International Youth Day, a global celebration of the transformative power of young people. Introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, the event was inaugurated not only to observe the power of the youth voice, but to serve as a promise from those in power to activate the power of youth across the development sector.
Since then, the United Nations appointed a Youth Envoy, dedicated to the diffusion of the day’s promise, and many aid organizations have followed suit by including the voices of young people in social media campaigns, high-level events, and stakeholder forums.
In 2021, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, took a further, concrete step to democratically include youth in its governance structure and decision-making processes. Scores of youth-led NGOs applied to join a newly created youth constituency, and after only a few weeks, the sub-group had become one of the largest, most active, and most diverse constituencies within the fund.
On the Executive Committee and High-Level Steering Group of ECW, young people were represented for the first time alongside government ministers, heads of UN agencies and civil society organizations, and private sector leaders — a refreshing example of intergenerational collaboration at the highest levels of humanitarian aid.
Another significant step in the race for youth inclusion occurred when ECW partnered with Plan International to support a group of youth activists through the ‘Youth for Education in Emergencies Project,’ a campaign by youth panelists aiming to demonstrate the value of youth participation.
As ECW builds momentum towards its High-Level Financing Conference in February 2023 with the #222MillionDreams Campaign, we call on strategic partners to include the youth voice as we come together to mobilize funding resources for the 222 Million crisis-impacted children and adolescents worldwide that require urgent educational support.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of exceptional young people ready to lead the charge. The Global Student Forum, for example, has brought together more than one hundred national student unions, composed of millions of youth activists, and successfully lobbied governments around the world with its democratic force.
The success of Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s 100 Million Campaign, a global, youth-led effort to end child exploitation, further illustrates the immense value of grassroots organizing. And at a local level, youth-led NGOs have brought change to their communities in ways equally substantial.
Aid organizations and professionals have changed the lives of countless young people around the world. By including them, aid organizations can tap into their extraordinary resilience and strength, and actually learn from them. Using their reach on social media, young people excel at spreading awareness and engagement around the world. Just as unknown singers become famous because of the young people who promote them, previously unknown issues have reached national prominence overnight and created substantive change.
With regard to fundraising, each young person is surrounded by a community, offering a network ready to lend a hand. In terms of policy, young people affected by crises can identify their needs with an ease unmatched by any humanitarian policy professional, for they are experts in their own lives, challenges and opportunities. Young people are intelligent and capable of shaping their own futures. They have an idealism and a courage that the world so desperately needs today. Their unflinching optimism, powerful energy, and uncompromising commitment to change will ensure that those futures are not only safe, but better than the present they inherited.
ECW can attest to the enlightening and inspiring vitality of young people. Since its creation, the youth constituency has worked energetically on behalf of this breakthrough global fund, providing valuable input and guidance on multi-year programs and first emergency responses in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq and Mali. When schools shut down due to the pandemic, the youth constituency persisted, working together to inform aid programmes dispersed across crisis-affected countries.
The youth constituency even responded in real time to developing crises, including the earthquake in Haiti, the deteriorating crisis in Afghanistan, and most recently, the war in Ukraine. Their contributions played a role in meaningful projects: since its inception in 2016, ECW’s programs have reached over 5 million children and adolescents, providing them with quality support, including educational materials, school meals, mental health programs, and other basic necessities.
On this day, it is important to observe the power of young people, and the impactful work that aid organizations have conducted across the sector. Yet celebration and transformation must go hand in hand, ensuring that next year, when International Youth Day returns, we are one step closer to fulfilling its original promise to unleash the power of the youth.
Yasmine Sherif is the Director of Education Cannot Wait. H.D. Wright is Youth Representative at Education Cannot Wait
IPS UN Bureau