Youth Power and why the OGP promise depends on it
The world is currently home to the largest global youth population in history. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume this generation will be the open governance reformers of the future, when they can and must be at the heart of OGP today.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has given us a shared vision for the future, but do we know where the Open Government Partnership will be in 15 years time? I’d suggest you don’t answer that question until you’ve considered this: so-called ‘millennials’ (those currently aged 19-35) have apparently ‘given up on democracy’. Ok, not all millennials, but recent research by the Lowy Institute for International Policy has found almost half of young people are sceptical of democratic institutions and political actors.
But don’t despair just yet, because today’s young people are also some of the most connected and committed activists for accountability, transparency and citizen engagement we’ve seen for generations. In global post-2015 consultations and discussions, governance and accountability was consistently identified by people under 30 as a top priority.
Young people’s commitment to strengthening governance shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly to the countries already participating in OGP. Brazil, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan and Phillipines have some of the youngest populations in the world who are also highly active and engaged in social and political change, especially in local communities. Although youth-led research finds ‘when participation becomes an end in itself, rather than a means of advancing change, young people may distance themselves from it’, young people are frequently the initiators of single-issue campaigns that are perceived as likelier to change things.
If OGP is to remain relevant and progressive in 15 years time as a platform for reform, we can’t afford not to ensure young people, in all their diversity, are equal stakeholders in OGP now. However, young people feature very rarely in National Action Plans and we have seen just a small number participating in OGP summits. Young innovators have been recognised with OGP awards but it’s far from enough.
So what’s to be done? Here are three ideas for getting started.
- Commit to formalising youth leadership in National Action Plans
Youth advocates from Restless Development (with advice from the OGP support unit) are developing an Open Gov Guide with national-level actions for governments and civil society. Recommended initial and intermediate commitments include integrating the priorities expressed by young people through National Action Planning processes. More advanced and innovative commitments would go further and enable young people to have co-ownership of an agenda that’s not just created but reviewed together. Only then will we be able to start saying that young people are really serious stakeholders in OGP.
- Make sure young advocates are part of your network of reformers.
Global youth organisations like Restless Development and international networks, such as the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, should be able to put you in touch with youth who are already active in your country or region. Be their ally. Formal and informal youth-led networks and organisations are frequently under resourced when it comes to flexible finance, legal support and protection.
- Focus on issues, not just processes for participation
Young advocates who campaigned, lobbied and spoke up at consultations for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are getting restless about their implementation. We should be seizing this opportunity to connect the issues prioritised in the SDGs to OGP discussion, outreach and planning. Learn how from the young Accountability Advocates in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and the UK who are already developing national accountability frameworks for monitoring and tracking SDG targets. In doing so, we can build wider buy in and interest in why open governance matters, and avoid limiting our appeal to only self-proclaimed transparency enthusiasts.
Restless Development is offering advice, materials and support to anyone from OGP interested in youth leadership and agency in governance and accountability. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the OGP Civil Society Engagement team for more information about activity in your country. Find out more about Youth Power and download Restless Development’s 15 recommendations on youth-led accountability for the SDGs.