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As the COVID-19 vaccine slowly makes its way across the world and we begin seeing a little light on the horizon, we need to think carefully about how we are going to emerge from these challenging times. This global event has slowed the world down, making it impossible for us to ignore the fractures and chasms in our systems, especially when it comes to the 1.2 billion youth in the world that have lost ground in their development.

We will be going through a global reset, and we should use this opportunity to engage youth as partners in rebuilding. It is time to not just hear their voices about the challenges they are facing, but also create an enabling environment for their leadership and contribution.

Unfortunately, we know that, in many low- and middle-income countries, youth are not as engaged as we would hope. The efforts to involve youth often result in tokenism. Youth are brought in after the fact to give a ceremonial blessing of a plan that was decided upon without them.

We heard words to this effect repeatedly from approximately 10,000 youth between 2015-2020. During this period, USAID’s YouthPower Learning and YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation conducted 17 country and regional assessments, identifying opportunities to advance youth development so that youth can effectively contribute to development objectives. We found that, while it was something youth wanted, they seldom had a true opportunity to meaningfully engage. As an Ethiopian youth participant in a focus group discussion put it, “We are usually called by the government official to listen to what they have already decided, and [they] simply consider our participation a decoration.

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By Cassandra Jessee, Director and Senior Advisor, International Center for Research on Women

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