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Working with Youth in Development: IREX Staff Reflections

USAID recently released its first Policy on Youth in Development. As a part of the discussion around youth, IREX asked some of its experts in the field for their insights, experiences and ideas on working with youth development. 

Lyn GrayLyn Gray, IREX  Senior Civil Society Specialist, Liberia
Myahriban KaryagdyyevaMyahriban Karyagdyyeva, IREX Civil Society Program Manager
Chinara OmurkulovaChinara Omurkulova, IREX Country Director, Kyrgyz Republic
Peter SalloumPeter Salloum, IREX Program Director, Lebanon
Carol SorrentiCarol Sorrenti, IREX Eurasia Regional Director

How are youth effectively leading positive change?

Peter: In Lebanon, IREX supported the formation of an NGO called “We Love Tripoli.” (Lebanon)  The “We Love City” concept promotes youth civic activism in partnership with the local government mobilizing youth through volunteerism to improve the life in their city. It is a civic/citizenship approach to solve community issues through youth actions.
It was great to see We Love Tripoli help to establish 18 other “We Love …” NGOs in all over the region, including We Love Cairo, We Love Sousse, We Love Casablanca, We Love Amman, and We Love Gaza. In 2012, with IREX support, We Love Tripoli established the “We Love …”  Network. 
Chinara: Youth who receive ICT training [through IREX’s ICT programming for youth] in turn train their parents, teachers and communities. They demonstrate the benefits of information access to their parents who in turn choose to support increased access with computers and cell phones. The youth and their families are then able to find the best education options, new business ideas, and more.
Lyn: The Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) with support from the UNDP organized in 2005 a youth forum at which young people from every county and district together hammered out a National Youth Policy. They pledged to positively advocate for adoption of the Policy and assist in its implementation. Government response has been slow but steady, but the new budget contains an amazing $15 million for youth projects, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports has just put out its own youth policy that incorporates the youths’ recommendations with strategies for implementing them.
What have you learned from working with youth?

Peter: In our Lebanon youth programs, we worked with youth who were previously affiliated or sympathizers of radical groups. [Through learning and directly experiencing civil society as a platform for advocacy, non-violent activism, and positive change] over 40% of them then became civil society activists and there are a large number of them today leading the civil society in Lebanon.
Carol: In Eurasia, we have found that the success of [youth development] programs often depend on the extent to which the adults working with youth have really embraced Positive Youth Development (PYD) as a basis for their interaction with youth. Helping the adults adjust their views of youth, their role and the goals of youth development is critical.
What’s important moving forward?

All:  [Create] useful, attractive online and mobile content for youth in local languages as the best way to share information and increase youth engagement.
Chinara: Create sustainable capacity in schools and libraries by training teachers and educators to use technology for youth programming. 
Carol: [For sustainability], include training for adults who work with youth
Lyn: Youth programs need to be designed for different groups with different needs. For example in Liberia there is great need for programs specifically targeting the “hardest-to-reach” youth. 
Peter: It’s all about hope and happiness; community actions conducted by the youth [can bring] them self-esteem and the community’s respect.