Recently I attended an event entitled “Building Youth-Inclusive Democracies: Lessons from Kenya” at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The discussion focused on the “Yes Youth Can!” program in Kenya that was created in response to the high levels of youth violence in the 2007 election. Due to high unemployment, disenfranchisement and inequality youth were an easy target to breed political violence. This program addressed those issues by incorporating youth into processes to bring about change in their community, teaching entrepreneurship and providing microloans, and building leadership skills. Over one million youth participated in the program and it has been touted with great success, especially given the recent peaceful elections in the country.

Several issues were addressed in the discussion that I found especially relevant to current global education initiatives. First, the issue of youth bulge, the trend that developing countries are experiencing populations of 50 percent or more youth, was considered problematic because of resource management, potential violence, and markets being unable to match employment demands. However, the youth bulge is now more appropriately termed the youth opportunity. As seen in Kenya, youth are a dynamic force for good when they are empowered to be agents of change and given the opportunity to lead. Part of harnessing the youth opportunity is providing realistic and practical tools to young people that allow them to engage in issues that are of concern to them and to teach skills that they can use in the workforce.

One of the best practices and lessons learned from the “Yes Youth Can!” program is the importance of building networks as a means to incorporating youth. Youth were organized by community, each with a local level representative to connect with the national body. At the local level, youth are able to discuss problems and identify solutions as community volunteers, as well as receive microloans to help start their own business. In this double approach, the program is able to address economic issues while also incorporating young people into the democratic process. The success comes from the grassroots approach that empowers youth to problem solve on a local level, feel connected to the issues and the people in their community, and then share their successes through a broader network that shares the same goals. By doing this, young people feel connected to something bigger, are more engaged, and are empowered to lead in changing their environment.

While the “Yes Youth Can!” example is carried out on the national level, eKWIP takes a similar approach and applies it to a global context. eKWIP is a platform for young people to study current issues in their community and work to address these with their peers on both a local, state, and global scale. The program builds a community to discuss, engage, and act on issues that young people care about. These connections are inspiring and motivate youth to do more. Also, it teaches young people that they do have the potential to create change and teaches them ways to do so, which are skills that they can use in the workforce and gives a competitive edge. “Yes Youth Can!” is an example of democracy promotion and international development, but these issues are interconnected and tie into global education initiatives as seen in eKWIP.

For more information on the event, visit: http://csis.org/event/building-youth-inclusive-democracies-lessons-kenya

– Beth Davis

 

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