At a critical time in Sri Lanka’s history, youth engagement has become a priority for impactful development in the country. In Sri Lanka, youth make up almost a quarter of the population, a number which is expected to increase. To bolster youth political participation, NDI partnered with Sarvodaya, a longstanding civic society organization in Sri Lanka, and their ‘Deshodaya (good governance)’ program to encourage youth to play an active role in the democratic development of the country.
For two weeks in July, over twenty young and ambitious Sri Lankans from all over the island descended upon Colombo for the inaugural Sarvodaya Deshodaya “Next Generation” youth development training program. “Next Generation” provides a platform for participants in the program to voice their opinion through active political participation and provide practical solutions to complex issues facing their communities.
The young participants traveled from across the island’s different regions to participate in the training. They were representative of Sri Lanka’s diverse ethnicities, religions, and experiences. Through sessions facilitated by Sarvodaya leaders and staff, external consultants and NDI staff, participants developed the skills and knowledge to initiate their own issue-based and participatory projects in their communities. It was the first of its kind for Sarvodaya, one of the largest civil society organizations in Sri Lanka.
The Deshodaya unit within Sarvodaya was established to promote the culture of democracy, good governance, reconciliation, and sustainable peace. From this, the “Next Generation” project was carved out to focus on galvanizing youth political participation through leadership development. Each of the 11 districts in the country has been assigned one youth coordinator and two fellows who will work together to execute local level campaigns focused on key issues in the community to enhance citizen participation and engagement across Sri Lanka.
As in any country in which NDI implements its programs, synergy with our partners is an important criterion for success. "NDI is excited about partnering with Sarvodaya, a well-respected organization whose work has impacted communities across Sri Lanka. Through this initiative, Sarvodaya is now investing in the next generation of Sri Lankans and signaling that their perspectives and input are critical for the country's future. As NDI has seen in other countries, engaging with young people helps build greater citizen participation and government accountability, which are critical issues for Sri Lanka as it consolidates its democratic gains,” stated NDI’s Senior Advisor for Sri Lanka, Thusitha Pilapitiya.
During the first week of the training program, youth district coordinators were given an expansive overview of the program objectives and expectations. They were challenged to set their goals and develop a strategic plan to achieve these goals through a variety of team-building exercises. District coordinators also participated in critical skill-building training sessions such as Participatory Action Research (PAR), Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning, Project Management, Communications, and Mentorship.
Week two of the training sessions welcomed the selected fellows from each of the 11 districts to develop skills and tools that will help ignite new ideas to spur youth political participation in Sri Lanka. Sessions included a wide range of topics focused on Sri Lanka’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Civic Identity and Democratic Values, Developing Youth Advocacy, Political Economy Analysis and much more. The coordinators rejoined the training midweek for in-depth collaboration with the fellows from their district.
I have learned many things through this training and I will use it to make a big difference in my society.
-Alfred, one of the youth leaders from Kandy.
When asked what he hopes the fellows will gain from the program, Waruna Padmasiri, Project Manager for the Next Generation Deshodaya Project expressed, “My hope is that the fellows will be able to gain confidence and belief in themselves and that they would start believing that they too can be leaders in their own community. I hope that they get to experience how their participation and engagement could lead to positive change for a common good. I want to see their attitudes change as well. Hopefully, we will see a cohort of young people that are problem solvers and problem fixers, mobilizers, and doers.”
Through funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, NDI supports Sarvodaya’s Next-Generation leaders to work on grassroots, issue-based campaigns that use participatory processes, including engagement with government, to achieve quality of life improvements in their communities. These initiatives will influence change at the grassroots level to help expand the political space in the country and deepen norms of participatory governance for youth.
“The young women and men that participated in the training demonstrated a new understanding of their agency, their power in numbers and the power of their ideas, further proof that their skills and willingness to "get political" will help them take collective action that changes their communities for the better,” explained Rachel Mims, Senior Program Officer on Youth Political Participation at NDI.
NDI has worked in Sri Lanka since 1995. The Institute also supports the parliament in developing greater legislative openness as part of the country’s national action plan for open government and a local election observation organization to promote free, fair and credible elections.