Young people are not just leaders of the future – they are leaders of today. With more than half the world’s population under 30, the vast majority in emerging and developing economies, young people have a crucial role to play in seeing through the Sustainable Development Goals. This International Youth Day we highlight initiatives by three young people driving change in climate smart agriculture in Malawi, voter engagement in India and professional development in ACP.
Climate-smart agriculture in Malawi
Pilirani Khoza grew up in rural Malawi where 80% of the population depend on subsistence farming. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns mean many struggle to harvest enough to feed their families.
At the same time, students who want to study science and agriculture at university – and come up with smart technologies to help subsistence farmers adapt – often struggle to afford their tuition and living costs.
While a financially-strained student herself, Khoza saw a way to solve both sets of challenges by linking them together, and founded the Bunda Female Students Organisation (BUFESO) at in 2012.
“It’s a graduate farmer climate change-based programme,” said Khoza. “We give scholarships to [students in need] to do courses in agriculture and science at Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources. And during their four years of study, we send them to the field, to the communities each year, so they interact with farmers. They train farmers on how they can adapt to climate change by implementing technologies that will enable them to harvest regardless of droughts and floods.”
The project operates entirely without donations or external support. “We have never begged since we started our project,” said Khoza. “Actually, we rely on farming: we have a student farm where we are practicing commercial farming, and then when we sell [the produce] we are able to fund ourselves. And when that’s not enough we do fundraising events, organising dinner or coffee night where we invite public figures and we raise a lot of money.”
So far the programme has paid for 12 students to study at LUANAR, letting them pursue their academic goals while making a concrete contribution during their studies. It has also had an important impact for the farmers involved, most of whom are women.
“Women do 70% of the agricultural labour in Malawi,” said Khoza. “Most Malawian men migrate to other countries, like South Africa, in search of greener pasture. So most of the households are headed by women in Malawi, so we target women as they are the ones that feel the burden of climate change, of being not food secure.”
Khoza would like to expand the project to the other public universities in Malawi, and train more rural communities on adapting to climate change. “It would be helpful, but it will need a lot of resources.”
So far BUFESO has encountered a lack of trust and willingness to invest on the part of NGOs. “They need to accept youth are a solution to global challenges. If they see what we are doing and measure the impact of it, they should be able to trust us,” said Khoza. “We are already doing it, and we trust ourselves that we are able to do it.”
Engaging girls in public policy in India
During the 2014 General Election in India, Vandinika Shukla and her friends from the Leader's Forum at the Global Education and Leadership Foundation were worried that media coverage was focusing on personality instead of policy, leaving many people disengaged – particularly women and girls. So they began a social media campaign.
“We reached out across the country to about 400,000 people per week,” said Shukla. The focus was often on gender equality, helping voters to decipher exactly what the different parties would deliver in terms of equality and opportunity.
“Our work was essentially taking current debates in the sphere of politics and policies, and bringing them to the people, explained; and also with a few question marks or probes for people to critically think about what is being promised to them.”
“We were very surprised by how interested people were in shifting to this new form of discussion,” said Shukla. “A lot of times it’s about the person, his personal life, or radical views. And what they will really deliver in parliament is lost in translation. So a lot of people were interested in having that conversation.”
The project, called ‘The Indian Voter’, also aimed to create a space for girls and women to be heard after the election. The group created a tracking system, enabling citizens to monitor and report on whether annual budgets, key speeches and ministries’ policy updates matched up to promises made during the elections and in party manifestos. “That allowed women to really engage in demanding accountability from their leaders,” said Shukla.
The project did not receive any external funding, but was run entirely by undergraduate students at universities across India and the US. “I like to push for the fact we can come with solutions,” said Shukla. “Not only amplify young people’s problems, but how we’re solving those problems, and how they can be scaled, replicated and implemented by policy-makers across the world.”
“The nature of this campaign is so organic and youth-driven that I think it can definitely be replicated across the world for both local, state and national elections,” said Shukla. “It is a mechanism to more meaningfully engage young people through non-stop communication over a platform they use most for their social interaction.”
In the following video, Vandinika Shukla discusses her involvement with the G(irls)20, a precursor to the G-20 in which girls set the agenda for policy-makers:
Network for Young ACP Professionals
With one foot in Britain and the other in Trinidad & Tobago, Yentyl Williams is a natural advocate for coherent youth policies in EU and ACP countries. As the founder of the ACP Young Professionals Network (YPN), her mission is to create work opportunities and spaces for young people’s voices to be heard.
The need for the YPN became clear while Williams was an intern at the European Commission. “When I first came to Brussels I did an internship in DG Trade, working on the economic partnership agreement between EU and ACP states,” said Williams. “I wanted to complement this with an internship in the ACP Secretariat.” However, it didn’t exist.
“When I found out that the ACP Secretariat doesn’t have internships, or beyond that no youth policy or division, I was worried about how young people’s voices would be heard, but also how young people would be integrated in policy-making if we’re not allowed to enter institutions and have valuable work experience,” said Williams. “It was so important to set up the network to bring ACP voices together.”
YPN is pushing for the ACP Secretariat to create internships, which in Williams’ view is a fundamental part of creating an enabling environment for youth. YPN also participate in youth policy dialogues at the African Union, Commonwealth and EU levels.
The network holds fortnightly meetings in Brussels, bringing together young professionals from ACP and the diaspora with ambassadors, trade negotiators, diplomats and politicians. “Often EU debates do not harness power of diverse voices already here in Europe – there are many Europeans of diverse backgrounds who can contribute effectively to dialogues, and I saw from the youth perspective this is not being mobilised enough,” said Williams.
This feeds into Article 26 of the Cotonou Agreement between EU and ACP countries, which encourages coherent policies to realise the potential of youth from both regions. In the following video, Yentyl Williams outlines her recommendations for making Article 26 count:
“We all believe in the spirit of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and true partnership and joint cooperation between EU and ACP on youth issues. We’re here and ready to implement Article 26, not just until 2020 [when Cotonou ends] but beyond, including the Agenda 2030,” said Williams.
“We are both the generation that will inherit the legacy of SDGs and the authors of the future post-2030 Agenda,” said Williams. “Moreover, as there is no single ‘youth SDG’ and young people are mentioned just five times in the 169 SDG targets, young people and policy-makers must work together at different levels to achieve this future that the SDGs promise. The time for empowerment and transformative action really is now or never: youth must be involved in development.”
What is the EU is doing on young people’s role in development?
Further reading – Voices & Views
- Youth Working Towards a Happier, Healthier, Safer World
- Youth Ambassadors
- Supporting Young Peacebuilders to Counter Extremism