To BE HERE to BE ME. Strengthening youth field through leadership and active participation

"VAN" (Europe Bureau - Aleksey Vesyoliy) :: Nearly half of the people in the developing world and 30% worldwide are under 25 years of age. It is estimated that 80% of global youth live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, there is a stark disparity in their geographical distribution within and between continents, regions, and countries as well as between rural and urban areas. Youth as a stage of life is seen differently in different societies. The social and cultural meanings ascribed to youth vary extensively historically and geographically.

Active participation is a key expected outcome that young people can achieve when taking part in youth work. Participation is a fundamental right. It is one of the guiding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has been reiterated in many other Conventions and Declarations. The view that young people are active participants who should be involved in decision making processes on matters that directly affect them is found in international treaties. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is notable for its comprehensive view of children’s rights, including the right to participate in decision-making processes on matters that affect their lives, in accordance with their capabilities.

Young people are the core of a nation’s future, yet this significant stakeholder is rarely involved in poverty reduction strategies, environmental planning, and sustainable urban development. “Youth” is everywhere across the world, young people’s participation and activism is in the spotlight.

Young people are on the political map around the world, and their role and importance are highlighted. The economic crisis has increased youth unemployment and risks of social exclusion of young people to unacceptably high level. Despite progress and  improvements  been made over the last years, early school leaving and youth unemployment remain at unacceptable levels in several European Union Member States. Young people are often referred and seen as “citizens in the making”, “future leaders” and are never fully integrated and actively engaged in solving socially relevant problems contributing in creating the society at large.

Participation is about being able to take part in and influence decisions that impact our lives. Through active participation, young people are empowered to play a vital role in their own development as well as in that of their communities, helping them to learn vital life-skills, develop knowledge on human rights and citizenship and to promote positive civic action. To participate effectively, young people must be given the proper tools, such as information, education about and access to their civil rights.

The demand for a qualified workforce in technology and research intensive sectors is and will remain at a high level, with an impact on the demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics related skills. Literacy, numeracy and basic maths and science are key foundations for further learning. These skills are nonetheless being redefined by the ongoing digital revolution. In a world of international exchanges, the ability to speak foreign languages is a factor for competitiveness.

Education is often about power, which may end up in learnt powerlessness in the context of learning. Education needs to drive up both standards and levels of achievement to match this demand, as well as encourage the transversal skills needed to ensure young people are able to be entrepreneurial and adapt to the increasingly inevitable changes in the labour market during their career.

Young people are a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic growth and technological innovation.

Businesses also require the language skills needed to function in the global marketplace. Increasing transversal and basic skills alone will not be sufficient to generate growth and competitiveness, and there is still too much distance between the educational environment and the workplace.  Attention should be focused on the development of entrepreneurial skills, because they not only contribute to new business creation but also to the employability of young people.

Modern and  knowledge-based economies require young people with higher and more relevant skills. Languages are more and more important to increase levels of employability and mobility of young people, and poor language skills are a major obstacle to free movement of workers.

The development of youth leadership is critical building civic capacity and long –term community sustainability.

Young people across the world are encouraged and have the right to take part as active citizens in creating the communities they belong to, locally and in society at large. Youth active participation  has direct economic, political, social and cultural implications, and it requires the availability of institutional channels for active engagement in community and public life. Youth work is provided through both the voluntary and local authority sectors and through a variety of youth work settings and methods, including youth forums and youth councils, and gives opportunities for young people to be involved in decision-making processes. Youth work takes place in a wide range of settings: youth clubs, youth organisations, youth units, youth cafes etc. Youth work offers young people opportunities for learning that are participative: it encouraging and supporting young people to become partners in, and share responsibility for, the opportunities, learning processes and decision-making structures which affect their own and other people's lives and environments.

Youth work plays an essential role in reaching and bringing together young people who face exclusion on a daily basis. If youth workers and youth organisations cannot reach out to and include young people with the fewest opportunities in their activities, where else will they benef it from the non-formal learning experiences these activities provide?

Youth participation develops as they become more involved and experienced. It does not happen at once but is a gradual progression as young people learn through different experiences, activities and opportunities. Youth work contributes to young peoples’ learning and development enabling young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development. Youth work enables young peoples’ voices, influence and place in society to reach their full potential.

Are youth workers ready to respond to the challenges that youth face?

There is an increasing need to offer youth workers and practitioners more hands-on advice and long-term approaches for supporting young people in overcoming barriers to social inclusion. It is important for young people’s self-esteem to feel valued by the people they care about, and by themselves. A lack of this can lead to frustration and aggressive behaviour. Youth workers do play an essential role in working with young people with fewer opportunities. Working with a very dynamic group, in contexts and situations that are permanently changing, the work done requires a permanent change in methodologies and approaches as well as constant innovation. Excluded young people are hard to reach and the more excluded they are the harder it is. Making contact with young people is not enough; we need to engage and work with them. The problem is compounded by the fact that many marginalised young people express suspicion, even hostility, towards the involvement of professionals in their lives. This is why youth work is so important. Its often voluntary and community-based nature means that youth workers and youth organisations have a better chance than most to make contact and build trusting relationships with young people on the margins of society.

Youth workers need to understand well the policy context in which they operate, and to use the opportunities it provides to support young people in overcoming barriers to social inclusion. Youth work has direct impact on young people:

● Building young people’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

● Developing young people’s ability to manage personal and social relationships.

● Creating learning opportunities for young people to develop new skills.

● Building the capacity of young people to consider risk and make decisions, take social commitment.

Youth participation is important and has benefits for the young people themselves, and the community as a whole. Young people become more confident and enthusiastic when they see that their views are being taken seriously and acted upon. They feel increased ownership and responsibility for activities they initiate and implement.  Their self-esteem improves, they gain skills, and they become more likely to actively participate in other areas of their lives, for example their local community, school, politics. If young people are involved in planning and decision-making, the youth activities are more likely to be relevant and enjoyable for young people.  This means young people are more likely to attend, and display good behaviour when they do.

Youthpass learning process encourages young people  to take responsibility for their own learning and do it step by step focusing  on young people’s strengths and successful learning experiences.

Youth work empowers young people to shape their own future through providing space for the development of their competences. The educational aspect of youth work lies within its principles and practices which empower young people. Through non-formal education  young people not only gain knowledge but also build up skills for their personal development and social interaction. Non-formal education includes a cognitive learning process and encircles it with emotional and social learning processes. Young people are also able to develop certain attitudes towards themselves as well as in interacting with others.

Creating a nurturing environment offering possibilities for youth, specifically with fewer opportunities, to impactfully participate can build a strong sense of ownership and belonging of a community and foster active participation. Communities, society at large can greatly benefit from the rich diversity.

Publication author: Sintija Bernava,

Chairwoman of the Board of Non Governmental Organisation "Donum Animus" - Only Organisation from Latvia  holding Special Consultative Status of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

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