Since 2021, NDI has championed young people’s civic and political participation through the Speak Youth to Power campaign. Under this campaign, NDI is working to increase young people’s impact, influence and leadership in decision-making spaces and engage a more diverse cohort of young leaders. Also, in 2021, President Biden hosted the first Summit for Democracy, which was an opportunity to shine a light on the barriers preventing young people in all their diversity from accessing and influencing decision-making spaces. Following the first Summit, the Institute participated in the Youth Political and Civic Engagement Cohort (Youth Cohort) and worked with other democracy and governance organizations to promote a set of recommendations that encouraged governments and political leaders to adopt a robust focus on youth civic and political engagement.
The second Summit for Democracy, co-hosted by the governments of the United States, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Zambia in 2023, provided an ideal opportunity to center on young people’s contributions to democracy and identify innovative solutions that sustain their engagement. NDI assembled a delegation of ten young leaders from countries across Latin America to participate in Summit activities that took place in San Jose, Costa Rica, on March 29-30, 2023. The activities focused on “youth and the role of the younger population in democratic systems.” In partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), NDI convened a side event, What’s Next for Youth and Democracy, with young leaders, youth development practitioners and allies from around the world who are committed to creating a democratic future by opening civic spaces, reclaiming fact-based information and pushing for greater accountability and transparency in governance.
The event concentrated on the World Movement for Democracy publication, What’s Next?, and highlighted innovative ideas for engaging young people in different political contexts - particularly in countries with closed or closing civic spaces. During an inspiring panel discussion, participants discussed youth-led approaches to revitalize democracy and transform civic spaces through the innovative use of arts, localized approaches, digital platforms and civic technology. Following the panel, participants divided into groups to discuss and map the efforts of young people globally to hold their governments accountable to the commitments identified by the Youth Cohort and the recommendations introduced in the World Movement for Democracy’s youth declaration.
As a result, the young leaders put forth several ideas to strengthen young people’s civic and political engagement, captured by a visual notetaker during the event. Together, NDI, IRI and CIPE collaborated with their respective delegations to finalize three recommendations from the event:
Young people can and should be elevated as leaders in the fight against authoritarianism. For example, a human rights activist from an authoritarian country in Latin America discussed the struggle for justice and liberty during the event. Through her account of protests led by political prisoners, she underscored the vital role of young people in challenging authoritarian forces through collective action and building a powerful, diverse social movement.
Governments need to ensure diverse youth representation in decision-making processes at all levels. For example, a panelist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who has actively worked to create platforms and mechanisms for meaningful youth participation, facilitated the first-ever parliamentary session on youth in the canton of Sarajevo, a groundbreaking event that opened doors for young people to voice their concerns and contribute to decision-making processes.
Governments must support youth-led and youth-serving organizations to ensure sustainable, democratic progress. Underpinning each recommendation made throughout the Summit is the need for strong support – including technical and financial resources – for youth-led and youth-serving organizations. Governments and the private sector must work together to empower youth, such as through development initiatives focused on economic priorities and public-private partnerships to provide young entrepreneurs with funding and mentoring.
For more information on the recommendations, take a look at the event report.
Overall, NDI’s participation in the Summit underscores the fact that, when it comes to governance, a diversity and plurality of young people from around the world have shared values of inclusivity, accountability and social justice. They are focused on expanding civic space, developing citizen-centered accountability mechanisms and reclaiming fact-based information. The next generation envisions a democratic future that responds to the contemporary challenges to democracy - one that is representative and has robust mechanisms for protecting human rights and holding elected leaders accountable.
Author: Sara Hoenes, Program Officer with the Citizen Participation and Inclusion team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.