Conversing for change
Witnessing the need for more positive youth engagement and the timing being just right, we at UNDP started reaching out to a few youngsters (engaging them from the very beginning) to discuss how to go forward.
We met twice and in both the occasions, the underlying message was to use the recently launched NHDR as the key tool. Our NHDR looks at 5 thematic areas with gender cutting across all themes. But 5 themes or areas were too much to focus on initially. We raised a question, asking the youth to decide which topic we should focus on first.
As anticipated, civic and political participation is what they wanted. Indeed, 88% of Sri Lanka’s youth populous (National Youth Survey 2013) stated that they are interested in the current affairs and socio-economic developments taking place around them.
Witnessing youth enthusiasm at the NHDR launch and at the two Youth Meetups, wanting enabling environments, forums, places to discuss productive ways to use technology to promote positive youth engagement, “What is the best mode of communication to actively promote youth engagement?” was one of the primary questions posed by and to the Innovations Team of UNDP Sri Lanka.
Given the significant number of internet users in Sri Lanka, with the majority of these users being young we reached out to a few ICT firms, giants in their own field to see how we could build on these promising statistics. Our hope was to create an online forum that could later become a permanent platform for youth to provide their expertise and ideas, which could in turn act as a resource base for policy makers to make informed decisions. We realized that this is no easy task, rightly pointed out by the ICT firms; this cannot be part of an innovation prototype, more time and resources needs to be spent to build an audience first, for a new platform. The advice we were left with, was to look at existing platforms.
Facebook - being one of the most widely used social networks among youth, proved to be the best way to do this. Consequently, a conversation was sparked about civic and political participation of youth in Sri Lanka on Facebook!
“Are youth active participants or passive recipients? According to the NHDR 2014, engagement through voting amounted to 72 per cent while active engagement only amounted to 5 per cent. Why and how do we improve?”
Interestingly, quite a number of young people were keen to speak out and make their voices heard. The discussion was promoted in all three languages: English, Sinhala and Tamil; to reach a wider-more inclusive audience. However, it was seen that all participants communicated in English despite the differences in language fluency.
Out of the key issues that were highlighted Space for participation and an enabling environment stood out. One participant suggested the significance of making the youth parliament more prominent and linking more youth networks to create awareness to increase active youth participation. This further deepened the discussion as another pointed out the need to put together a “compendium of opportunities that are available for young people”.
Overall the discussion proved not only to be engaging but also productive; as it helped build a groundbreaking platform for youth engagement; which led to what they call the ‘Social Good Summit - Youth Meet-Up’. Stay tuned to find out more!
Author - Taryana Odayar and Avindi Perera