Youth can be a positive force for development when provided with knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive and currently there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years accounting for 16% of the global population. The theme of International Youth Day 2020 is ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’ which aims to highlight the need to enable youth engagement by making local, national and global institutions more inclusive, strengthening their capacity and relevance to achieve global action.
It gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives showcasing ways young people are enriching institutions through meaningful, universal and equitable engagement. International Youth Day also draws lessons on how youth engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.
The commemoration will take the form of a podcast-style discussion hosted by youth for youth, together with independently organised commemorations around the world recognising the importance of youth participation in political, economic and social life processes. Creative elements such as spoken word artists will break up substantive discussions and online products will be created and disseminated around the globe.
With only 10 years remaining to make the United Nations 2030 agenda a reality, trust in public institutions and the international system of governance, against the backdrop of an increasingly polarised world is currently undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and relevance. This crisis is rooted in the need to strengthen capacity of the international system to act in concert and implement solutions to challenges and threats to contemporary conflicts and humanitarian emergencies such as Syria and Myanmar, as well as global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.
Enabling the engagement of youth in formal political mechanisms increases fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributing to better and more sustainable policies and has symbolic importance helping restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth. COVID-19 affects all segments of the population with young people playing a key role in the management of this outbreak and the recovery following the outbreak.
Though much is still unknown on how the disease affects young people, governments are mandated in the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) to ensure their services meet the needs of young people. It is important to ensure youth are heard alongside other community and patient voices in the rollout of health and non-health interventions in response to COVID-19.
Building up capacity of youth to make their own decisions on health and to take responsibility for health is a key element of WPAY and young people also form a key element in an inclusive achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during this Decade of Action. The role of governments, youth organisations and community groups will be essential to ensure that trustworthy public health information is disseminated.
Health education, public health promotion and evidence-based information are critical in combating the spread and effects of COVID-19, especially to challenge the spread of disinformation online. Young innovators are responding to the virus through social impact innovation and with a number of initiatives being developed to leverage young people’s efforts to generate and deliver support to at-risk populations or populations affected by the pandemic.
They are using online technologies to spread public health information in engaging ways such as videos to promote effective handwashing or explain how social distancing can save lives. Many youth-driven technology innovation hubs are supporting startups to develop effective solutions to address COVID-19 such as an open living lab and pre-incubation space in Nigeria offering to provide financial, research and design support for projects related to COVID-19.
While most of these initiatives are on a voluntary basis such as young people offering to shop for and deliver food to elders or at-risk people, they can also take the shape of social enterprises. Join #31DaysOfYOUth, a social media campaign to celebrate young people, throughout August to help spread the word and strike up a conversation surrounding youth engagement for global action.