Youth-led development and the Global Goals: Giving young people the voice they deserve

Eleanor is the latest addition to the Youth For Change UK Panel. Following the adoption a new set of Global Goals at the UN General Assembly last week, she explains why involving young people in development isn't just important - it's essential.

2015 is shaping up to be a historic year for girls and women. Worldwide efforts are ensuring that they will be a focus of the next set of development goals, voices speaking out against FGM are growing louder and child marriage is finally gaining the global attention it deserves.

Amongst this positive momentum has come another welcome shift in attitudes; an increasing awareness of the role young people play, and have the potential to play, within the girls’ rights sector and development more widely. There’s a growing realisation that young people can act as catalyst for behaviour change, and that as experts on the on the issues that affect them, their voices cannot be ignored.

The power of youth to create social change has long been neglected at every level of governance. Young people are dismissed as lacking in knowledge and short on experience – although often praised as ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘passionate’ to soften the blow. This combination of assumed incompetence and inadvertent condescension serves to invalidate the contribution young people can make to any form of serious discussion or decision making. It is, ultimately, a fatal underestimation.

Young people are vital to development for precisely the reasons they have thus far been closed out. Lack of specific, technical knowledge is not a flaw; it is openness to information, willingness to analyse free from bias and the ability to question the status quo. Limited experience, in whatever context, is not a setback; it is the ability to think and speak with fresh perspective and to be driven by the heart.

Yes, young people feel huge enthusiasm for what matters to them. And yes, young people can be immensely passionate. To limit our potential to these attributes alone, however, is a huge mistake. The determination to live life in a way that contributes something meaningful, the desire to see genuine changes in our world, the commitment to learning and questioning and investigating - these are the qualities to which we add our enthusiasm and passion. These are the qualities which make us not only beneficial but essential to the development agenda moving forward.

Search a hashtag like #youthvoices, #youthinspire or #celebrateyouth on social media and it’s clear to see that a change is taking place. Many organisations around the world are placing youth at the centre of their work, having recognised the power and potential lying untapped around them.

Governments and the development sector need to commit to creating a space for genuine youth-led change, ensuring that young people are given opportunities to meaningfully participate on the issues that affect them.

As #YouthForChange, we’re working with likeminded movements to make sure that young people are brought to the forefront of the decisions, policies and strategies which will determine our future.

Connect with Youth For Change UK at @YouthForChange and follow Eleanor at @Eleanor_Gall.

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Eleanor currently works for children’s education charity Ark, having recently graduated with a degree in English Literature. She has previously worked in Uganda for water and sanitation NGO Little Big Africa, and it was here that her interest in girls’ education and ending CEFM and FGM developed. Eleanor blogs for girls’ advocacy organisation Girls’ Globe and is an aspiring journalist.