As part of our UN Youth Delegate Campaign (UNYD), Maurizio Cuttin and I organised a roundtable with Chatham House (the Royal Institution of International Affairs) to shed more light on our flagship campaign and our experiences as elected youth representatives.
Chatham House provided a great platform to share our experiences as elected youth representatives and a great opportunity to meet other young people who are engaged in the field of youth representation.
The discussion was centred around “Youth Representatives: The answer to meaningful engagement” and focused on the practical governance mechanisms that facilitate youth representation, and how they could be improved to ensure that engagement with young people can become more meaningful.
I was grateful to be given the chance to have a spotlight speech about my experience as a youth representative (which has lasted half a decade) and the progress that has been made in each of my roles whether it be on a local, national or international level.
Starting with my local area, I focused on meaningful youth engagement by outlining the impact of the role of Youth Mayors. In this role, I successfully campaigned to reduce knife crime in my borough – which was statistically the most dangerous London borough for knife crime in 2017. We reduced knife crime by 15.6% in 2 years, despite overall knife crime stats increasing by 7.1% in London. We did this by giving young people more influence by not only encouraging them to express themselves but giving them the real means to do so. The implementation of my Young Mayor’s Fund, a £20,000 pot of funding to fund youth creativity and the Youth Independent Advisory Group (YIAG) to work in tandem with (and often scrutinise) the police force was extremely useful in empowering young people – which we found crucial to reducing knife crime.
In addition to this I also provided advice to my fellow youth delegates on how
- To avoid being tokenised
- Reduce representational “impotence”
The solution to both of these issues is to decentralise power as a youth representative and provide more seats at the table for other young people. Creating space for youth/ involving them in formalised power structures (e.g., the YIAG with the Police) or helping them to create their own (e.g., Young Mayor’s fund), increases their aggregate influence and power. This, in turn, increases the representative’s power, as power is relative. It is ethically and pragmatically a better solution for all parties to decentralise power as a youth representative than it is to hoard it. A youth representative has power in that they represent the voices/ aims of young people, but the most important thing is understanding that it’s a responsibility.
With great power comes great responsibility.Stan Lee
Currently, we’re taking our own advice as the British Youth Council is recruiting two new international associates to join our team and get involved with our campaign to rebuild the UNYD Campaign. This would, incidentally, be another measure to increase youth representation at international levels and the overall influence of UK youth.
After this, we introduced our campaign to rebuild the UNYD programme in the UK. Reminding the table that despite the youth representatives present, overall young people in the UK are still not represented well enough.
Maurizio provided some astonishing stats to back this up. 36/46 Council of Europe states (of which the UK is a member) have UNYD’s. 71% of G7 members have UNYD’s. 53% of G20 members have UNYD’s. The UK remains without a UNYD. Maurizio also touched upon the fact that it has been 6 years since the previous UNYD programme ended and since then we have not seen any improvements.
I focused on providing the institutional backing for a UNYD that we have seen in UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.7, UN Security Council Resolution 2250 and Commonwealth Youth Declaration Section 1A: 16. As a proportion of the overall population, young people aged 25 and under make up around 26% of Ireland’s population yet they still have UNYD. Young people make up around 12% of Slovenia’s population, yet they still have a UNYD. Young people make up around 35% of the UK’s population, but we are yet to have a UNYD.
What is clear here is that other countries are providing representation for a smaller proportion of young people than the UK – which casts a terrible shadow on the UK’s democratic image. However, rebuilding the UNYD campaign could be the impetus for the UK to start taking the lead on global matters surrounding youth affairs.
Additionally it was also great to hear from Tom Matthew who had some great insights about the importance of improving democratic accountability in institutions that engage youth. We hope he has a successful campaign in his running to become the President of the European Youth Forum.
Thank you to the team at Common Futures Conversations, who facilitated this event at Chatham House.