The ‘power of youth’ is celebrated. But is this just a token gesture?

This blog draws on experiences of the role of youth at the European Development Days conference which took place June 2016 in Brussels.

By Elena Leggett

As I was attending the European Development Days conference both as a young person and as a member of the UN Major Group for Children and Youth; issues relating to the role of young people in development were of paramount importance to me, and I was keen to participate in discussions relating to issues faced by young people.

On the first day of the conference I met with activists from youth led development organisation Restless Development, who were working on their #YouthPower campaign. World leaders have signed up to Sustainable Development Goals which promise to bring an end to poverty, inequality and climate change. #YouthPower aims to hold world leaders to account on these goals, and ensure they are more than just empty promises. The power of young people is seen as unique in its capacity to achieve the Global Goals, and the promises made cannot be kept anywhere without young people acting everywhere.


Representatives from Restless Development leading the #YouthPower campaign at EDD16

There were many sessions at the conference concerning the role of young people in development. However in spite of these sessions, where people with the best intentions spoke of their commitment to improving young people’s lives, I felt that young people were underrepresented at the conference. My awareness of this was heightened by my knowledge that there are many great examples of young people’s involvement in development which I didn’t feel were captured at the conference.

The face of the #YouthPower campaign is Eva, a 15 year old Tanzanian girl who, along with her classmates, has written to Tanzanian leaders asking for there to be clean water in her village, as she currently misses class to walk to collect water every day. The petition has been a major success, with 120,000 people signing in its first month.

A further example of young people’s positive role in development is YouthActionNet, a network of young social entrepreneurs comprising more than 1,350 young leaders in 90 countries. YouthActionNet fellows have pioneered ways of solving some of the most challenging development issues, for example using bicycles to empower low-income youth with job skills. YouthActionNet provide online learning activities to equip greater numbers of young people with the skills they need to make a difference.

Whilst stories such as these were frequently shared at the conference sessions I attended, I felt I was in a minority as a young participant of the conference. This was exemplified by the session held by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, which was aimed at young people, but few attendees were of the target audience.


Elena pictured presenting at the EDD conference on behalf of UNMGCY

This led me to question whether events such as the European Development Days really present an opportunity for young people’s issues to be heard in a way that would influence decisions, or whether sessions concerning youth are merely a token gesture. Where young voices are excluded from events such as these, and decision making processes more generally, they do not have a say over their own futures. Young people’s involvement in decision making must be meaningful in order to achieve positive change.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s