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.