Empowering young people participate and lead is essential to the democratic health of all societies. IRI equips young people around the world with the skills and networks to engage in civic and political processes in a way that meets them where they are.
IRI’s approach prioritizes meaningful youth engagement, recognizes young people’s unique needs based on intersecting identities, provides young people with opportunities for engagement, and helps young people learn new skills and build networking opportunities. IRI’s Sahel program uses a variety of approaches to support young people in the region, from helping young peacebuilders and entrepreneurs in Mali to working with Mauritanian youth on media literacy and advocacy skills ahead of the last election.
IRI ensures young people are properly equipped and ready to be advocates for democracy. IRI also promotes young people’s participation in decision-making. Through networks like Generation Democracy and the Leaders Advancing Democracy Program (LEAD) program, IRI connects young leaders with peers and partners to collaborate, get access to tools and resources,, and to provide opportunities to put their skills into action.
Young people must be involved in designing, using, and evaluating the activities that help them engage. IRI includes diverse groups of young people in order to ensure equity for all voices and to address systemic barriers to participation based on orientations and identities.
In addition to working with young people in over 80 countries, IRI engages young leaders in the way Washington works in order to restore positive perceptions of the United States and its ideals at home and around the world. For example, building on the momentum of the 2021 Summit for Democracy, IRI joined with the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) to identify actionable recommendations to inform the U.S. government’s efforts to reestablish and strengthen democratic norms around the globe.
Positive Youth Development (PYD)
IRI’s the Ideathon, is a place to apply practical skills for political and civic participation. Inspired by the concept of a “hackathon,” the Ideathon has been held in over eleven countries, including Panama, Thailand, Haiti, and Korea, and uses a competition model to encourage young people to challenge themselves and their ideas.
Through youth-led leadership groups like Generation Democracy (GenDem) and the European Youth Democracy Network (EDYN), IRI helps young people contribute to their nation’s development. IRI understands that young people themselves are able to provide the best, most nuanced understanding of youth issues. For example, as a result of IRI’s research on barriers to youth civic engagement in Laos, Proud to be Us Laos developed a Peer Educators Program, a program now funded by IRI.
Promoting Political and Civic Participation
IRI supports young leaders through investments in civic and political engagement, ensuring that young people play a role in protecting democratic governance and overcoming sustainable development challenges. IRI provides young people with critical civic education training in Ukraine as well as space to launch community projects and dialogues to get out the vote in Mongolia.
IRI works to ensure young people have access to peaceful ways to express their insights and concerns. In Indonesia, IRI holds multi-party Emerging Leaders Academies (ELAs) across the country to train young party members on leadership, party operations, and campaigning. In Turkey, IRI’s Youth Fellows have supported political parties, demonstrating to senior political figures the benefit of working with younger generation in decision making.
Recognizing that intersectionally vulnerable youth – such as young women, LGBTQI+ youth and young people with disabilities – are particularly at risk for political exclusion, IRI provides support to amplify often excluded voices. In Panama, IRI partnered with Colón’s Black Ethnicity Foundation (Fundación de la Etnia Negra) to help it promote the rights of young Afro-Panamanians in their quest to make their demands heard.
Generation Democracy – IRI’s flagship youth network – consists of over 325 young leaders from across 81 countries. Over six years of its existence, GenDem has created a pool of young people who promote civic and political participation and expose their colleagues to new approaches and ideas.
GenDem members have access to subaward funding, opportunities to serve as elected officials on the group’s board, and ways to participate in global panels to share their expertise. Recognizing that youth-led programming works best when it is buttressed by preparation and support, Generation Democracy provides learning in virtual training sessions and Global Summits that bring members together to share best practices and lessons learned.
Throughout Europe, IRI works to advance young people’s role in revitalizing democracy, rights, and governance through networks that foster meaningful connections across ideologies and borders. In a joint effort between IRI and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), EDYN is a coalition of more than 300 young leaders from 22 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. EDYN members are committed to promoting political and civic engagement in their communities. They make an impact through cross-border networking, best practice exchanges, projects supported by IRI, and individually tailored professional development. ALPI encourages emerging political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia to realize the benefits of working across parties while equipping them with the political skills they need to advocate for greater youth participation and representation in politics. To replicate ALPI’s success in other countries, IRI has created a toolkit so interested parties can apply best practices that have prepared ALPI members to overcome barriers to youth political participation.
IRI intentionally includes opportunities for young people to engage across sectors. IRI partners range from universities to media firms to business leaders. For example, ahead of the 2021 election in Ethiopia, IRI partnered with a local television station to launch a TV series connecting Ethiopian youth so they could exchange ideas and debate some of the country’s most pressing issues. In Bangladesh, IRI partners with political party student wings to bridge the ongoing political divide and understand best practices for non-violence and build critical thinking skills. Through the McCain Fellowship for Freedom (MFF), IRI brings together a global cohort of rising political and public leaders who are committed to political and economic freedom.
To promote lessons learned from these programs and others, IRI is collaborating with CEPPS partners to develop a Youth Democracy and Governance (DRG) Cross-Sectoral Initiative (CSI) toolkit which will serve as a resource for youth development practitioners and young leaders as they design and implement cross-sectoral programs and initiatives.ms and initiatives.