Generation Democracy Summit Showcases Youth Contributions to Global Freedom

  • Meryl Ertelt

Last month, IRI engaged 34 young leaders from around the world in its fourth annual Generation Democracy Global Summit – an event that empowers the next generation of changemakers to promote freedom at home and abroad. In this post, we shine a light on young peoples’ commitment to protecting democratic institutions across the globe and demonstrate why the support of organizations like IRI are critical to elevating them as agents of change.

Although more than 65 percent of the global population is under the age of 34, young people remain underrepresented in political decision-making processes around the world. But through IRI’s flagship youth program, Generation Democracy, the Institute is equipping young leaders with the knowledge, skills and networks to better advocate for reform and overcome barriers to meaningful political participation. The aim is to promote more vibrant, resilient and inclusive democracies.

This year’s Generation Democracy Summit included four days of member- and expert-led learning and reflection sessions, networking activities and brainstorming forums to provide the participants with the tools needed to strengthen democracy in their countries. Unlike with previous Summits, this year’s event was adapted to a virtual forum, but the discussions it facilitated still brought to light key insights into the importance of youth political involvement and how their inclusion is most effectively fostered.

Youth Addressing Todays More Pressing Challenges

With the rise of COVID-19, young people around the world have played key roles in managing the pandemic by leading and amplifying citizen-led responses. As part of an expert-led session during the Generation Democracy Summit, Tharma Pillai – IRI partner and co-founder of pro-democracy nonprofit Undi18 – discussed the process, challenges and success stories from their facilitation of a digital parliament in Malaysia. As a result of the discussion, participants better understood how to move governance online during the pandemic—a key lesson for young leaders as they navigate the “new normal” of COVID-19.

On the final day of the Summit, Malik Sakic – Generation Democracy member and incoming President of the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN) – opened with a session that also exemplified the essential role youth play in safeguarding democracy. He discussed how young people have been at the forefront of another pressing challenge: the protests in Belarus. “Many young activists have shown up with their umbrellas and have shown their dedication to securing a more democratic future,” he said.

Following the Summit, Generation Democracy will continue to use sub-award funding, online training and networking opportunities to empower young leaders to move from protest to policy.

The Importance of Cross-Sectoral Approaches

There is growing evidence that leveraging a cross-sectoral approach to increasing youth political participation is most effective when empowering young people to address complex development challenges. Mariam Kasrashvili, a Generation Democracy member from Georgia, for instance, led a session on her leadership journey from medicine to politics, as well as her role in the country’s most recent elections. During the session, she explained how COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of political parties, policy-makers and healthcare professionals working together to ensure the safety and protect the rights of citizens. As a young political leader with a background in healthcare policy, Mariam led the charge to ensure Georgians’ voices were heard and their most pressing pandemic-related concerns met.

A Platform for Empowering Young Leaders to Uphold Democratic Ideals

The 2020 Generation Democracy Summit demonstrated the importance of providing a platform for young leaders to learn from and connect with other youth changemakers – whether it be virtually or in-person. In a member-led session on democracy promotion through art, Mantate Mlotshwa highlighted how the annual Voice2Rep Zimbabwe campaign has mobilized young musicians to influence social norms. She said, “These initiatives are in Zimbabwe right now, but I can give you the insights to show that this is something that can also be done in West Africa, South Africa, East Africa and even on a global level.” Participants later reported that by attending the Summit and collecting best practices from their peers, their initiatives will be more successful. According to one participant, the Summit provided, “specific and practical examples, as well as interesting materials to learn from and practice.”

What’s Next?

Encouraging and equipping young people to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes is critical for building stronger democracies across the globe. This is the reason events like the Generation Democracy Global Summit are essential. To continue amplifying the outcomes of the Generation Democracy Summit and other initiatives, its members are in the process of campaigning and electing a member-led global advisory board, tasked with forging a vision and charter to help drive the network. The board, alongside the Institute, will promote member-led activities, collaboration and ensure that the priorities of the network reflect the issues impacting youth around the globe.

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