In support of NDI’s commitment of strengthening young people’s impact, influence and leadership, we are highlighting the essential work of our youth-led partners. These leaders are fighting at the forefront for the inclusion of young people in decision-making processes and the elimination of barriers to political participation for young people in all their diversity.
NDI Interviewed the Center for Young Leaders in Africa (CYLA), a youth-led partner in Zambia and Malawi working to champion the inclusion and representation of young people in political parties and decision-making spaces at all levels. CYLA has been at the forefront of efforts to fully empower youth, women, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) for political leadership positions throughout Zambia and Malawi.
How would you describe the relationship between the young people you work with and democracy?
CYLA: Young people across Zambia and Malawi understand the critical importance of participatory democracy and empowering the next generation with a renewed perspective on politics, democracy, and civic participation. They know the importance of introducing civic education early in their lives - and that continuing education can play a crucial role in realizing their rights and responsibilities as citizens in upholding democratic practices and values.
What does youth political participation mean to you and your organization?
CYLA: Youth political participation means inclusivity at all levels of governance to CYLA as an organization. CYLA aims to see young people taking part and actively engaging in decision-making processes as this reflects sustainability in the decisions being made. Young people make up more than 50% of Africa’s population; and it becomes critical for this significant portion of the population to not be disenfranchised from political processes, but have a voice that contributes to shaping policies that address the unique demands of younger generations. To us, youth political participation means working to establish stable and peaceful democratic institutions now and in the future.
How does your organization encourage or motivate young leaders to participate in civic and political activities?
CYLA: We encourage young people to seek knowledge and skills development by sharing opportunities for training, jobs, and fellowships in civic engagement and leadership. We work with political parties to ensure safe spaces and greater inclusivity for young people within their party structures. We also provide technical assistance to political parties to support them in the development and reform of youth policies.
CYLA has a vibrant network of youth leaders that we support in running for leadership roles and developing intergenerational dialogues that can promote greater civic engagement of young people, improve the quality of democratic governance within political parties, and respond to the unique challenges young people face within political parties.
How are young people in your country challenging barriers to political participation?
CYLA: We continue to see young people challenge political barriers in several ways. Many are forming youth-led organizations and movements focused on issues such as human rights, social justice, governance, and political participation. These platforms provide spaces for young people to collectively advocate for change and raise awareness about their concerns. They’re encouraging youth political activism by using social media, online campaigns, and offline protests to highlight specific issues and demand change. Some are actively seeking political office in order to represent the interests and concerns of their generation and create change from within institutions. They’re collaborating with established local civil society organizations and international agencies to amplify the voices of young people advocating for meaningful participation within political processes. And finally, they are using music, art, and other forms of creative expression to raise awareness about political issues and inspire social change.
Can you share one way your organization is helping young people reimagine and reinvigorate participation and democracy in your country.
CYLA: We’re helping young people reimagine political participation by empowering them with the relevant knowledge and skills to take up political leadership, contribute to political reforms, and develop policies that strengthen governance in their communities and make institutions more inclusive of diverse viewpoints. We help amplify the voices of young people who are running for office. Lastly, we’re creating spaces that encourage intergenerational dialogue and mentoring to foster a community of individuals that support young people in being politically active.
What impact has NDI’s partnership had on your organization?
CYLA: NDI has played a significant role in supporting our collaboration with other members of civil society across Zambia that work to promote the political participation of youth, women, and persons with disabilities. Specially, NDI supported our effort, and that of our partners, to develop a unified position paper and an inclusive political participation model to advocate for the reform of Zambia’s electoral system. In addition, NDI helped us establish a well-functioning secretariat and grow the skills of key staff members in financial and programmatic management and monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) standards. Through NDI’s technical support, CYLA has been able to strengthen its ability to lead proposal development processes, as well as identify, brainstorm and present ideas with depth of clarity and detail and improve our tracking and reporting of the impact and relevance of CYLA's work with communities across Zambia and Malawi. These skills have helped us win support from other donors. Our partnership with NDI has also helped us network with well-qualified experts across the region to call on in support of our work, has increased our visibility, and has opened space for youth political participation, especially young women, in the rooms where high-level law and policy discussions are being held, amplifying our ability to contribute to national agendas
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.