The growing youth demographic in many countries is a phenomenon that will be reckoned with for generations. To turn the youth bulge into a demographic dividend, countries need to focus on policies that develop this human capital and their full citizenship.
In the run-up to the UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, November 17-20, 2016, the Mega-Cities Project organized a global competition to identify Young Leaders that are implementing creative solutions to urban challenges at the intersection of poverty, environment and voice. Global Communities shared this opportunity with Francisco Javier Sequeira Rankin, a young leader supported by USAID’s Municipal Governance Program (MGP) who has been successful in strengthening youth civic engagement through the Bluefield’s Indian & Caribbean University (BICU) Observatory for Human Rights and Autonomy (OHRA). Francisco was one of two Young Leaders selected from candidates who applied across the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Over the past four years, MGP has supported BICU-OHRA in their pursuit to strengthen the Adolescents and Youth Municipal Councils (COMAJ) in four municipalities in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, the region with the highest poverty rate in the country and home to the majority of indigenous and afro-descendant populations. This initiative has brought together more than 450 young people (58% women) to promote critical analysis of their interests and supports their interaction with the Municipal Government to raise their demands and exercise their rights. The COMAJ are democratically elected bodies made up of members aged 15-29. The COMAJ motivate the youth to get involved in good governance practices and gives them an opportunity to take a leadership role in their communities. Through constant coaching and mentoring, the COMAJ youth are trained in a variety of skills, including project management, advocacy, and gender equality, preparing this cadre of young leaders to engage with the municipality and civil society organizations. This gives the members of the COMAJ a greater understanding of needs in their communities, how to create projects to meet these needs, and how to establish local partnerships to achieve them. The impact of this program has led to some system changing solutions, such as youth focused projects that are now being included in the budgets of municipalities and the budget planning process. Projects already financed by the Municipalities include recreational parks and gymnasium upgrades and funds for cultural events.
In addition to these efforts, since 2014, the Observatory for Human Right of BICU has been coordinating the Youth Roundtable, which creates more effective joint efforts on adolescents and youth issues by coordinating multi-sector dialogues between organizations working in this space. This effort has led local authorities to start building the Regional Youth Development Policy.
The Mega-Cities Project selected Francisco and the Youth Program because of their leadership in the region, their demonstration of system challenging ideas, and their progress is scaling solutions into policy. The Youth Program is creating young leaders and social entrepreneurs which can inspire other similar movements. Mega Cities and Global Communities selected Francisco and the Youth Program as both an effective and inspiring example the types of initiatives communities across the globe need.
Francisco shared his story with 100s of people at a lively and highly engaged audience in a Networking Session of the UN Habitat III conference on Youth Initiatives in the Quest for Urban Inclusion: Emerging Voices and Networks, October 18, 2016. Francisco’s story was also broadcast by media in the region.