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Youth Participation at CIVICUS (and late night sessions at the Youth Hostel)

The first ever CIVICUS Youth Assembly brought together 150 dynamic, energetic, and committed youth delegates from 38 countries. As the co-presenter of a workshop, I am grateful to have been invited to participate. The Youth Assembly took place in Glasgow, Scotland from the 22-23 of May and fed seamlessly into the larger 5-day World Assembly in which young delegates made up approximately 15% of the 1,000 participants.

 

The Scottish Youth Parliament was instrumental in organizing the Youth Assembly, in which the Earth Charter Youth Initiative (ECYI), the Global Youth Action Network (GYAN), Peace Child International, and Oxfam all featured prominently. Youth delegates participated actively in workshops ranging from gender equity and HIV/AIDS, to networking and campaigning, to climate change and ecological footprints. We also had an ebullient and ruckus night dining and dancing at Arches, a cavernous underground venue, to traditional Scottish music.

 

During the Youth Assembly, my colleague, Leah Wener, and I publicly launched EC-Assess, Earth Charter’s new ethics-based assessment tool for individuals, organizations, and projects. The 30 young people that attended our session responded positively and offered constructive feedback. Most participants affirmed that they would, or probably would, apply EC-Assess to their own lives and organizations, and about half indicated they would probably apply it to another organization.

 

Youth comments on EC-Assess can be organized into three categories: subjectivity, relevance, and specificity. (1) Ethical assessment is inherently subjective, but a number of comments called for more objectivity: “Is my perception of my action based on reality?” one participant wrote. It was suggested during our discussion that external reviewers could be invited to apply EC-Assess to our organizations to provide a greater degree of objectivity. (2) Other comments questioned the relevance of the Earth Charter’s Principles as a whole to any one organization. These suggested that organizations tend to focus on a subset of the 12 Principles used in EC-Assess. In this regard, EC Assess pushes individuals and organizations to recognize the holistic interconnectedness of the current challenges we face in the world today. (3) Finally, a number of comments called for greater specificity of the Supporting Principles used in EC-Assess. These suggested that examples could help clarify each Supporting Principle. We were pleased with the thoughtful feedback and will incorporate it into the next version of EC-Assess. Indeed, one comment read: “I think guidelines such as this are important to be continually discussed and debated.”

 

All of the Youth Delegates became young World Assembly Delegates at the Welcome Reception in the majestic Kelvin Grove Museum. Thereafter, young delegates were present on the panels of nearly every plenary and they participated actively with questions and comments, including during the BBC broadcast on “Is Aid Working?”

 

On the second day of the World Assembly, a mini-plenary was held entitled “Youth Challenging Today’s Leaders for the Sake of Tomorrow.” Unfortunately, this plenary was attended by few adults and the younger delegates pointed out that they felt, at that moment, that they had segregated themselves from the rest of the Assembly. Fortunately, the boisterous discussion led to the formation of Task Groups that would deliver specific recommendations on the participation of and integration of youth into next year’s World Assembly; would issue a “Call for Intergenerational Collaboration – Make Change Happen;” and would develop a strategic plan for realizing such collaboration. Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary General of CIVICUS, was called into the room and guaranteed that he would try to secure us some speaking time during the final plenary.

 

I joined the second Task Group on creating a “Call for Intergenerational Collaboration.” We worked very closely with the nine global challenges identified through our original Youth Assembly workshop on participation and consulted with young World Assembly Delegates throughout the drafting process. One night, a small group of us stayed up until 3:00am crafting the wording, structure, and sentiment of our call to action. It has a strong focus on taking action within one’s sphere of influence, however large or small it may be. A crosscutting theme emphasized the importance of participation of marginalized groups, especially those defined by gender, disability, and socio-economic status. The nine core global challenges identified were:

 

• Intolerance and Discrimination

• Poverty

• HIV and AIDS

• Limited Access to and Poor Quality of Healthcare

• Limited Access to and Poor Quality of Education

• Adverse Effects of Technological Development

• Lack of Economic Opportunities for Young People

• Unfulfilled Human Rights and

• Ecological Crisis

 

The document contains powerful language and ends with the rousing words: “This is a call for all people to engage in creative, empowering, and inclusive conversation and to make change happen.” And, indeed, a half dozen youth were invited to share the “Call for Collaboration” during the final plenary. During its reading, those Delegates who felt moved to do so stood up in support and later signed their names to a large world map, representing global support for intergenerational dialogue and positive change.

 

Download Call for Collaboration

 

I am pleased to report – and not the least bit surprised – that the spirit of the Earth Charter is present in the “Call for Collaboration” and the younger generation that brought it into being. It was a privilege to be part of this historic process. I left Glasgow with high, well-founded expectations of the young generation.

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We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future.
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