I'm currently at the Civicus World Assembly, which, for the first time this year, has included the Civicus Youth Assembly.
The Youth Assembly has brought together 130 young people from 65 countries, spending two days before the main assembly exploring global issues, and inputting into the main assembly. The Youth Assembly is a positive step for Civicus on the journey to meaningfully engaging young people in its work, challenging age-based discrimination and drawing on the innovative spirit of youth* – but it also illustrates how essential it is that the rational for engaging young people is clear in each context when it is explored.
There are at least two ways in which young people might engage in the Civicus World Assembly.
Firstly, as young practioners, involved in the same daily struggles and facing the same set of problems as 'adult' world assembly delegates. That is, involved in the building of civil society organisations, in the provision of service, in the development of new sollutions.
Secondly, young people might be involved as young stakeholders, affected by the work of 'adult' delegates and their organisations. That is, service recipients, involved in day-to-day personal struggles, or representing** communities facing practical struggles in claiming their own rights to healthcare, employment, food security and civic engagement.
(Of course, these are not mutually exclusive – one can be both a service deliverer, and a service recipient – but we are interested in the 'role' through which a young person may be selected for involvement in a participation process)
The role in which young people are invited to engage in the assembly alters the role which they should play.
Young practioners may need training and support in contextualising issues – with the aim of them participating in shared problem solving, knowledge sharing and work-based-networking with 'adult' delegates.
Young stakeholders may need space to critique the ideas presented, make claims of adult delegates on behalf of their selves and their communities, and, within the right processes, to contribute to the generation of innovative sollutions to shared problems.
(Again we are not dealing with polarities – but the difference is important)
If the agenda is a 'young stakeholders' agenda – then it arguably only makes sense without a broader stakeholder involvement agenda. This agenda is an important one… but I'm not clear that bringing a large population of 'on-the-ground' stakeholders to the Civicus Assembly would be the most productive or coherent approach.
As far as I understand the work of Civicus at present, the second 'young practioners' agenda fits best. If this is the case – then if follows that (in the longer term at least) the distinction between 'young delegate' and 'adult delegate' should be broken down. Rather, it should be recognised that to fully participate in shared problem solving at the assembly, some individuals may need more 'induction', more space to be introduced to particular issues and more training or support to be heard against the already confident voices. There will be a higher number of young people in this group of individuals – but the group will not exclusively be young.
On Sunday, young delegates at the World Assembly will make a presentation in the closing plenary… at the moment that presentation suffers in part from a confusion about the role of young people at the assembly… though it is heading in the right direction. And how that presentation is received should take us further to understanding the rationality on which Civicus is seeking to deepen its engagement with young people.
*A suggestion that youth has a monopoly on innovation would provide some alternative rationality for their engagement. But of course, such a suggestion would be flawed. And in-so-far as young people have greater capacity for innovation, we should be seeking to learn from them so that we can all become more innovative – and innovative, creative problems solving becomes the domain of all…
**I'll blog more on the concept of respresentation at some point soon…