Originally published by IFES 

In celebration of International Youth Day on August 12, 2020, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted a Facebook Live event on “Young Leaders Building Sustainable Democracies.” Along with IFES Program Coordinator for Europe and Eurasia Andrew Rogan, IFES Youth Specialist Ashley Law facilitated a panel discussion with young leaders from Nepal, Nigeria and Ukraine who personify the day’s theme of “Youth Engagement for Global Action.” The streamed event amplified young leaders’ voices and illuminated the many ways that young people contribute to building and sustaining global democracy.

Sushmita Shrestha is a young woman from Nepal who works with IFES’ youth partner, Association of Youth Organizations Nepal, to build advocacy skills and encourage young people’s engagement in their communities.  Rashyd Bilalov is a young man from Ukraine who is an alumnus of IFES’ Democracy: From Theory to Practice course and as a result of the course, founded a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called the Youth Democratic Association (YODA) alongside other alumni. Oluwafemi (Femi) John Adebayo, a young man from Nigeria who works with IFES’ youth partner, Kimpact Development Initiative, supports young people to track human rights incidents, particularly gender-based violence, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As nearly 50% of the entire world population is under 30, the priorities and concerns of young people must be better represented to create more inclusive processes and institutions. One of the main barriers to including youth voices in political processes relates to perceptions or norms that young people are not old or knowledgeable enough to participate. Young leaders like Sushmita, Rashyd and Femi understand these challenges and offered strategies to overcome them. Femi suggested that data and evidence-based research can bridge the gap between elected leaders and young activists. He explained that data helped to engage lawmakers in Nigeria because “… [it] focused on capturing the developmental needs of young people, analytically. We present this data as facts in advocating for the inclusion of youth needs in the appropriation plan. Working on the technicalities, we put together a bill and present[ed] it to the legislative house.” The bill Femi referenced during the event has since been passed and initiated the creation of a Youth Development Commission.

Speaking to the current COVID-19 pandemic and barriers to youth participation, Rashyd highlighted YODA’s Democratic Marathon project, which engaged over 50 participants on discussions related to democracy including values, the role of NGOs within a country, fair and transparent elections and freedom of speech and choice. Rashyd stated that “having more of these discussions will motivate people to learn and use tools to affect the decision-making process.” Sushmita also shared that she is working with her community in Nepal to identify young people’s priorities to ensure that COVID-19 response plans reflect issues important to them. Sushmita explained that “Since COVID-19, we have been hosting webinars on the needs and priorities of the community to develop a policy document. Our work has now been recognized and we were selected as a member of the COVID-19 Response Committee.” Sushmita said that the committee will develop guidelines for ways that young people can support the economy and rebuild Nepal after the pandemic.

The Facebook Live event reinforced the ways in which young people can contribute to positive development in their communities, countries and globally. Other notable tips to engage young people included creating policy platforms and youth parliaments, researching the priorities of young people and utilizing social media and digital activism to raise youth voices across geographical and dividing lines. To learn more from Rashyd, Sushmita and Femi and listen to their recommendations to advocate for youth engagement, participation and leadership, press play and watch the video below!


Last modified: June 21, 2021