August 9 and August 12 have just passed but these are the days Nepal should pay careful attention to for two reasons: the former is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the latter marks the International Youth Day. Unfortunately, though symbolically important, these two days seem to have lost relevance in the current political scenario and there is not much hope that this grim landscape would change with the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The reality is that the government has since long abdicated on its own duties to protect and invest in future generations.
You can call it a governance failure, an incapacity to put the real first things “first” or perhaps a general apathy compounded by a political system unable to deliver. Surely, it is not a matter of lack of resources but instead of how they are managed.
It is also true that while the prospects for a youth from a middle-class family have far improved in relation to just a few years ago, especially in terms of education and overall opportunities, if you are from an indigenous group or if you belong to a historically disadvantaged group, if you live with disabilities and if your gender is simply disregarded by a patriarchal society, then it is an entirely different story.
Yet if Nepal wants to emerge more prosperous and truly become a land of opportunities, then the new government should revamp the National Youth Policy, a document that should be first of all implemented with adequate resources. This policy is in place for the last several years but it has not brought about any transformational for the youths.
On a positive note, however, we have now a National Youth Council that could play a very paramount role in creating the enabling conditions for youths to thrive and contribute to national development. Partnerships are essential and it must be at least considered that all the agencies at federal, provincial and local levels forge innovative partnerships with youth clubs and youth-driven agenda.
Making youths responsible
The National Planning Commission so far has been doing a solid job in terms of policy planning and projecting a national vision for a country to achieve the Agenda 2030 but perhaps there are opportunities to really revamp the policymaking by including and engaging the youths. The work that has been done by not for profits like Daayitwa—the Responsibility Movement—based on the concept of adaptive leadership that works to bring systemic change by going the long haul with a focus on values and behaviors, trying to bridge the gap between them and the reality around, is not just commendable but it is the way to go.
In this particular case, the government has been able to step up and support the Daayitwa Nepal Public Administration Fellowship, a program that allows young graduates to be involved in policymaking.
This is central and must be at the core of a paradigm change in national governance. Starting from grassroots levels and trying to improve the local mechanisms in place could be a way forward. Can each and single local government create a local youth council that can be as inclusive and diverse so that it can support the elected officers?
The idea is tempting but also has a risk of becoming tokenistic in nature. That’s why, we need the political leadership of the country to show the way, also symbolically, on how youth can be involved, engaged and made protagonists of local and national development. Such a local youth council, first of all, should be, as much as possible, free from the usual politicking. Members of youth wings of major national parties could have a role but this should not overshadow the contributions of other unaffiliated and “free-thinking” youths.
First, imagine a local youth council composed of 20 youths, where the representatives of all political parties could have one seat each but with the condition of never being in a majoritarian position and with their numbers capped so that a real level playing field would be assured.
This would also allow youths from marginalized groups, including Dalits and indigenous ones, to be involved and a real effort should be made to ensure their participation.
Second, such councils would meet regularly, independently and autonomously and would have the power to offer their own recommendations and advice to the elected officers. All their decisions should be reached based on the concept of unanimity and, in lack of it, different recommendations would be sent to the elected politicians.
Third, their contributions should not be just about propositioning. Otherwise, we would run into the risk of having in place something nice on the paper but without any moral suasion. Meanwhile, the government can prepare a bold legislative package that ensures that the elected officers have no absolute powers over the voters and the latter have a more meaningful role to play. Here youths can help and such local youth councils could be a vehicle to try some innovative experiments to foster public participation in the decision-making process. That’s why, the members of the local youth councils should also be involved and attend all the major deliberations taken by the politicians. They will have a statutory or semi-statutory role that makes their participation mandatory in all the official decisions taken by the elected bodies.
Lastly, the representation in these local youth councils should be on a rotation basis, with each youth interested to join be allowed to do so for at least one year. In case of more than 20 youths expressing their interest, then sortation can be applied with the guarantee that those excluded will have priority access at the next term. We need creativity and ingenuity but also a lot of political will to try something like this. There have already been several great examples of youth mobilization in key issues but most of them have been of “one-off” nature, often dependent on donors.
There are definitely simpler and less ingenious ways to bring youths to the center of policymaking. If so, the government could start by empowering the National Youth Council and a second way could be approving the draft National Volunteering Policy as soon as possible.
Will someone in the government pay attention?
Will social innovation in the sphere of local governance have a chance?
Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions are personal.