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Mirror, mirror on the wall… Part 1
By Marcel Stefanik, Global Coordinator Youth Engagement, IFRC
There is evidence that for decades the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has strived to meaningfully engage young people (children, adolescents, and young adults) throughout all stages of humanitarian action. The term “youth engagement” refers to both youth-led action and youth development and it speaks to active and meaningful participation of youth and inclusion of their voice in humanitarian work across governance, management, and programmes and service delivery.
But why, how, and to-what-end are we so meticulously trying to figure out the tricks to engaging young people of today? And are we really trying hard enough to inspire and engage young people help us shape the future of the humanitarian aid delivered through the RCRC global network?
Youth and the world we live in
Today’s youth are the most mobile generation of young people in the history of the planet. Did you know that more than 600 million young people aged 10-24, a group larger than the entire population of the European Union, live in fragile and conflict-affected settings? Also, more than half of the world’s 22.5 million refugees today are less than 18 years old. Generation Z is growing up in a world where emotional well-being is increasingly of concern and where average displacement lasts 17 years.
The collective energy, potential, and dynamism of the world’s largest-ever generation of young people is powerful. Young people are extremely good at learning quickly and finding creative solutions. Hence, engaging meaningfully with young people nurtures the RCRC’s capability to adapt, remain relevant and be a reliable humanitarian partner.
From the humanitarian perspective, by meaningfully engaging youth, we increase the RCRC impact in preventing and alleviating human suffering and protecting human dignity. If we, as institutions and individuals, inspire young people and lead by example, they will engage. If we create spaces for listening to them and follow-through on what we learn during our “listening” sessions, youth-led action everywhere will thrive.
“Children, adolescents, and young adults are both an integral part of communities affected by humanitarian crises and a significant, powerful, heterogeneous, and daring constituency capable to practice their leadership through mobilising their peers and communities for yielding locally-driven solutions in response to humanitarian crises.”
Powerful ideas, when enacted and followed-through, become inspirational stories and with time may be rewarded a Nobel Prize, or two. See Story of an Idea, as an example of what is meant by this. Henry Dunant was only 31 when he got his powerful idea about establishing what is today known as the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement (RCRC). Now, imagine the power of the ideas and humanity accumulated within the RCRC young people who represent over 50 per cent of our almost 12 million active volunteers globally.
The HOWs or Generation Z – Enchanté
As for the HOW to engage today’s young people – Generation Z, instead of identifying strategic approaches stemming from well-defined and highly-relevant policies, we should, first and foremost, make a conscious and genuine effort in understanding the generation of young people that is and will actively shape this planet. It is basic KYA or Know Your Audience approach.
So, what do you think, who are today’s young people? Julie Lythcot-Haims recently said in the New York Times:
“We don’t know who they will be in their 20s, but already today they have agency, the sense of own existence, own right to make decisions and own responsibility for outcomes and consequences. That’s what we need to have to be mentally well. I think these folks could turn out not to be just leaders, but to be a generation that we look back on and end up calling one of the greatest.”
Exciting view and school of thought on today’s young generation but what about their sense for humanitarianism? In fact, if you talked to young people about solutions for the humanitarian consequences of migration for example, they would very probably tell you, what they said in the Varkey Foundation study, e.g. governments should allow immigrants to live and work legally in their country. In addition, according to the WEF study (2017), almost 75% of young people would tell you that they would welcome refugees in their country and more than a half would claim that governments should do more to include refugees in the national workforce, with only 3.5% requesting deportation of refugees. As for the “happiness factor”, today’s young people are unhappy with the state of the world and at the same time 2/3 are motivated to “give back” to their communities. Overwhelmingly, they also believe in equal treatment between sexes and over 2/3 believe that transgender people should have equal rights.
Lastly, during a focus group consultation conducted under the umbrella of the Compact for young people in humanitarian action, “young people on the move” were asked about the skills they wanted to strengthen and acquire in dire life situations. This is what they said: first aid and medical treatment skills; training in psycho-social support; and life-skills that are accessible through volunteerism. During this “listening session” young people shared about their self-perception: that they were willing to act to change the current situation, be part of locally-driven responses, help develop capacities of others, offer innovative solutions. Considering that almost 60% of young people believe that their views are being ignored when important decisions are made (WEF), these “listening sessions” with youth are so important.
How does all of this relate to the HOW to engage young people in 191 National Societies across the globe? Well, the above in fact speaks to the values and competency that the RCRC needs to demonstrate to young people of today and tomorrow, provided we are serious about equal-footed meaningful inter-generational engagement.
Having explored the importance of the Why and How to engage young people we are ready for the “To-What-End”, the missing puzzle piece in rethinking our engagement strategies, our statements of intent. In the second part of this blog, I will also touch on what is not a success and how much trust is going to matter really. Stay tuned!