Power to youth by councils

Creating youth councils will be a way to support the decision making process in all levels of government in Nepal. However, such forums should be based on merit, inclusion and diversity.

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

The delegation of the EU to Nepal recently launched a new application process for youths to become members of its EU Youth Sounding Board, a youth-led mechanism that provides counsel and feedbacks to the Ambassador and her senior staff. The American Embassy in Kathmandu, like in many other parts around  the world, also has a similar mechanism, the U.S. Embassy Youth Council, previously known as Ambassador’s Youth Advisory Council. The UN in Nepal used to have its own its UN Youth Advisory Panel (UNYAP) that could be re-energized and re-booted to support the work of UN Resident Coordinator.

If foreign embassies and international organizations are trying to engage youths in a meaningful way, why can’t the government of Nepal do something similar?

Here I am following up on a previous piece of mine where I tried to provide some ideas on how the state in Nepal, especially the federal level, could do a much better job at involving people in its decision making processes.  Now I will further elaborate on few other possible ways that would enable the voice and agency of the youths of the nation to be expressed and heard.

First of all, let’s clarify one thing: it is not only the federal government’s responsibility to enlarge the decision making process and turn it to a tool for youths’ empowerment. What about the provincial level governments and municipalities?

Actually we could imagine a sort of pyramid type of model that would promote an initial (and partial) attempt at bringing youths closer to the decision making. It would be a first step within a much larger scope of actions that would, ultimately and gradually, entrust youths and other citizens, with real power. The pyramid would consist of youth advisory councils working and supporting all the levels of governance in the country.

Now, a caveat: we also need to be realistic and honest when we talk about these mechanisms.

As interesting as they are, the way such youth councils are structured and their objectives, do not really offer real power. No doubt, they are a nice tool but they are rather tokenistic, certainly, not real platforms for deliberations.

That’s why I define them as “partial”.

Nevertheless, they could represent a first step towards a radical rethinking of how democracy works.

So how would such “pyramid” work out?

Let’s start with the simplest step.

The central government can create its own youth council.

The National Youth Council, the national youth agency within the Ministry of Youths and Sports, could make a call for applications and be responsible to support the federal, provincial and municipal governments in the task of creating these bodies.

Second step would be to replicate the same mechanism at provincial levels. Each Chief Minister in his respective provinces should set up its own Youth Council.

Something is happening at provincial levels but only the impetus of a national framework, “the pyramid” initiated from the top of the power structure, could provide momentum and standards for lower levels of government to promptly act.

Third step would entail each ministry at central and provincial level setting up their own consultative youth forums. Going down the pyramid, the forth step would involve municipal governments that would set up their own consultative mechanisms.

This framework would represent the fastest and easiest way to involve youths but it is also quite imperfect as well.

Not only for the same reasons mentioned before but it is also imperfect because it is pretty much centered on a very top down approach but we should bear with such shortfall.

Can the National Youth Council be in charge of the whole process of establishing such forums? Realistically speaking, as in the cases of both EU and the American experiences, it could partner with some local NGOs. Both the EU and the American Embassies have contracted some prominent youths focused NGOs. It is a model that makes absolute sense as NGOs run by youths bring their unique perspective and experience in dealing with other youths.

Another practical but also strategic aspect we need to take into account is about the inclusion and equity of these bodies. Becoming a member of the US Embassy Youth Council or of the EU Youth Sounding Board has become a prestigious and coveted affair for a youth.

It is rightly so because at the end of the day, these are the platforms that support the process of personal and professional growth. Being a member of these mechanisms can be a big boost for a youth’s future prospective, in terms of landing a prestigious scholarships or finding a good job.

Yet despite the efforts to make them as inclusive and diverse as possible, there is always the risks that many high potential youths but without the right connections, knowledge and foreign language skills, remain excluded. Obviously in order to become one of their members, you have to prove that you are up to the tasks. In short, you have to show not only determination and knowledge but also some accomplishments.

Still one of the biggest questions, while designing such platforms for the governing institutions of a country, is really about including the so-called “underdogs”, vulnerable youths in them, offering them a real chance to participate.  

That’s why any such mechanism must be really geared to include everyone.

A recent guide published by Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Canada might be of help in this regard. Entitled Beyond Inclusion: Equity in Public Engagement, it proposes eight principles to “support the meaningful and equitable inclusion of diverse voices in public engagement processes across sectors”. Though it is tailored to the Canadian context, vastly different from Nepal’s, it still offers some precious insights, especially because Canada is trying to offer meaningful and real decision making powers to the First Nations.

We are talking about legally recognized entities made up by local indigenous people divided in tribes that maintain a certain level of sovereignty over their lands.

In Beyond Inclusion, the authors offer eight principles, all important to truly ensure equal power relations and meaningful participation of the people when engaging with the government.

Principle 1, the founding principle if we can say, is really about being serious and committed to the process. We need political will and genuine determination for such type of consultations to really be meaningful. Principle 2reminds us that this commitment also involves a serious planning process, including allocation of resources. The other principles reinforce the overall approach focused on inclusion and diversity and the assumption that we are talking about a process that should be open and flexible enough to be improved and adjusted along the time.

Let’s not forget that inclusion and diversity are indispensable factors to turn these consultative mechanisms in something that can both impact their participants’ lives and the communities where they live.

In our case, the proposed mechanisms, even if I described them as “partial” and “imperfect” tools, should be driven by a real desire not only to enlarge but also to reinvent the process of decision making, locally and nationally. The bottom line is that Nepal can experiment with these mechanisms while laying the foundations for something bigger and more ambitious.

I am referring to real instruments where citizens, including the youths, have power.

At the end of the day, the real goal is about achieving deliberative democracy where decisions are made by the people and not only exclusively by elected officials.