Remarks by NDI President Derek Mitchell at the Launch of Speak Youth to Power Campaign

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Remarks by NDI President Derek Mitchell

Launch of the Speak Youth to Power Campaign

June 3, 2021

Hello everyone. My name is Derek Mitchell, and I’m privileged to serve as President of the National Democratic Institute.

For nearly four decades, NDI has worked with partners from every corner of the globe to strengthen the institutions, processes, norms and values that underwrite democracy. 

We are unapologetic in seeking a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.

From our long experience, we have learned that while there is no single democratic model, there are certain universal values that must be present and protected for democracies to thrive.

One of those essential values is inclusion.  Inclusion of all equally.  Regardless of gender identity, race, religion, or ethnicity.

Or age.

For decades, NDI has had the privilege to partner with young people and youth-serving organizations around the world to channel their creativity and champion their aspirations to be changemakers and political leaders in their countries. 

It is in that context that I am both pleased and excited to be with you all today to announce the launch of NDI’s new branded campaign that we are calling “Speak Youth to Power.

Or in social media language - #YouthToPower.

Building on NDI’s history of supporting youth political participation globally, the premise of our Speak Youth To Power campaign is the need for young people to have greater power and influence over formal and informal decision-making today if they are expected to demand and defend democracy in the future.

This campaign will center the interests of young people with diverse identities; champion the political aspirations of young people working across sectors; and strengthen intergenerational collaboration by challenging traditional attitudes about political participation.

Defined for our purposes as between the ages of 16 to 35, “youth” is a transitional stage in a person’s life when values and beliefs, including those about democracy, begin to solidify.

Political exclusion during this formative period has long-term implications. Young people around the world are at a critical juncture, as they inherit an array of complex challenges, including environmental degradation, growing economic inequality, and insecurity.

Despite general optimism about the future, today’s young people are being left behind; they are the most unemployed and underemployed segment of the global population.

At the same time, they must also contend with entrenched power brokers that are often inaccessible, unresponsive, and/or corrupt. These barriers are compounded for young women and others facing marginalization due to intersecting forms of oppression and exclusion.

And often perceived to be apathetic and inexperienced by most adults, a diversity of young people are today at the forefront of broad-based movements demanding a more just, equitable, and sustainable future.

Despite record levels of political activism, however, the space for young people’s participation in mainstream decision-making remains limited, contributing to a distrust of traditional political institutions and declining confidence in democracy’s ability to deliver for them.

Through this campaign, NDI will raise awareness of youth exclusion and disaffection as threats to democracy’s future. The Speak Youth to Power campaign will foster conversations and practical solutions grounded in realities young people face, including those of young women and other groups who experience compounded marginalization.

NDI will contribute thought leadership that invigorates the design and implementation of youth-centered democracy and governance programs, and highlight programs and initiatives that respond to young people’s interests and motivations for political participation.

And in the process, reinvigorate democracy’s promise today and in the future.

Over the next hour, we will hear from young leaders who are at the forefront of efforts to inspire new political voices and reshape political participation around the world.

I would like to thank all the panelists and partner organizations who have helped to make this event possible, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Restless Development, and Democracy Moves. We look forward to continuing our partnership going forward.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to Representative Sara Jacobs, who will make remarks later in the hour.  Congresswoman Jacobs is the third-youngest member of the United States Congress, and a long-time friend of NDI.  She epitomizes why young voices are essential in corridors of power.  In just a short time in office, Representative Jacobs has demonstrated how to translate activism into policy-making.  We are so grateful she will join us today.

I want to thank Rye Barcott, who serves on NDI’s Board.  Rye is an extraordinary individual – a military veteran, social entrepreneur and strong advocate of youth political empowerment and participation.  Rye will say a few words later, and introduce Representative Jacobs.

And finally, a huge thank you to NDI’s Citizen Participation team, led by Aaron Azelton. Thank you for all the great work.  And thank you in particular to Rachel Mims, who has led our youth programming, and is the heart, soul and energy behind today’s event and the “Speak Youth to Power” campaign.

So please enjoy today’s event – which is being livestreamed on NDI’s Facebook page - and we look forward to continuing to work with all of you as we continue our Speak Youth to Power campaign. Thank you.

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