Youth, Leaders of Today and Tomorrow
Organized as a UN-HABITAT Global Partnership Initiative, in partnership with the Youth Organizing Committee, Environmental Youth Alliance, City of Vancouver Youth Outreach Team, and One Stop Youth Resource Centre
The round-table discussions were chaired by Mr. Avi Lewis, award-winning documentary filmmaker and television journalist, Canada; Mr. Doug Ragan, Manager, Adult Ally Environmental Youth Alliance; and Mr. Kelly L’Hirondelle, Executive Director, Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Alliance, Canada.
The discussions opened with an appreciation by the Mr. Lewis of the location of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum on Coast Salish land. He expressed recognition of the fact that youth were experts on youth engagement, and that over 50 per cent of the world’s population were young people under the age of 25.
Much of the discussion focused on the need to move from token involvement of youth to mainstreaming youth engagement across all stages of policy and programme planning, design, implementation and evaluation. It was stressed that that model of engagement should be applied at the international level as well as at the municipal level and that it should also involve diverse methods of inclusion that were both formal and informal. Youth participants highlighted the importance of education and training opportunities and the use of sports, music, arts and culture as means of engaging youth in addressing social challenges.
It was pointed out that youth were diverse and faced many challenges and barriers, including socio-economic disparities, exploitation, disability and discrimination on the basis of gender. In particular, participants highlighted the issues faced by indigenous youth in both developed and developing countries.
It was emphasized that youth-led initiatives needed increased access to resources and support structures. That could be achieved through mini-grants and community-based partnerships. Youth-led initiatives enabled self-organization, a sense of belonging, and peer-based leadership and creativity, while at the same time addressing critical development issues. There was also a need to increase outreach in order to provide youth with information on how to access available resources and project support systems.
A range of issues related to representation were raised. The media often portrayed negative images of youth, including those of youth as criminals. Youth were often underrepresented in decision‑making platforms and processes at the local, national, and international level. Youth participants applauded UN-Habitat for engaging youth in the World Urban Forum and also suggested increased representation of youth at opening plenary sessions and across all panels, round tables, dialogues and networking sessions.
A general sentiment expressed was that it was not enough to have youth talking to youth about youth issues and, in that context, youth-adult partnerships were considered critical. It was highlighted that true engagement came from representation and participation across sectors, institutions and stakeholder groups. Youth involved in decision-making processes, who were often more articulate, also needed to consider issues pertaining to children and other youth who were marginalized and lacked a voice in dialogues affecting their lives.
Participants recognized the importance and power of creating international networks of both individuals and organizations: that would ensure greater outreach, information sharing, mentorship and intergenerational dialogue.