Sustainable development is unthinkable while young people face exclusion and inequality.
Bearing that youth are Africa’s foremost social capital with the potential to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty, and create a sustainable and peaceful future, UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Abuja launched the Youth Civic Engagement (YCE) Initiative in October 2018. This underpins Axis 3 of the UNESCO Operational Strategy on Youth (2014-2021), while making the Organization’s Meaningfully Engaging with Youth approach more context specific.
From an inception workshop including a training of the trainers targeting youth-led organizations from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, the initiative provided a timely opportunity to instill in selected youth the key theoretical tenets for meaningfully engaging with UNESCO, as well as a platform for concrete interaction with key national stakeholders contributing to an enabling environment for youth empowerment. Above all, it is an opportunity to strengthen youth capacities and instilling youth-led knowledge co-production, but also the co-design and co-delivering of youth-centered innovative solutions to the challenges that the world is facing.
To support the implementation of acquired knowledge and skills, youth from different participating countries were called upon to team-up for the design and submission to UNESCO of one proposal per country of a research-action to be implemented in each of the four countries, with financial support from the Organization. Research-action reports were to be submitted to UNESCO, including a project proposal that provides an innovative solution to one of the key problems identified in the study.
The research-action reports and project proposals from the four country teams where then put in competition. These included:
- From Liberia Team made up of the Mano River Union Parliament-Liberia Chapter, and the Federation of Liberian Youth, a research action on “Assessing Gaps and Constraints of Youth Civic Engagement in Liberia”, with a project proposal entitled “Youth Civic Engagement to Sustain Liberia’s Peace”.
- Nigeria, with a three-organizations Team composed of One Africa Child Foundation, Building Nations Initiative & Women Environment and Youth Development Initiative (WOYODEV) submitted a research-action on “Role of Youth-Led Organization in Peaceful Election and Political Participation of Young People in Selected States of Nigeria”, with a project proposal on “Strengthening advocacy for youth civic engagement and accountability (SAYCEA)”.
- Sierra Leone Team was represented by the Centre for Coordination of Youth Activities. They initiated a Research-Action on “Youth Participation in Local Council Decision making in Sierra Leone: Accountability Monitoring and Budget Tracking of Youth Programmes”, and from which emerged a project proposal on the theme: “Youth Action and Civic Engagement (popularization and full implementations of the National Youth Policies) in Post Elections Sierra Leone”.
- For Ghana, Innovation Village Foundation that then changed its name into Ulti-Leaf Foundation undertook a research action on the theme “Youth Civic Engagement in Ghana: Issues, needs and opportunities with use of mobile phone and social media”, which was submitted with a project proposal entitled “Civic-Care: Voice-Out, Step-Up, and Take Action”.
As the result from the review process by UNESCO, the project from Ghana Team was identified as the best, and sponsored for implementation with a 10,000 USD grant from UNESCO. The Civic-Care project was designed to enhance youth voice, provide them space and initiating actions for their empowerment and development through physical and virtual engagement, with effective impact at their communities’ level. The main project activities included:
- Civic skills and competence training workshops for youth and youth-led organization;
- Set-up of designated friendly and safer space for youth in selected communities and online platforms;
- Development and production of tailored knowledge products, such as the Young Creatives, Drama Contest and the Young Visual Arts Call.
Besides, as implementation period coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Civic-Care project strengthened youth’s social innovation in contribution to the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth-friendly messages for prevention and protection from the COVID-19 were developed and effectively disseminated. In this regard, different channels such as flyers, civic-chats on WhatsApp, community dialogues, and social media engagement were used. Furthermore, a Wear-Your-Mask Photo Challenge was organized in order to encourage people to obey the mandatory facemask wearing of in Ghana, enforced after a three-week lockdown.
By the project conclusion, 2,500 young people, including 1,100 women and girls, and 24 youth-led organizations were trained, with their civic skills and competences increased. Three safe spaces for youth civic actions and seven youth-initiated civic platforms were created, while 3,482 youth were reached via social media platforms. Moreover, 2,800 youth were mobilized and reached out to with civic knowledge products, of which 40% of participants are from rural areas.
The project contributed to a great visibility for UNESCO in Ghana and attracted interest from other development partners, including the UN, with special activities undertaken in the frame of the International Women’s Day, among others.
Above all, this implementation demonstrated youth capacity, readiness, willingness and relevance in making the difference in the social fabric for civic participation, community engagement and development, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. This indeed underpins the UNESCO Meaningfully Engaging with Youth approach, and the Youth Civic Engagement Model set-up through the UNESCO Regional Office in Abuja, for translating into concrete terms Axis 3 of the UNESCO Operational Strategy on Youth (2014-2021). It further puts into practice Aspiration 6 of the African Union Vision 2063 as well as the recommendations of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 2250 and 2419, all geared towards the effective participation of youth as key actors in the promotion and enforcement of peace and security. Above all, the interventions under this project insightfully contributed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adding in particular to SDGs 4, 5 and 16, while leveraging on the partnership called upon under SDG 17, and connecting beautifully with the 5Ps ambition of the SDGs to impact on People, Planet, Peace, Prosperity and Partnership, while leaving no one behind, notably the youth.