Nadyah: Empowering Youth Through YUGA

Youth can be a dynamic and creative source of innovation. Throughout history, youth have contributed to, participated in, and even catalyzed important changes in political systems, economic advancements, and social opportunities.

Youth are a tremendous source of power and inspiration, which is why youth empowerment and inclusion is essential. Plan International USA recognizes this valuable idea, and through its Youth United for Global Action and Awareness (YUGA) program, the organization has empowered hundreds of young people over the past decade.

YUGA is a nationwide network of ambitious young people who take action on world issues. Through campaigns and awareness-raising activities, YUGA members educate their schools and communities on global challenges and engage them in finding solutions.

Through workshops, campaigns, toolkits, and the annual YUGA Leadership Summit, Plan has educated hundreds of young people on important global issues including water insecurity, girls’ rights, humanitarian law, and climate change. YUGA has fostered global-mindedness and international awareness among its members. Participating in these educational activities has led many YUGA members to become passionate about international development and awareness-raising for important causes.

With the support of Plan, YUGA members have pursued their passions by gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to take action and make a difference in their schools and communities. YUGA members have started chapters throughout the country, held Walk for Wells events, led Because I Am a Girl campaigns, and organized documentary screenings. In this process, members have gained valuable leadership skills such as communication, organization, and determination. They have become a part of a global network of young leaders, and they have had unique opportunities to attend conferences where they have met global leaders.

The result is that dozens of communities and schools have gained a new perspective on the world and have benefited from the actions of YUGA members. These emerging leaders are paying it forward in their communities, while also taking on numerous other leadership positions.

Through YUGA, Plan has sparked a sense of service, passion, leadership, and persistence within youth participants. Over the past 10 years, YUGA has impacted hundreds of young people, empowered them to give back to their communities, and helped train them to become part of the next generation of global leaders.

Marisa: For Youth, Now is the Time

I kind of have a problem with the phrase “Youth are the future.” I mean, we are tomorrow’s doctors and teachers and politicians and CEOs, but if we’re “the future,” then what does that make us right now? Yes, of course it’s important to invest in youth to help secure their futures and strengthen society, but sometimes I think we fail to remember and encourage the contributions that a young person can make now.

To me, implying that youth are our future diminishes the importance of the impact that we can have today.

For over 10 years now, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with an organization that not only believes in the potential of young people, but also in our present capabilities. Plan International invests millions of dollars each year in the well being of children and young people around the world to ensure that they have the opportunities and resources to meet their full potential. And, this isn’t just so that we can make a difference in the future. Plan invests in empowering young people so that they can have a voice today. Two years ago, I was elected to Plan International USA’s Board of Directors as their first ever youth trustee. The Board of Directors meets with the Executive Team and members of the senior staff four times a year to give input into strategic, budgetary, and other high-level decisions. This incredible opportunity not only gave me a chance to give back to an organization that I care so deeply about, but also showed that Plan “walks the walk” when it comes to youth participation in governance.

So why is it even important for youth to participate in governance?

Especially for an organization like Plan that was founded to improve the lives of young people, I really think it’s essential to involve youth in decisions that affect them. The idea of community-centered development, or development that involves community members in decisions and projects that affect their own lives, is thought to produce more sustainable development outcomes because there is more community ownership and buy-in. Young people are a significant population in any community, even more so in the developing world, so it makes sense that they should also be included in the process. The organization benefits too – having a young person involved in any decision-making process can provide another perspective. Having diversity in any group is generally encouraged – people from different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders see the world differently, which allows the group to consider more sides to a problem or decision. Age diversity is no different. Young people might bring curiosity, creativity, energy, and passion that is both refreshing and engaging. We might ask the questions that adults shy away from.

So now back to that phrase: Youth are the future. That’s true, we are. But that’s not all we are. We are over 1 billion voices around the world, and we deserve not only to be heard, but to be made partners in decisions that affect our lives. We deserve to be empowered. Since this month is Youth Empowerment Month at Plan, I want to challenge you to walk the walk. If you’re a young person, try to see if there are organizations or groups that you care about that could benefit from your perspective. Adults, try and meaningfully engage a young person in conversation about a decision you’re making or get his or her input in a work-related or other organizational discussion. We might surprise each other.

Sara: Addressing the Role of Young People in Sustainable Development Goals

The following is Part I of a two-part blog from Sara, who was at the United Nations headquarters in New York, consulting on youth participation and governance sections within the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hi, I’m Sara. I belong to Plan International’s Global Youth Advisory Panel. Currently, I’m in New York City preparing for a workshop called “Measuring Youth Engagement in Governance: Workshop on Youth-Focused Indicators for Goal 16 Governance Targets.” While the title seemed like a mouthful when I arrived a few days ago, I‘ve come to learn what it means.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight benchmarks to guide global development for the next 15 years. As the 15-year deadline for achieving the MDGs is approaching, countries have realized they are not on track for reaching the internationally agreed-upon goals. Therefore, an updated and more realistic framework has been proposed called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs address 17 global challenges such as poverty, food security and nutrition, education, gender equality, the environment, and governance.

Each goal includes numerous targets, giving them more depth. There are also indicators to evaluate each target. For example, under Goal 16, there is a proposed target to significantly reducing violence everywhere. An indicator to measure the success of the target is the number of homicides per 100,000 people.

While the goals and targets are nearly finalized, there is still space for civil society to influence the indicators. That’s where we come in!

This workshop brings together young people with a background in governance and participatory accountability, UN agencies, and experts from civil society to discuss the role of young people in the decision-making processes addressed by the SDGs.

There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old. Partnering with young people to design the SDGs is necessary to ensure meaningfulness and effectiveness. As young people, we face many of the challenges addressed in the SDGs, and because the goals affect our future, we will be more invested in fulfilling them if they reflect our needs.

Governance is addressed within Goal 16, which calls for peaceful and inclusive societies for suitable development, access to justice, and effective and accountable institutions at all levels. Specifically, we are focusing on targets around accountable, transparent, participatory, and responsive decision-making processes. Young people must address Goal 16 to ensure the SDGs support youth-friendly decision-making, policy development, and implementation.

From this preparatory training, I’ve become familiar with the SDGs, the meaning of targets and indicators, and how young people can belong to the SDG design, implementation, and evaluation. The training included young people from youth-focused advocacy groups in Jordan, Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa, with facilitation support from Plan International UK and Restless Development.

We discussed our definition of governance, barriers to youth participation, and examples of indicators for measuring impact. We practiced defending our right to spaces in decision-making forums and envisioned what the future would be for young people under the SDGs.