Celebrating Generation Democracy on International Youth Day

  • Gretchen Birkle

On International Youth Day 2016 we will be reminded of both the challenges and opportunities for young people around the world. 

We know that today we are living with the largest generation of young people the world has ever known and that many millions of young people in the developing world are facing little to no opportunity to participate in the political life of their country.  On the other hand, we also hear how young people around the world are overcoming significant obstacles and are working together to harness real change in their communities.  

For Generation Democracy, International Youth Day is a day to showcase the extraordinary steps many young people have taken in their communities to build the foundation for a brighter democratic future.   These young people have decided to be part of the solution to the challenges they face; they would rather be at the table as part of the decision making process on what programs will benefit youth than be only on the receiving end.  The powerful energy behind Generation Democracy is the young members themselves, and their propensity for ‘movement building.’  Today’s youth are ready to be part of something bigger than themselves, and definitely part of something bigger than their government institutions, which, frankly speaking, seldom reflect the interests or concerns of young people.  Initiatives like Generation Democracy are filling that goal – providing a platform for youth engagement so that young people know that they are not alone, they are part of a bigger movement, a bigger momentum for change.  As I have been happy to witness on countless occasions, young people are rising to the challenge.

In Mali, for example, Generation Democracy has partnered with the National Council of Youth, a network that connects dozens of youth organizations across the country, and with the Ministry of Youth, to garner both local, civil society organization and government buy-in for activities that will work for the greater inclusion of youth into the decision making process at all levels of government.

Young political activists in Georgia are working creatively through a media-based debate program that is literally reaching thousands of young people across the country to champion youth input into the political process. 

Throughout Asia, IRI has partnered with the Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), many of whom have endorsed Generation Democracy.  This partnership will be readily apparent on International Youth Day as YSEALI members engage on social media to address key issues facing young people in their local communities.   Beyond social media, YSEALI members are benefiting from leadership grants to design programs that have a direct impact in their communities, ensuring that new programs are designed by youth, for youth. 

Generation Democracy continues to bring important access to young political activists.  With funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, Generation Democracy has three goals:  provide new skills, new opportunities to use those skills, and increased peer-to-peer networking to increase young people’s access to and participation in the decisions that affect their lives.  Generation Democracy is preparing young people to not only be the next generation of leadership in their communities, but to be an active participant in political life today. 

On International Youth Day, Generation Democracy will remind us all that young people are united by a calling to be a true agent of change in their society.  Young people are not hoping to make a difference in the future, they are working to change their life right now.  At Generation Democracy, we like to say Youth First.  We look beyond ethnic background, age, race and religion, and instead focus on the common dreams of young people – creating a better community today.  As a young Generation Democracy member from Mauritania told me recently, “As young people, we need to decide about our own future.”  Generation Democracy looks forward to supporting young people around the world as they build tomorrow’s democracy today.    

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