The UN pays a lot of lip service to youth participation. As the MGD Review is coming up, it’s time to focus on young people as producers instead of consumers.
The documentary above deals with youth participation at the United Nations, and it is directed by me, Giuseppe Porcaro, and produced by the European Youth Forum. Let me start out with a quote by Robert Kennedy:
“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”
When reading this quote, some questions come to mind: is the world in this second decade of the XXI Century really investing in the “qualities of youth” that Robert Kennedy was praising a long time ago? Are governments, international institutions, universities and companies ready not only to see young people as consumers but also as leading producers of policy, culture, development? Do we have a framework to empower the youth sector of civil society or are we facing a slow but planned effort to weaken it under the pretext of the individualization of societies?
This is a fundamental debate for society and world governance. If you ask me, youth participation is not merely a decorative element that we shall add with the rhetoric of “future” generations but a serious issue for development and human security.
Let’s not forget the qualities of youth
I come from Italy, a country were gerontocracy is the rule no matter which walks of life you want to undertake. Our top political leaders, professors and top managers are hardly under 60/65. If you compare with history, this is worrying. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire when he was 22. At the same age, in 1901, Albert Einstein produced four groundbreaking papers about relativity. Michelangelo’s Pietà was carved in 1499, when the sculptor was 24 years old. Just to mention few examples.
And without relying too much on history, we can easily prove that the countries that have invested the most in youth and allowed them the right channels to express their energy at the top of their creativity, are those who are most successful, even in the context of a global crisis such as the one we are facing now. My question is: How do we make the world leaders pay more attention to the qualities of youth?
Young people as producers not consumers
The current youth generation is not the first generation that will grow up in a world that is labeling youth as a market segment composed by potential clients and consumers. This attitude is very common, and the institutional counterpart to this attitude results in a lot of lip service about youth policy, seeing young people as merely passive beneficiaries of actions, rather than full fledged actors who should be determining the policies that concerns them. However, there are several good examples of of youth producing policies.
Empowering youth civil society
Youth organizations are facing big challenges in today’s world. The paradigm of youth as consumers has been translated also to youth participation. Young people join a cause or “get involved” on a very ad hoc basis. But this is not the only truth. Most of the time governments and institutions are using these trends to decrease the support to the youth sector of civil society, which consequently loses the means to involve more young people and contribute to more cohesive societies and more independently organise the voice of young people to be heard. Remember, a strong, independent civil society is not necessary an ally of many governments.
My question for you would be:
Giuseppe Porcaro, 31 years old, since june 2009 is the Secretary-General of the European Youth Forum, the Platform of Youth Organisations in Europe. Giuseppe has been involved in youth organisation since he was a kid. In particular through the scout movement and before joining the staff of the European Youth Forum as UN and Global Youth Issues Coordinator in 2007 he worked for the World Bank as Youth Specialist for the Kosovo Youth Grant Project. Giuseppe holds a PhD in Political Geography and he likes indie music.