Photo showing youth participants during a group discussion session at the engagement in Koinadugu District. Photo Credit: @UNDP/Sulaiman Jalloh.

UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Youth Affairs (MOYA) recently concluded a one-day dialogue session for over 100 youth, policy makers, representatives, and community leaders, by way of response to gaps on ‘Youth inclusion in decision making’. Held in Koinadugu District on 29th April 2021, this engagement was a consultative round-table that attracted participation from 7 districts (Koinadugu, Kenema, Kono, pujehun, Tonkolili, Fabala and Kambia), triggering discussions leaping into how youth could be meaningfully engaged in decision making processes. 

“This one-day dialogue forum proved that young people are aware of issues affecting their inclusion in decision making processes which are mainly centered around social, political and cultural issues. They strongly believe such dialogue sessions will help challenge negative stereotypes of young people, help break down barriers between adults and young people, enhance their self-confidence and belief so that they can exercise positive career choices and have greater involvement and responsibility in the future,’’ says Musu Bangura, UNDP Gender Analyst, Governance Cluster.

Eight out of every 10 individuals in Sierra Leone are below age 35. Therefore, the country is gifted with the energy, and viable networks with high social capital that could easily transcend and contribute positively to national development, and in diverse ways, to maintaining social cohesion and peace, in spite of the structural challenges militating against young people. What has been slow to emerge is young people’s positive engagement with formal structures in a bid to establish identity. Recent skirmishes of minority disaffected young people (bike riders) in the country resorted to a subculture that puts them on a collision course with security personnel and police.

The one-day consultative and dialogue session has triggered frank discussions among Sierra Leonean youth who strongly believe that their needs and aspirations have not been met by national and local political structures but are hopeful that regular engagements and involvement of young people into local and national decision making process/structures and conversations could be catalytic to fuel behavioral and social change in their communities.

UNDP Sierra Leone has found handy two approaches as meaningful and tangible ways to improving young people’s participation in parliament, local councils and in decision making processes at different levels:

1.       The upstream approach to review and amend legal and procedural frameworks that inhibit young people’s participation in decision making; and

2.       The downstream level to target community and regional leaders’ buy-in, establishing platforms that facilitate engagements between and among young people, policy makers, politicians, CSOs and community leaders.

Facilitated by UNDP, gender drivers against women’s equal participation in political and community decision making process, and grass root solution mapping through innovation formed part of two key presentations, provoking interactive group sessions.  The former emphasized that young people especially women who make up the youthful population be included in the decision-making processes for meaningful contribution. The latter delineate how UNDP ‘issue mapping’ tool, a simple collective intelligence tool could be employed to respond to youth exclusion in decision making process at the same time pinpointing how youth involvement is critical in proffering local solutions through innovation. UNDP therefore calls on all young people in Sierra Leone to grab opportunities made available through the UNDP Accelerator Lab and unleash their youthful potential. 

Photo showing UNDP’s ‘issue mapping’ tool, a simple collective intelligence tool employed during the dialogue session in Kabala. Photo Credit @UNDP/Sulaiman Jalloh.

Interesting insights from our engagement in Koinadugu District has also revealed that youth’s knowledge on the indispensability of local councils in delivering basic services to community is enormous, but are of the opinion that creating an enabling environment for youth inclusion and active participation in both national or local decision-making processes should be expedited to accelerate service delivery.  

“UNDP & Ministry of Youth initiative of dialoguing with youth is reminding us our role as partners to the development of our various communities. We should embrace this opportunity and make meaningful contribution going forward,’’ says Pujehun District Youth Chairman- Brima Fullah.

In 2020, complimenting efforts to mitigate youth exclusion and trifling participation in decision-making processes, UNDP secured funds from its funding widow to support project entitled ‘Strengthening of Youth Meaningful Participation in Decision Making Structures in Sierra Leone’. This project seeks to address the challenges-including capacity gaps of government and civil society actors, in formulating, implementing and partnering for youth and gender-friendly policies that would ensure meaningful youth engagement and contribution at both local and national levels, in skills training, key among others.  

“UNDP has been the key driver when it comes to youth empowerment in Sierra Leone. Youth capacity building is very important which is why, in our youth policy, we factored in youth inclusion in the decision-making process. The support of UNDP to youth innovation through the Accelerator Lab has created a platform for youth participation in nation building. So, I entreat every youth that is present here today to take this process with absolutely seriousness,’’ says Youth Ministry Director- Charles Moinina.

During the round-table dialogue session, participants made meaningful contributions which have bolstered these youth who are expected to return to their districts and be more actively involved in their local structures and challenge vices to youth inclusion in decision making process.

Youth inclusion in the decision-making processes will not only contribute to their well-being, but to nation building and youth vibrancy. They (youth) believe that the youthful population of Sierra Leone is huge, therefore, if harnessed properly by total inclusion in decision making, will help society fulfills its goals.

The consultative dialogue and round table session ended in a fashion that has set the stage further with expectations from youth, policy makers, district councils, local leaders and CSOs.   

The represented institutions include the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Local Councils, and the Sierra Leone Parliament.  

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