How the Humanitarian Sector Should Engage Young People: A Call to Action
Since the creation of the United Nations Special Envoy on Youth in 2013, aid professionals have asked themselves how to engage young people.
In 2021, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, took a concrete step to democratically include the youth in its governance structure and decision-making processes. Scores of youth-led NGOs applied to join a newly created youth constituency, and after only a few weeks, the sub-group had become one of the largest, most active, and most diverse constituencies in the fund.
On International Youth Day 2022, the Education Cannot Wait youth constituency called on all humanitarian organizations to embrace the constituency-style format for youth inclusion.
- Samuel Sasu Adoteng of Ghana, a representative of the All-Africa Students Union, argues that democracy “ensures that youth representation is not tokenistic, but representative of the views of young people everywhere.”
- Stephen Wandu Bimo, a South Sudanese refugee living in Uganda and the Executive Director of ICanSouthSudan, adds that democracy “creates space for voices like mine.”
- And Kennedy Monari, a teacher in Kenya and a specialist at the Nairobi-based Youth Council on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, concludes that democracy is a “fundamental component for creating equitable change.”
While individual youth activists have much to offer, and advisory boards even more to share, the power of representative democracy is limitless. Democracy brings people together, juxtaposes perspectives that would not otherwise exist alongside each other, creating a mixture potent enough for sustainable change, and a structure that ensures that change is equitable.
Who should be included?
- Ibrahim Ishaku Balami, Executive Director of Nigeria’s Future Resilience and Development Foundation, shares, “For nearly a decade, I have been part of the response to the insurgency of Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria. I have seen how resources are allocated, and I know where they should go. But if voices like mine are not included—the most affected—humanitarian funds will miss out. Simply, nothing about us, without us.”
- Nwanze Anthony, the Founder of the Empowered African Child Initiatives goes further, recounting, “I traveled to a local community in Nasarawa, Nigeria, to engage in service. Most of the people there had been displaced by terror attacks close to the capital. As a student of economics, I had always thought that only the like minded would be interested in policy. But they were not only interested—they showed me details I had missed.”
- Rachael Vichei, a teacher from Kenya who spent two years teaching students in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi, concludes that “both young boys and girls should be included, for they understand the unique challenges that affect them.”
All stakeholders must be included: refugees, people with disabilities, internally displaced children—both girls and boys—their voices elevated by the unifying force of democracy.
H.D. Wright is Youth Representative at Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations Fund for Education in Emergencies. A 19-year old human rights activist, he is the first young person democratically elected to the governing body of a global humanitarian fund.
The Education Cannot Wait Youth Constituency is the first youth constituency in the humanitarian sector and the only youth group to democratically influence high-level humanitarian programs and policy from within the governing body of a global humanitarian fund.