When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him, goes an Ashanti Proverb. This portrays the position of the youth in society, to be seen and not heard as the mature and old crop take the lead in forging the future of the society. The youth are viewed as immature, vulnerable and in constant need of guidance and leadership. This means that they are often ignored in discussions that involve their lives and instead have to wait for decisions to be taken on their behalf.
Different societies variedly define the youth but a common definition as provided by the United Nations is persons between the age of 15-24 years. This is also cognizant of the definition of a child under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that a child is every human being below the age of 18 years. On the other hand, Kevin Kruse defines leadership as a process of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal. In 2019, the United Nations estimated that the youth numbered 1.2 billion persons, or simply around one in every six persons worldwide.
The next question to ponder over is whether persons between the age of 15-24 years are capable of maximizing other people’s efforts towards a common goal. The answer is a resounding yes!
In business it has often been said that the customer is always right and it has shaped how products and businesses conduct their operations. Similarly, as the youth make up about 42% of the world’s population, they too can take part in leadership and significantly shape the decisions that impact their future and the world at large.
What Tools Do the Youth Need to Take Part in Leadership?
The age category covering the youth is large and as such, offers time and opportunity for the youth to nurture leadership skills and also get prepared for more complex leadership roles as they grow. There are different opportunities where the young can actively take part.
Governments have a key role to play to ensure that youth are included in all aspects of leadership and decision making. Article 12 of the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child stipulates that:
“States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”.
The 1995 World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) further built on the provisions of the CRC and recognized that the youth need a combination of services, support and opportunities. The WPAY listed fifteen key actions which governments and other actors in the public arena ought to do to ensure meaningful youth participation and leadership right from community level.
For youth to openly express their views, they require:
- access to education and training,
- access to information about issues in their communities and unconditional inclusion and participation during deliberation of these issues both at school and in the political arena,
- access to meaningful partnerships and opportunities both with government authorities, public and private institutions and non-governmental organizations which will shape their thoughts and actions. Most importantly, they should be encouraged to form youth community based organizations which can help them develop confidence in meeting new people, basic intellectual skills and networking skills.
With these conditions fulfilled, the youth can be involved in a variety of leadership activities like youth clubs and peer to peer educators, youth community leaders, school teachers, religious leaders, team builders and political leaders. Such platforms encourage the youth to build their voice and provide leadership from their own perspective, which will shape the future, both for them and the other generations to follow.
According to Kofi Annan, “young people – with their dynamism, their energy and their inherent understanding of our interconnected world – have much to teach us. Increased educational attainment, advances in technology and the spread of information have made this generation the best educated, most connected and most informed in history”.
The youth in the 21st century are undoubtedly different from earlier generations because of the emergence of technology. They youth are now able to access information through the internet and hence able to learn from their peers across the world and are coming up with modern, unconventional and innovative ways of solving issues in their communities and the world by extension. The youth are already taking leadership in the use of internet and technology and are acting as an integral link between the old and the new generation.
It is therefore crucial that the youth are encouraged to be part of the solution than part of the problem, because the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity-Benjamin Disraeli
Let the young lead. (n.d.). The Elders. https://theelders.org/news/let-young-lead
OHCHR | Convention on the Rights of the child. (n.d.). https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx
School-Based Health Alliance. (n.d.). Developing youth leadership skills. https://www.sbh4all.org/training/youth-development/youth-engagement-toolkit/developing-youth-leadership-skills/
United Nations world programme of action for youth | United Nations for youth. (2015, June 8). United Nations Youth. https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/world-programme-of-action-for-youth.html
(2015, June 8). United Nations Youth. https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/what-we-do/faq.html
Youth leadership. (2016, January 19). Freechild Institute. https://freechild.org/2016/01/19/youth-leadership/