At the Royal Chace Hotel in Enfield, on the 17th-18th May, representatives from various youth organisations all around the world gathered to discuss Meaningful youth participation in international decision-making. Directors, executive directors, co-ordinators and representatives from groups like the World Scout Movement in Switzerland, to the Youth in Action Association in Afghanistan spent two days listening to speakers, joining group activities and networking in order to get a clearer understanding of their role, learn from one another, and hopefully get a few new ideas on how to increase meaningful youth participation from their various posts around the world.
Organised by the British Council and Open Society Foundations, the symposium was hosted by Mr Chad Blackman, part of the Commonwealth Local Government Youth Forum and Ms. Anne Gammon, a Senior Research Executive YouGov. Both were part of the dedicated planning team that brought all of the participants together. Beginning with an introduction from Noel Selegzi, Program Director of the Youth Initiative at the OSF and Gordon Blakely Director Youth, Education and Society at the British Council, they laid out their intentions for the symposium.
The 17th was to be spent focusing on the various challenges accorded to developing meaningful youth participation around the world and the 18th, having addressed these challenges, was focused on finding solutions to these problems. The general format for both days was a selection of presentations in the morning, offering certain opinions on the topic at hand, and the afternoon focused on group work. Participants were offered the opportunity to discuss in greater depth each of the various themes and share the results with the rest of the symposium.
On the 17th various speakers explained what they were doing at the moment to encourage youth participation and the numerous problems they had encountered in attempting extend their message to other young people. A common theme among all of the various speakers, including Ulrich Bunjes, Council of Europe and Howard Williamson, a Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of Glamorgan, among others, was the nature of these organisations themselves. Elitist by default, they necessarily excluded millions of young people that did not belong to a particular sort of group. Students that are poorer, misbehave, are unemployed or in employment are absorbed into another group that does not fully represent their needs. Access to legislators, legitimacy, funding and finding spaces to gather data from cross sections of young people were also common problems.
The next day, having addressed most of these issues, the participants were invited to listen to various speakers that had made attempts at tackling these problems. Sarah Huxley, the author of Youth CSO Network Youth Participation in Development Guide that has worked with DfiD (Department for International Development), Kat Watson from IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) and others, also had similar methods for reaching out to young people. There was much discussion on space, the innovative ways in which they drew young people and donors together to talk about issues which concerned them both i.e. electing young people to all levels of organisation, from volunteering at the lowest level, to being part of the board making decisions at the top, using various social media and creating websites/blogs for their target audience to communicate. Similarly, the framework proposed by most of the organisations was very much alike i.e. work at local level used to aggregate and understand matters at a national and international level.
Closing with a list of targets that the participants would seek to remember as they returned to their roles around the world, the symposium closed on a high, if a little fatigued, note in which all concerned were reminded of the hard work and dedication of everyone working to improve and create Meaningful youth participation in international decision-making.