Mind the Gap: Closing the Youth, Government Divide

By Haidy Ear-Dupuy

When we look around the world there often seems a huge divide between young people and governments. While youth are frequently on the front line of civilian protests, criticizing the state, those in power often brand them as mere troublemakers and ingrates. How can we narrow this gap and help both sides better understand each other?

One useful tool for bridge building has been the creation of the Open Government Partnership. This multilateral initiative, formally launched in 2011, aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

Earlier in May 2014, the Asia Pacific Regional Conference of the Open Government Partnership was held in Bali, Indonesia with over 70 young people from countries across the region taking part.  

With about 60% of the global youth population living in our region, their voices can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. But at the same time if young people are going to be effective agents of change for the future, they need to get a better grasp of how governments actually work.

How can young people learn more about state functions, and just as importantly how can they have an impact on outcomes?

Firstly, young people should focus on key ministries, departments, or individuals that they seek to influence, and monitor the way funds are spent to ensure the state is delivering the services it is tasked to provide. Working with knowledgeable civil society groups, supportive government officials, and university experts on budget tracking can give them the skills to do this.

In the Philippines, the National Youth Commission has conducted outreach activities with young people focused on understanding budgeting processes.

Young people’s grasp of new technology can also help them uncover sometimes obscure, technical information from government agencies and make it more widely available in a user friendly manner to a mass youth base via platforms such as social media, videos, and radio. They can also work with schools to develop assignments to increase knowledge of government activities, and form clubs to boost information sharing.

At the recent Asian Youth Forum, ahead of ADB’s Annual Meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, representatives from Tajikistan highlighted how informed young people can reach out to the wider community to make them more aware of their constitutional rights.

Now let’s get back to the Open Government Partnership.  To help it achieve its intended goals, and to ensure youth are fully involved, it is crucial to give young people real opportunities. That means governments must give youth the chance to provide inputs, and to be involved in, planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of projects.  

In return, young people need to be practical in how they engage with governments.  Do not be afraid to make a commitment and stick by it.  Move beyond asking for participation to engaging in real project work. And demonstrating practical results is, of course, the quickest way to earn respect.

The Open Government Partnership provides a real opportunity for increased engagement. It’s now up to the two sides to make it work.