Inspiring Meet-up echoes ‘Yes - We want more!’
“Can we get everyone who wants another meet-up like this to please raise their hand?” asked an animated participant; instantaneously a majority of the attendees lifted their hands to reflect in agreement.
On September 22nd, 2014 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sri Lanka and the Global Shapers Colombo Hub, co-hosted a ‘youth meet-up’ to take part in the global event of the Social Good Summit. The Social Good Summit is a two day conference held during September 21st and 22nd in New York with meet ups happening around the world which gives focus to the impact of technology and the use of social media to help broadcast ‘good initiatives’ globally. The theme carried for this year was #2030NOW and asked the question of “What world do I want to live in by 2030?”
UNDP Sri Lanka prior to the summit had engaged in an online campaign with respect to their recently released National Human Development Report 2014 which gave focus to youth and development. Startling statistics from the report showed that in Sri Lanka there is a significantly low percentage of youth who are actively engaged in political and civic dimensions. Many youth voiced their opinions on the issue through a very thought provoking online dialogue with several youth requesting a physical forum to carry the discussion further. The Social Good Summit provided an opportunity to showcase the effectiveness of social media using the example of one social media campaigns impact, which as a result inspired an entire youth meet-up to be organized to help further identify the challenges youth felt towards participation and civic engagement and develop possible solutions to overcome them to form the Sri Lanka they wish to live in by the year 2030.
From the atmosphere at the meet up it was evident that many youth felt the importance of having such a discussion. The animated dialogue provided an insight into why many youth showed apathy towards political and civic engagement and the barriers which hindered their participation.
Numerous participants felt that the perception of political participation in Sri Lanka has been negatively portrayed. Society as a whole has demonized politics as a result of negative publicity, and many youth who have previously engaged in politics have been perceived as trouble makers.
According to many at the meet-up, loss of faith in the system has been a key reason for poor engagement rates. The youth additionally felt that the environment for engagement could be more enabling, safer and inclusive. Suggestions of integrating civic education into formal and informal learning, and creation of awareness programmes as a means to educate the public and youth on their civic and political rights and duties as well as the electoral process were strongly propositioned during the meet-up as way of encouraging participation.
Low participation by youth in political and civic affairs is largely a result of a lack of resources according to the participants at the meet- up. Strong political connections, networking opportunities, finances to run a campaign, and chances for exposure and participation; which are seen as essential resources are difficult to come by stated several at the meet up. The participants suggested that opportunities and support systems need to be created to ensure that the youth feel they have the necessary resources to include themselves in the political process.
The meet-up was scheduled for 2 hours, however nearing the end of the conversation, it was apparent that the participants had far more to contribute. Feedback to the youth meet-up was exceedingly positive; social media was beaming with excitement and conviction from the youth both during and after the meet-up. Emails, tweets, and facebook posts carried messages from the youth stating that the meet-up had inspired many of them to network and expand the conversation further.
We are pleased to have been able to coordinate a forum on the issue of improving political and civic participation among the youth of Sri Lanka and look forward to continuing the dialogue and supporting many of the ideas propositioned at the meet up.
Author – Shermane Silva