Youth Engagement for Global Action
"Youths are crucial" is a common statement that we hear in different spaces. As much as it is exciting, it is also puzzling since we do not yet have ample instances of such perspectives being sought out, more so in the arena of water governance that houses many complexities. Youths have been recognized by national as well as international discourses as crucial agents of transformation. However, in water governance, youths are limited to being labelled as a target group or an agenda, but the actual youth engagement has become just an empty catchphrase. On this premise, we went forward to discuss what unique strengths that youths could bring into this sector and laid out our visions and strategies for stronger, inclusive, and effective youth engagement. It would be a welcome change to see our proposals being pondered upon.
Water governance is a bone of contention, and as such a hierarchical space, viewed mostly from scientific and diplomatic aspects. Moving away from this narrow view, we look forward to widening the horizon to include social, communal, aesthetic, historical, cultural perspectives which are crucial in laying the foundations for the consideration of young people. This shall allow the exploration of a multitude of angles from where meaningful youth engagements can be driven. Here are a few such ideas:
Creating networks within the water community: The power of networks goes undefeated, and we believe it is all so important in creating spaces for young people in water governance. Young people with expertise in water laws and rights, environmental sciences, river ecosystem, water-related disasters, climate change, social science, and transboundary river issues should be brought together to enable a thriving environment of knowledge production, idea sharing, capacity building and implementing solutions. This pool of young people in the global or regional sphere should connect with spaces of influence that enable dialogues with policymakers and experts. We look forward to this because, despite the glaring fact that young people can lead unique and sustainable solutions, the implications in policy are rare to trace. Furthermore, creating opportunities for one-on-one mentoring to young people by water professionals/policymakers to get a close sneak-peek into the challenges and contexts would help us chip away at the walls that have emerged, further allowing intergenerational learning and effective communication. These networks can hone the capacities of youths and equip them with the skills and knowledge that are popularly believed to be lacking in young people to take up necessary action in water governance. Creating a crowdsourced database of opportunities, as well as of young people and networks shall help amplify youth voices and approaches to inclusive water governance.
Reaching into communities: Local communities are the primary stakeholders and lie at the heart of water governance. Capturing the nuances of their actuality and experiences can rightfully guide an empathetic approach to viewing and proposing solutions to water. We believe that young people understand these uniquely situated challenges and have a sensitive approach to guiding solutions. As such, young people can effectively reach into the communities to help uncover the outliers that are usually ignored in the larger water governance process. The youth networks can lead local chapters in their communities, forming alliances with community members and leaders and facilitate knowledge generation from within the communities. Youths can play a powerful role to elevate these insider voices, using newer advocacy tools like podcasts, documentaries, photo journaling, and other audio-visual storytelling and artistic mechanisms, all along engaging with community members. This would ensure that solutions are driven by trust and ownership, making it more credible and transformative. This component would prove invaluable for the policymakers for a holistic governance approach. Moreover, these mediums can also prove to be effective in highlighting successful youth engagements which could pave the way to drive future engagements.
Enabling a conducive environment: An environment that supports and welcomes youth engagement is of utmost importance. It can be through provisions of research grants as well as joint regional research programs for evidence-based, multi-perspective, and inclusive learning and outcomes; adoption of inclusiveness and transparency regarding programs and decision making processes; encouragement of youth-led ideas and solutions etc. It is when the recommendations provided by young people with the knowledge, skills, and capacities are reflected in policy that a shared enthusiasm to support youth-led solutions becomes visible.
We want to see young people occupying spaces and being acknowledged for the ideas, experiences, and knowledge they bring. We believe in youths being aware of and respecting the voices and experiences of communities and hence being agents of dialogue and mediating the geographical, social, cultural differences to provide solutions to pressing issues of communities. We believe in them creating shared spaces where often suppressed voices can be catalyzed for empowerment and informed decision making. To translate these visions into action, the governance space must enable and create thriving spaces for youth-owned or youth-led initiatives. We believe that the suggestions described above could create "youth voices" that help to empower the generation of contemporary water leaders, building trust and motivating them to become agents of change at different levels, starting at their own communities. We believe these local actions have the power to drive global action.
Article was written by Nahin, Rinan and Shristi (authors are participants of the TROSA Winter School 2020)
Disclaimer: Views and opinions are solely of the authors.