What Works in Youth and Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance?
This page is divided into the following sections:
- Thinking Bigger - Approaches for Supporting Youth Participation in Democracy, Human Rights & Governance Programs
- Electoral Participation and Engagement
- Civic Engagement
- Political Party Development and Participation
- Social Movements
- Gender and Women's Political Participation
Thinking Bigger - Approaches for Supporting Youth Participation in Democracy, Human Rights & Governance Programs
Democracy, human rights and governance (DRG) assistance programs involving youth can be examined through sub-sectors, such as participation in elections, involvement in political parties, civic engagement, and others. However, it is important for all youth DRG programs to account for broader dynamics associated with politics, power and sociocultural norms as they relate to youth civic and political participation, regardless of the type of assistance being delivered. This section includes resources that explain how programs can assist young people in overcoming barriers to their political participation and transforming power structures to attain meaningful political influence. These resources provide guidance for structuring all types of assistance for youth political and civic participation.
The National Democratic Institute's (NDI's) Youth Political Participation Programming Guide is designed to help democracy and governance practitioners deliver more effective youth programs. The guide draws on the needs and perspectives expressed by young political leaders and activists from four global regions, lessons learned from NDI programs involving youth, and the work of other democracy & governance assistance organizations. The main features of the guide include: Contextual information on why youth development and political participation are important; A description of NDI’s unified theory of change for improving youth political participation; Lessons for structuring effective youth political participation programs; and reviews of effective NDI youth programs in Jordan and Kosovo.
Oxfam Australia's Theory of Change (ToC) explores what needs to happen in order for young active citizens, institutions and communities to create positive, equitable and sustainable change together. This meta-theory was developed through a series of workshops which brought together various stakeholders from around the world, including young people working in civil society, youth activists, Oxfam staff, Oxfam partners, in-country programming staff and young people from communities in which Oxfam works. This ToC has identified three crucial routes (paths) for supporting youth active citizenship to enable collective impact, including: Young women and young men participate in decision making in affected communities; young women and young men from different regions and fields are organizing and taking collective action; and young women and young men participate in formal decision-making in institutions.
This article introduces civic purpose as a construct for learning about civic development in adolescence. Civic purpose, defined as a sustained intention to contribute to the world beyond the self through civic or political action, integrates the components of motivation, civic activity, and future-oriented civic intention. The authors present results from a mixed methods longitudinal study that used the civic purpose framework in which 1,578 high school seniors took a survey, 50 participated in an interview, and 9 additional adolescent “civic exemplars” participated in both the survey and the interview. Two years later, 480 participants took the survey again, and 34 participated in a second interview. A small percentage of the study subjects exhibited full civic purpose across three different types of civic activity (political, community service, expressive), while a larger percentage demonstrated precursory forms of civic purpose, with evidence of some but not all components of civic purpose. Key contributors to the development of civic purpose were: identity salience, beliefs and values, and invitation from one or more adults.
Electoral Participation and Engagement
Elections are a central component of democratic societies. This section includes resources and case studies related to improving youth participation in elections. It is important to note that programs should support youth in engaging in the full electoral cycle, including the pre- and post-electoral periods.
Young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population. While they are often involved in informal, politically relevant processes, such as activism or civic engagement, they are not formally represented in national political institutions such as parliaments and many of them do not participate in elections. This can impact on the quality of democratic governance. Drawing on an intensive desk review of reports and analysis from around the world as well as interviews and focus group discussions with youth development practitioners and young people themselves, this guide discusses best practices for supporting youth political participation and 21 possible entry points for UNDP and other organizations involved in assisting youth political participation. Case studies appear in Part B of this guide, following an introductory section, and a review and analysis. The review starts with a discussion of legal frameworks, and then considers entry points for support in cooperation with different electoral stakeholders in the pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral periods.
Specifically designed for electoral management bodies (EMBs), this publication acknowledges the crucial role EMBs play in ensuring that all segments of the society, including youth, are empowered to fully participate in the electoral process, be as voters, candidates or officials. The handbook provides strategies and entry points to assist EMBs in removing existing barriers for youth electoral participation at different levels and in different areas, including the national legal and political framework and youth’s lack of confidence in national institutions. The publication also explores how EMBs could capitalize on innovative solutions to make electoral processes more inclusive and peaceful and to prevent youth from being incited to electoral violence by political parties. Finally, the handbook links these objectives to the outcomes and indicators of SDGs, in particular Goal 16. The handbook is published by the Brussels-based EC-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance (JTF) and made possible thanks to the support of the UNDP Nepal Electoral Support Project, generously funded by the EU, Norway, the United Kingdom and Denmark.
The youth generation in Africa is booming, with one-third of the population aged between 15 and 35. At the same time, youth tend to be disengaged from the democratic process. Young people vote less frequently, stand as candidates less often and remain underrepresented in electoral managerial functions. Electoral management bodies (EMBs) in Africa play a critical role in promoting youth participation in electoral processes. EMBs should develop creative strategies for youth inclusion and engagement. The experiences of EMBs already pushing this agenda should be shared among the community of practitioners. For EMBs that have not yet fully engaged, these success stories may serve as an important source of inspiration for initiatives that fit their historical contexts.
This article highlights a success story from a project implemented by the National Democratic Institute to support young Kyrgyz political activists in using social media as a tool for a Get Out The Vote campaign ahead of Kyrgyzstan's 2017 presidential election. This is an example of a youth-led initiative that succeeded in getting people, and youth in particular, engaged in the electoral process. Voter turnout in the 2017 presidential election was higher among young people (those aged 18-29) than in any other age group. The total number of young voters also increased by approximately five percent compared with the 2015 parliamentary elections.
Many young people with political aspirations become involved in civic life, as civic organizations tend to have lower access barriers than political parties or other groups. This section includes resources to assist young people in acting as activists and leaders in civic and community life.
What We Know about “What Works” in Youth Civic Engagement and Voice, Youth Organizations, Youth Leadership, and Civic Education
This literature review is part of USAID’s Youth and Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) Research and Learning Project. The objective of this review was to seek answers to the broad question of “what works” in youth programming. The review focused on evidence of impact of interventions in four areas: youth civic engagement and voice, youth organizations, youth leadership, and civic education for youth. Particular attention was given to interventions in conflict and violence-affected areas and in the context of countering violent extremism.
In October 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Youth in Development Policy, the first of its kind at USAID. The Policy recognizes that youth leadership is one of the many critical pathways for improved health and development for youth. However, there is not much knowledge about what constitutes effective youth leadership programming, particularly where these programs relate to public health initiatives. On the other hand, many programs conduct one off workshops on youth leadership without providing good followup, mentors, or an enabling environment for young people to apply their leadership skills. USAID, in collaboration with the Leadership, Management and Governance (LMG) Project, conducted a global review to identify and examine effective youth leadership programs, models, and strategies from around the world that have demonstrated positive outcomes for youth, organizations, and communities, and contribute to health service delivery improvements.
This publication explores principles and strategies for engaging youth and young adults in decisions that affect them and the well-being of their communities.This product reflects the commitment of the International Initiative for Children, Youth and Families to engaging young people. The Initiative—an international network of policy makers, managers, practitioners and researchers—puts the community and its residents at the center of its approach to improving results for children, youth and families. In 2003, recognizing the potential of young people to change their communities, the Initiative began a vital effort to involve youth from its member nations. A group of youth and adults from Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States began working together to plan and conduct an International Learning Exchange focused on youth involvement in community change. In November 2004, young people and adults from eight countries participated in the Learning Exchange. This toolkit grew out of that event, and the Initiative continues its work to promote youth engagement as a cornerstone of strong communities.
Civic education (also known as citizen education or democracy education) can be broadly defined as the provision of information and learning experiences to equip and empower citizens to participate in democratic processes. The education can take very different forms, including classroom-based learning, informal training, experiential learning, and mass media campaigns. Civic education can be targeted at children or adults, in developed or developing countries, and at the local, national or international level. As such, civic education is an approach that employs a range of different methods, and is often used in combination with other participatory governance tools. This resources describes what civic education is, how it can implemented, and provides examples of civic education programs implemented in Africa and Latin America.
Every year, Western donors deploy vast sums of development assistance to dampen the appeal, among the world’s youth, of militias, pirates and terrorists. But guided by little in the way of empirical evidence, it is an enterprise plagued by unclear payoffs and unintended consequences. The new Mercy Corps report, Youth & Consequences: Unemployment, Injustice and Violence, tackles some of the most persistent assumptions driving youth programming in fragile states. Drawing on interviews and surveys with youth in Afghanistan, Colombia and Somalia, we find the principal drivers of political violence are rooted not in poverty, but in experiences of injustice: discrimination, corruption and abuse by security forces. Despite the focus on violence prevention, this report provide useful perspective and discussion regarding youth civic engagement programs and their potential relation to tendencies of violence.
If Youth are Given the Chance: Effects of Education and Civic Engagement on Somali Youth Support of Political Violence
This study evaluates how two components of Mercy Corps' USAID-funded Somali Youth Learners’ Initiative (SYLI)—secondary education and civic engagement opportunities—affected young people’s support for armed opposition groups. From a survey of 1,220 young people in Puntland and South Central Somalia, Mercy Corps found that both secondary education alone and secondary education combined with civic engagement opportunities pulled Somali youth support away from violent groups. Key findings include: Both components of the SYLI intervention evaluated—secondary education and civic engagement—decreased youth support for armed opposition groups; Youth who gained access to improved secondary school through SYLI were nearly half as likely (48.2 percent) as out-of-school youth to demonstrate moral or material support for political violence; students in SYLI-supported schools invited to participate in civic engagement opportunities were 64.8 percent less likely as non-engaged youth to demonstrate moral or material support for political violence; significant effects of SYLI-supported education persisted with or without the inclusion of civic engagement program effects, but the two interventions combined reduced support for political violence even further; this study is the second one to evaluate the SYLI program. This study shows that education, or more generally skills-building programs, can have the greatest impact on reducing youth support for violence if they marry skills and knowledge with meaningful opportunities for youth.
Many Nicaraguan youth do not see viable options for making change in their communities or country through politics. Through grassroots organizing with support from the National Democratic Institute, a group of Nicaraguan youth have found ways to exercise their right to hold elected officials accountable and to secure action to bring about improvements in their communities. Using grassroots organizing techniques, a group of youth identified priority issues for citizens in their neighborhood and successfully pressured decision makers into implementing solutions. These campaigns and their early “wins” are evidence that grassroots organizing can work to empower citizens and improve their lives even in places where conditions for free and fair elections do not exist. For many of the youth organizers, it was the first time they had participated in awareness efforts for community issues. Given Nicaragua’s challenging political context, their success challenges the pervasive mindset that ordinary citizens cannot make change.
Young people are underrepresented in government leadership positions, such as elected office. This section includes resources that describe trends regarding youth participation in governance and provide guidance to inform assistance for young people to effectively engage informal politics and governance.
Based on a survey of nearly 100 countries, this resource describes trends regarding youth participation in national parliaments. IPU's analysis identifies some encouraging trends, such as an increase in youth representation in many countries' parliaments. It also notes some challenges, however, including a large gap in representation between young men and young women. The report concludes with recommendations for how to increase youth representation in national parliaments.
This study of new and innovative forms of youth participation was commissioned by the Council of Europe’s Youth Department. The study focuses on young people’s participation in decision-making processes at national, regional and local levels, recognizing that young people are increasingly disengaging from formal means of political participation, such as voting and joining political parties, and turning to other forms of political expression. The findings and recommendations in the study are intended to inform the Council of Europe youth sector’s future work in this field and its strategic objectives to support young people’s (positive) attitude to influence decisions in democratic processes and increase their involvement in the development of inclusive and peaceful societies. The research findings contribute to discussions around "innovative" forms of participation in public decision making and provides recommendations for how government bodies can provide better channels for young people to participate in decision-making processes.
This resources describes issues related to youth participation in governance and highlights case studies of different types of programs that have been implemented across the world to support youth participation in politics and governance. The resource concludes recommendations for democracy and governance assistance providers to provide more effective support to improve meaningful youth political participation.
Drawing on examples of Youth Councils, or government advisory bodies representing the interests of youth, in Africa, this resource describes the function of youth councils, how they can be beneficial for young people and broader society. The resource also highlights best practices for establishing and operating youth councils, as well as common challenges encountered by youth councils. It also describes six examples of different types of youth councils in Africa.
Political Party Development and Participation
There is limited research and evidence regarding programs to effectively support youth participation in political parties. While youth political party wings may provide an entry point for youth to advance within political parties, it is unclear if and when party youth wings may serve as a meaningful avenue through which young people may heighten their political influence. This section includes existing resources related to supporting youth participation in political parties.
Taking Wing - Pathways to Participation and Leadership Offered by Political Party Youth Wings (Summary Document, Preliminary Research Findings)
There is growing acknowledgement that politics and participation are integral to the process of sustainable development. However, young people face many barriers when it comes to political participation, while also being disproportionately affected by some of the world’s toughest development challenges. Helping this demographic group find peaceful ways to take part in decisions affecting their welfare is a growing imperative. To assist in meeting this need, CEPPS is working to better understand the avenues for youth political participation and leadership, and how support can be delivered. As part of a broader research effort funded by the United States Agency for International Development, CEPPS/NDI examined the role political party youth wings can play in amplifying the voice and influence of young people. The empirical process included reviewing existing literature, interviewing political party leaders and youth activists, analyzing political party assistance programs and speaking with program implementers. The research concludes that youth wings can offer young people a formative political experience, in certain circumstances, and tailored assistance can have some influence on the agency of youth wing members and their enabling environment. However, the entire picture is rather complex, given the political dynamics and changing incentives found in most multi-party systems. These research findings will need to be combined with existing lessons and learning about how political parties develop, as they simultaneously engage in political competition and manage unavoidable power struggles, both externally and internally.
This report presents information on the role of youth in political entities and youth organizations in Kosovo as seen from the perspectives of civil society organizations, members of political party youth wings, and the broader youth population. The information presented in this report was collected through phone and in-person surveys with youth.
This article explores and conceptualizes the individual mobilization processes into political party membership of a sample of young people in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous and semi-democratic region under Chinese sovereignty where political parties are relatively underdeveloped. Based on life history interviews with 23 young party members, the author found that the mobilization of young people into party membership comprises three different steps. The author also found that not all young party members went through the same order of steps. In total, three orders of steps are identified, which create three different paths into party membership. Lastly, this article found that each mobilization path is shaped by a specific set of macro-, meso-, and individual level influences
Today's young people have lower levels of trust in formal politics and are less likely to see political parties as viable avenues for affecting change. At the same time, globalization and increasing availability of technology has provided new ways for young people to connect both locally and globally. As a result, many young people are turning to social movements and other less formal means of civic and political participation. This section includes resources related to youth and social movements.
Rhize's report, The New Global Citizen: Harnessing Youth Leadership to Reshape Civil Society, exposes how the global development sector has not kept pace with the changing ways youth seek to create social change, creating a disconnect between formal civil society and the majority of youth leaders. Without understanding the new model of global citizenship—what we call "participatory citizenship," international development institutions will continue to miss the innovative, networked energy of youth leaders who are motivated, activated but need better support to achieve collective global impact. This report analyzes these gaps, opportunities and outlines a path forward through a new "Collective Civic Participation Framework". Based on research conducted by Rhize, the report outlines the following key takeaways: Build a stronger Architecture of Participation across the sector in order to engage and retain youth leaders over the long term; reimagine global leadership to fit the profile of today's leaders who are active, engaged and innovating new methods for change; embrace translocal as the new global infrastructure to build agency and autonomy to localize yet connect global issues (rather than centralize and direct) in more accessible, compelling and impactful ways; adopt the Collective Civic Participation Framework as a blueprint for institutions to harness the leadership potential of the next generation of "global citizens" who are activated yet need support to flourish.
Social movements are broad-based combinations of groups and individuals acting purposefully, collectively and with continuity to promote change. Social movements tend to emerge from discontent resulting from inequality, inequity and injustice. NDI has provided support to an array of social movements, recognizing their transformative potential. This resource describes social movements and highlights challenges and best practices for providing assistance to social movements based on examples from NDI programs.
Gender and Women's Political Participation
Gender dynamics should be considered when designing, implementing and evaluating any DRG program involving youth. Although age discrimination affects all youth, young women are further excluded from politics due to sociocultural and institutional norms regarding women's political participation. This section includes resources regarding gender and women's political participation that can support inclusive youth DRG programs.
How can a gendered understanding of power and politics make development work more effective? Many development programs tend to look at gender issues and politics separately. Through a series of case studies, this research asks what we can learn from more integrated approaches. It includes: a briefing note that highlights key lessons; a literature review on thinking and working politically and gender equality; a context paper, and three in-depth studies that examine how gender and politics came together in social change processes − women political leaders in the Pacific − labour reform in Vietnam’s garment industry − transgender empowerment and social inclusion in Indonesia; 14 short case studies of development programs that aim to be both politically informed and gender aware; and a synthesis of their key insights.
With many emerging democracies experiencing stagnation or setbacks, providers of democracy support are struggling to tailor assistance strategies to highly varied transitional contexts. As a crucial area of international aid for democracy as well as for development more generally, efforts to bolster women’s political empowerment share this challenge. Strategic differentiation not only helps identify what types of programs may be most effective in advancing gender equality in politics but also reveals how this work can be a critical lever for broader change where attempted transitions have slipped into dysfunctional patterns.
As numbers of women in politics around the world increase, young women may become more inspired to take part in politics. This may in part be because more women than ever before receive higher education, participate in the global workforce, and hold professional decision making positions, which in turn should lead to a strengthened role and status of women in society. Additionally, more women in politics can serve as positive role-models for young women who aspire to make policy changes in their countries. At the same time, women face more barriers than men when entering politics, which is even more difficult for young women who, in some instances, face double discrimination of age and gender. This consolidated response highlights the skills and techniques that young women can use to get involved and gain recognition in politics. The response specifically highlights the importance of developing strong communications skills, building support networks both within and outside political parties, volunteering and getting involved in community and nonprofit organizations, and staying informed about socio-political issues.
Following the liberation of the political participation sphere brought by the “January 14 Revolution”, interests were revivified for research on politics and relationships between co-citizens, particularly youth which had been for long perceived to be apolitical, shut away in their private sphere. The Tunisian Revolution has indeed changed society’s perception on youth not willing to engage in politics, as it showed that they were actually interested but differently. The Authoritarian regime of Ben Ali affected political engagement by increasing its repercussions (risks taken by engaging in protest movements), and by implying rejection of politics. The change witnessed since the Revolution in the structure of political opportunities (new context of democratic transition) has to some degree increased participation opportunities. Did youth political participation increased after the revolution? Do they prefer other outlines of participation/engagement to party support? Do their political practices and perception of politics reflect any crisis in the representation system? This study was realized in the framework of the project “Young women and public participation: institutional and informal mobilization paving the way to future actions” initiated by the Centre of Arab women for training and research -CAWTAR- and financed by the International development research centre -IDRC-. In this study we attempt to answer some of these issues by focusing on a special category: Women. Our focus in this study is specifically young women regarding the persistent poor representation of women in politics and chiefly young women’s representation.
Partners in a new consortium, The National Democratic Institute, The Population Council, Running Start and Women Win, convened a meeting in the margins of this year’s General Assembly to present their idea for an innovative program to increase the political confidence of adolescent girls and young women around the world. Through multi-year, multi-country piloting programs it will empower adolescent girls and young women to lead positive, sustainable change in their lives and in their communities. In New York, the young women shared their different experiences of building political confidence at an early age. Some had benefited from, or had themselves established, peer networks that provided the solidarity needed to inspire political confidence. Their confidence lit up the room, and they told stories which all converged to the same point: girls’ confidence peaks in early adolescence, and, once they hit puberty, their horizons shrink while their male counterparts’ horizons expand. We know that the global community has capitalized on young women’s confidence by investing heavily in traditional personal development areas -- education, financial management, skills training, sexual and reproductive health -- during these formative years. However, little is being done to develop their political literacy and civic engagement skills. We can teach adolescent girls and young women that they have the right to guard their health, make decisions about their own schooling and earn the same wages as a man, but if they don’t have the capacity to advocate and legislate around those rights, any progress made is unsustainable, and, indeed, any gains can easily be lost.