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There are 1.8 billion young people bringing unique perspectives and diverse experiences that are valuable for the development of our shared future. To understand what meaningful youth engagement, participation and leadership really means, we must listen to young people themselves.

Through the Rising Minds podcast, young people shape conversations on the issues that impact their lives and wellbeing. In a series of deep dive blog posts, we summarise key messages from the speakers of the podcasts. This post reviews what youth engagement and leadership really means – and why it must be an urgent priority.

In the face of challenges for adolescents today, young people must be recognized as powerful agents of positive change. So, let’s explore – with the help of young people – why we need them to lead today and what youth leadership should look like.

Youth leadership brings diversity and unique strengths and perspectives.

Young people bring diverse perspectives and firsthand experiences to the table, ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of issues – not only in regards to the needs and aspirations of the youth population.

The speakers in the Rising Minds podcasts stress the importance of involving young people from diverse backgrounds to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and solutions needed. This diverse range of voices and perspectives from young people need to be heard and considered in decision-making processes.

Condolizzarice Akumawa, adolescent girl activist from Cameroon.
Condolizzarice Akumawa, adolescent girl activist, Cameroon. Photo credit: Zamda Kavamahanga, Girls’ Globe

This echoes the “Nothing about us without us” mantra, used by various groups thorughout history, and is equally true for young people.

Condolizzarice Akumawa, adolescent girl activist from Cameroon, believes that only those living the life of adolescents can truly understand their challenges and contribute meaningful insights. She highlights that adolescent girls have unique perspectives and experiences that are essential for finding effective and sustainable solutions. She believes

Aditi Sivakumar, founder My Empowerment Platform, and Naledi Katsande, Programmes Lead for Youth for Health Promotion Zimbabwe, stress the urgent need to include young voices in decision-making processes, citing the direct impact of policies on the well-being of adolescents and youth.

Not only are young people essential to include in decision-making about the lives of young people. Their unique strengths and perspectives are important across the range of issues related to their future.

Speakers highlight the strengths of young people, including tech savviness and rapid mobilization through various platforms. The speakers argue that they play a crucial role in driving positive change.

Young feminist activist from São Paulo, Brazil, Helena Branco, stresses the need for young people to actively participate in democracy. By being involved in decision-making processes and advocating for legislative changes, they contribute to shaping a more equitable and inclusive society.

There is urgency in inclusion for global challenges and sustainability.

The speakers assert that achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is unlikely without active involvement and leadership from the youth. The speakers stress the necessity of meaningful youth engagement, stating that it is no longer a choice but a requirement to effectively address global challenges.

Shirlyne Ingolo, Communications, Campaign and Advocacy Manager for the Power to Health Program, at the Rising Minds radio station.
Shirlyne Ingolo, Communications, Campaign and Advocacy Manager at Amref Health Africa.

“If you do not consult us, if you do not include us, if you do not involve us, majority of the solutions that are provided are not necessarily sustainable.”

– Shirlyne Ingolo, Communications, Campaign and Advocacy Manager, Amref Health Africa

Not only is there an urgency in including young people in global challenges that need serious action. There is a sense of urgency in the work of youth-led organizations as well. They understand that their actions directly impact their lives. Speakers highlight the need for quick and impactful decisions, recognizing that the trust placed in youth-led organizations is not frivolous but serious and driven by a genuine desire for positive change.

Neglected issues are prioritised by young people.

Young people are seen as key to ensuring the relevance and authenticity of initiatives. Speakers mention instances where young people, when given the lead, have been able to identify and address issues that may be overlooked by older generations. This ensures that projects align more closely with the actual needs of the communities.

Gabrielle Bailey, Senior Program Officer for Grant Making and Constituency at the Children's Rights Innovation Fund, CRIS, profile photo.
Gabrielle Bailey, Senior Program Officer for Grant Making and Constituency at the Children’s Rights Innovation Fund, CRIF

“Young people are still organizing against the implications and the results of racism and colonialism to this day. And that is what we were able to bring to the fore by bringing young people who are representative of those communities to the table.”

– Gabrielle Bailey, Senior Program Officer, Children’s Rights Innovation Fund

The speakers argue that traditional approaches often neglect crucial issues affecting young people, including climate change, mental health, and food insecurity.

We need new ways of leading beyond traditional spaces.

Advocating for a shift in mindset, the speakers emphasize that young people not only deserve a seat at the decision-making table but are also capable of creating their own tables.

The speakers stress the importance of co-creation, where young people actively participate in shaping policies and programs that directly affect them, collaborating with policymakers, governments, and other stakeholders.

Leadership norms are changing.

Young leaders are emerging at the forefront of organizations, even in the development and feminist sector. Speakers emphasize that co-leadership models and multi-stakeholder platforms contribute to creating a positive shift in the leadership landscape.

Young people encourage innovation.

Young people often bring a fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. Allowing young people to lead fosters an environment where creative solutions can emerge, challenging traditional approaches and contributing to positive change.

Strengthen young people’s capacity and confidence!

Helena Branco, international relations and public policy student, Brazil
Helena Branco, international relations and public policy student, Brazil

Overall, the speakers contend that empowering young people in leadership positions is essential for creating a more inclusive, innovative, and responsive global community. This includes skills building, opportunities to engage with policymakers and peers alike.

“We talk about young people as the future, but we need to invest in the present, so we can actually have a promising future.”

Helena Branco, young feminist activist, Brazil

Flavia Bustreo, Vice Chair, Fondation Botnar, shares her experiences in activism and emphasizes the role of young people as change agents. She encourages them to “Just be brave! Don’t let any door be closed on you. Just open it.”

It’s time to end imposter syndrome and build confidence!

Speakers emphasize the importance of resilience, trying without fear of failure, and the significance of one’s voice and experiences. Youth leadership involves supporting and encouraging other young people to actively engage, voice their concerns, and lead initiatives for positive change.

In the Y-Act takeover of the Rising Minds podcast, Shirlyne Ingolo encourages young people to know that “you’re enough. Your voice is enough. You don’t need to have all these commercialized accolades.”

“Take up space. Be a young person. Take up space.”

– LilianMaria Wambui, Program Officer, Advocacy Coordination, Y-Act Youth in Action

Young people need access to resource mobilization.

Flavia Bustreo with Condolizzarice Akumawa at the Rising Minds radio station at Women Deliver 2023.
Flavia Bustreo with Condolizzarice Akumawa at the Rising Minds radio station at Women Deliver 2023.

Young speakers joining the Rising Minds podcast continually voice the need for resources and financing to support young people’s priorities and leadership. This includes resourcing co-leadership for candid, vulnerable conversations with young people in all their intersectional identities.

“At Fondation Botnar, we really want to give adolescents and youth meaningful engagement and participation and the voice because we really believe that your voice is the one that counts.”

– Flavia Bustreo, Vice Chair, Fondation Botnar

Speakers encourage opportunites for young people to shape resource mobilization and participate in decision-making about financing. “Money drives the movements we want to take,” says Oliva Nalwadda, Adolescent & Global Health Advocate, Uganda.

As young people acknowledge the need for funding, they also know that young people get things done through creative and innovative solutions. Shirlyne Ingolo encourages other young people to not wait for funding to take action, “as youth, we are very creative”.

It’s time to end tokenism!

Youth engagement involves young people actively participating in various spheres of society, including political processes, policymaking, and activism. It goes beyond tokenistic involvement and includes meaningful contributions to decision-making.

“Youth are not just for ticking boxes.”

– Helena Branco, Brazil

Helena calls for young people to have a meaningful role in conversations with policymakers. She stresses the need for more than just a symbolic seat at the table, advocating for young people to have a microphone and actively contribute to discussions, challenging the notion that their involvement is merely for appearances.

Oliva Nalwadda portrait photo.
Oliva Nalwadda, Adolescent & Global Health advocate, Uganda

“…this is my advice to other young leaders out there. If you feel it is tokenistic, if you feel they’re making you sign something that you’re even not sure what it is about, it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say, could you give me more information so that I make an informed decision whether to or not to.”

– Oliva Nalwadda, Adolescent & Global Health Advocate, Uganda

Oliva specifically mentions the need to challenge tokenism. True youth engagement means going beyond symbolic gestures and ensuring that young people have a meaningful role.

Truly trust young people!

Deepshikha Ghosh at the Rising Minds Radio Station.
Deepshikha Ghosh, young feminist practitioner, India and co-director of The YP Foundation. Photo credit: Fondation Botnar.

Youth engagement and leadership mean that young voices are not only heard but also taken seriously, with their opinions and contributions considered and integrated into policy development and programming.

“Trust that we are serious. Wherever we are speaking, [young people] want to be heard, we want to be listened to… but mostly trust that we can do this.”

– Deepshikha Ghosh, co-director The YP Foundation

There is a need to prove the trustworthiness of youth-led organizations, showcasing that they are not only fun, but also serious about their work. They aim to change perceptions and show that they can handle responsibilities effectively.

Young people often feel infantilized or not taken seriously when raising their voices. By leading initiatives, they seek to overcome stereotypes and demonstrate that youth can contribute meaningfully to decision-making processes. Their leadership challenges the notion that they need more time to understand and make decisions.

Create space for care.

Gabrielle Bailey stresses the significance of taking care of oneself and acknowledging that the work young people are involved in may not bring instant results. They highlight the importance of finding a balance, engaging in activities for personal enjoyment, and being part of a supportive community.

“Being in this work will take everything from you if you let it. That is the lesson here… often we’re working on things that will not change overnight, and running yourself to the ground in the name of a cause will not save the world; it will not make it happen faster.”

– Gabrielle Bailey, CRIF

Gabrielle also mentions the importance of community, taking time for oneself and encouraging breathing space.

There is a call for intergenerational solidarity and mentorship.

Stefan Germann, former CEO of Fondation Botnar, at the Rising Minds radio station.
Stefan Germann, former CEO of Fondation Botnar, at the Rising Minds radio station. Photo credit: Fondation Botnar.

Young people leading organizations call for intergenerational dialogues and solidarities. They believe that by participating actively in decision-making processes, they can contribute to solutions that address the challenges faced by their generation and foster collaboration between different age groups.

Young leaders seek a space where dissent is celebrated rather than punished. They advocate for an environment where honest opinions and critiques are valued, creating a culture of open dialogue and exchange of ideas.

“If we create these spaces for intergenerational solidarity, then, isn’t it, that solutions will emerge?”

– Stefan Germann, former CEO, Fondation Botnar

Youth need representation in data.

Youth engagement involves gathering data on issues that impact young people. Speakers emphasize the role of young people in gathering data on issues that affect them. This data can be used for evidence-based advocacy, to influence public policy and ensure that the policies implemented are grounded in the real experiences and needs of young people.

Continue the advocacy.

Youth engagement is viewed as an ongoing process. This was specifically raised in the episode with Onward Gibson, Aditi Sivakumar and Naledi Katsande. They state that the 1.8 billion campaign is just a beginning and young people should continue advocating for their priorities, well-being, and rights.

What is the 1.8 Billion Campaign?

The 1.8 Billion Campaign, spearheaded by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at mobilizing the voices of 1 million young people globally. The campaign leverages a chatbot named “What Young People Want,” accessible through a QR code, providing a platform for adolescents and youth to express their perspectives on critical issues, including health and well-being.

Photo credit: Fondation Botnar

With a focus on inclusivity, the campaign actively engages young people from diverse backgrounds, including those in rural areas and marginalized communities. The initiative extends beyond digital channels, reaching schools and conferences like the Women Deliver event. The ultimate goal is to amplify the voices of young people, ensuring their opinions guide policy commitments and decision-making processes on a global scale.

Aditi Sivakumar at the Rising Minds radio station at Women Deliver 2023, speaking about 1.8 Billion Campaign and youth leaderhsip.
Aditi Sivakumar, board vice chair, PMNCH, at the Rising Minds radio station.

This movement represents a paradigm shift, recognizing the urgency of prioritizing adolescent well-being and asserting that meaningful change necessitates active involvement of the largest youth population ever recorded.

“This is going to be the start of something new. We’re collecting these one million voices, we’re having the Global Forum for Adolescents, we’re pushing the agenda to the WHO, the UN, heads of state, and we’re going to continuously fight for the next whatever amount of years it takes until adolescents are really at the center of every issue, every conversation, every policy, every programming.”

– Aditi Sivakumar, board vice chair, PMNCH

First launched as a pop-up radio show at the Women Deliver 2023 conference by Fondation Botnar, all Rising Minds episodes are now published as a resource available for all to access. Find out more here. And follow the series with Girls Globe that takes a closer look at the issues and perspectives raised by young people around the world. Subscribe here.

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