the local to the global. I’m also just proud of the fact that we could sit down and have candid and honest conversations about things that didn’t work well, which sometimes included contesting policy officers or the ambassador.

So being able to do that in a respectful way and move forward as a team has been very important for me. Really, I could go on and on.”

Soon a new cohort will come in. What would you like to see from them and what do you think is still needed for the YAC to reach this potential?

“One of the things that I really liked about the last time we were in the Netherlands were the conversations with the National Youth Council and the MFA. They were really about the future and looking forward. For the first time, we consciously sad down with everyone and had an open discussion on whether we were still moving towards our desired objectives; does our work still make sense?

We came to realize that there are still things that need to be improved to provide a solid ground from which the next group can flourish for creating change. Really simple things, like who does what and where lays what responsibility. Or even more important, we talked about what the goal of the YAC is in the first place.

While it sounds scary to have these conversations after two years, it is very important that these discussions happen. Holding each other accountable like that really should be a priority in a committee like this, because otherwise its prone to die out or become a token for the ministry.

So these type of conversations is definitely something I’d like to see more of in the future, about goals, strategies, responsibilities, and expectations of everyone involved. It helps to understand what you want to do with this committee. People constantly come and go in the committee and the coordination surrounding it, so this reflection is very important to cherish the core values of the committee.

For everyone joining, I simply hope that the fire – the energy – with which the YAC started doesn’t die out. Letting it die out is very easy to do: it’s easier to just ‘let it be’ than to actively work on the group process and align intentions and goals.

Especially with a new group that brings a lot of new ideas to the table, it’s important to discuss everything to help optimizing the potential that lies within these ideas.

Really for the next cohort, I hope to see a lot of creativity and innovation while inspiring other governments to start adopting similar structures like the YAC. I really believe we started a change that’s is trickling down and spreading wide.

Same with the development goals and the idea of leaving people behind; we will definitely leave people behind if we’re not able to share some of the best work that we’re doing. The committee is such a powerful tool and has a lot of potential to generate change.

Regardless of the fact that my cohort is leaving, I still believe that we’ll be strongly related to the YAC and the change that will be further developed in the future. We’re also building an alumni network for knowledge sharing and advising etc. Something like that is key for us to move forward as a movement.”

What will the future hold for you? How will your experience with the YAC play a part in your future?

“I cannot downplay it, two years is quite some time. While it’s sad we’re leaving, it’s also a good thing. Anyone who wants to create change also has to focus on creating space for new people to draw on your previous efforts.

So I’m happy to pass the torch to a new group. And really, I’m already using the experience with the YAC in my everyday work. We had a global project, in which we also established our own youth committee with people from different countries.

The past two years, while I was part of the YAC, I was also project officer for Global Youth Connect. So taking my experiences to create safe spaces has been very helpful. And also just the many different perspectives that I gained during my tenure with the YAC has really been a blessing.

Having the experience of working with a new team and understanding how to work collectively on change is something I will carry with forever, both in my work with my community and in the international sphere. So thanks again for everyone involved with the YAC, it really has been a great experience.”