Democratizing policymaking


Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 4 min.

What started as once in a while talk on skype has become a routine with weekly calls over the weekends.I am talking about my conversation with Madan, a young citizen from Nepal working in Australia after having successfully pursuing a Master’s degree in accounting there. Madan was one of our ENGAGE sports coaches, a member of our sports coaching program where local youth in love with sports work in partnership with teams of peers living with disabilities.

Since he left more than three years ago, I have been in touch with him regularly, with Madan eager to discuss the latest developments of our programs and with me curious to find out news about life in Down Under. On skype we came to know each other better and we found out that we share a common passion for politics.

I am not only talking about discussing the dramas and the shenanigans of Nepal’s politics but we often end up talking about politics in the New South Wales where Madan studied and more in general we extensively talk about the government’s actions in Australia, discussing and comparing the different policies undertaken by the Liberal and Labor administrations at provincial and federal levels there.

Despite studying marketing in Nepal, Madan always showed an eagerness to follow the political debate in his own country, a habit that he assiduously stuck by also when he moved to a new country. During our chats we share articles and news and we often discuss opinions and ideas, an exercise that is broadening our minds.

Youth and politics

Last Sunday we were talking about the fact that very few youth nowadays show any interest in politics. With apathy reigning stronger and stronger, most of the youth not only in Nepal but also in Australia and elsewhere are disenchanted and indifferent to what’s going on politically.

There might be several reasons for this phenomenon including the faulty way social media are overused by youth, the widespread disinclination towards reading printed editions of newspapers, and the lack of meaningful conversations about issues of national interests at home. This general indifference towards the public good is worrisome and scary and could be one of the greatest threats to liberal democracies around the world.

Disillusioned with public policies that are too often ineffective and unable to assuage their fears and anxieties, youths end up at the margins of public discourse, disengaged and on their own.While it is true that a minority of them remains active and ready to react to reverse unjust policies as we have seen also in Nepal just few months ago, the vast majority of them is motionless and unable to take action.

They simple do not care.

Discussions on a new social contract should include and engage youth in Nepal and elsewhere.

Even for those truly interested in the happenings of their country, there is a certain difficulty to get organized and structure their voice beyond short-term street protests. It is a universal problem and that’s why the Secretary General of the United Nations has been calling for a New Social Contract, new ways to better include and engage the citizenry in the decision making process, offering a new alternative to the standard way of “doing” policymaking, now an exclusive right of full-time career politicians, professional lobbyists from the for profit and not for profit sectors.

The focus is not just at local or at national ways of finding novel venues to involve and engage people.

Even globally there are calls to reform the global governance system with the “WE THE PEOPLES, A CALL FOR INCLUSIVE GLOBAL GOVERNANCE”, trying to imagine a different and more democratic United Nations.

For a country like Nepal currently undergoing multiple crises at once, a massive public health crisis coupled with a mounting economic downturn and an unfolding political instability, rethinking democracy, making it easier to understand and more accessible, is going to be paramount.

Setting new norms

With a federal system still in its initial stage of development, the country has a unique opportunity to promote a genuine debate on more direct, even informal forms of democracy, actions that can help establish new forms of deliberative governance where the citizens do not just entrust their representatives with their vote but also take an active part in shaping national policies.

It is not just about delegation but co-participation.

That’s why the United Nations Volunteers, UNV, is working on a new State of theWorld’s Volunteerism Report 2021 that will be entitled “Volunteering and the 21st Century Social Contract”.

There is the recognition that volunteerism, often something too hard to be pinned down clearly and effectively with its diversity of forms and shapes, can truly play an essential role to reverse a trend and enable new forms of public participation. It is no more about giving your time for a just cause but it is also about asking yourself questions about the problems at the bottom of it and thinking and brainstorming about new solutions to the same.

In other words, volunteerism can be the entry point for a new form of policymaking where the citizenry can complement the actions taken by full-time politicians. It is a new paradigm that potentially could equal, for the first time, the citizens with a new crop of activist policymakers.

Translating what is still a hypothetical, perhaps naïve pathway to rethink how our government’s work is going to require a combination of persistency, obstinacy, and relentless commitment. Around the world, there is now this awareness about the “net” worth of the quality of our democracies with more indexes, more rankings, and more studies coming out.

This “stuff” is not just for the students of political science but it should be instead formulated in such a way to engage and energize all those apathetic youth. The Gwangju Democracy Forum 2021, a global platform based in South Korea that is trying to reinvigorate the global discussion on more inclusive and better democratic systems, has just been concluded. Can we move such discussions to our classrooms? Can we localize and contextualize them in such a way to engage the youth of Nepal and those from other countries? Can schools and colleges be up to this challenge?

How can local informal youth clubs be supported to become the beacons of a new type of citizen-centered policymaking? These are the defining questions of this decade. For sure I and Madan will keep having plenty to talk about in the coming months. Hopefully we will not be alone.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected].