Some Initial Findings from Africa
A youth council is an entity composed of young people that serves as an advisory or advocacy body to government or donor agencies.
Most often, its role is to identify priorities, craft policies that support these priorities, and contribute to the implementation of these policies through public services. Its role may also include public outreach and advocacy. Young people constitute clear assets to development when they are positively empowered to be active citizens.
Supporting and including young people in development processes is critical for several reasons:
(1) youth have experience, knowledge, and ideas that are unique to their situation, enabling them to offer key insights and perspectives on development that adults cannot;
(2) in many communities, youth make up the majority of the population; as a result, youth voices can be crucial expressions of overall community needs; and
(3) regardless of their current status, young people are the future custodians of their environments and leaders of their peers.
Despite their varying contexts, youth councils are increasing young people’s voices, developing their critical social and interpersonal skills, enhancing their self-esteem, and connecting them to their communities and the global arena. Youth are often designated as “the future;” thus, promoting youth development clearly benefits future societies. However, youth are also part of the present, and they are ready, willing, and already involved in the world as it is now. To cultivate the growth of effective youth councils and ignite a new wave of similar youth entities across the globe, it is critical to learn from existing models, understand the essential elements for success, and extrapolate key lessons learned from the challenges youth councils often encounter. The various case studies presented in this paper have provided some key elements of effective youth councils, in addition to some challenges councils face. Youth councils offer a valuable perspective on how youth practitioners can more effectively engage with young people in development planning and programs. Understanding the concept of youth councils should not be an end in and of itself, but the beginning of a process of empowering youth and highlighting their indispensable contributions to sustainable progress and change.