Youth, Nothing For Us Without Us!!

By: James Alcime
One Young World Ambassador
UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board member

I never thought I would feel so empowered and inspired on an 11-hour flight to Paris. From the moment I entered the car on my way to Jose Maria Cordova airport, I began writing down my thoughts and ideas about youth participation & youth governance. One thing echoed in my head “Youth, Nothing for us, without us!” It was the magical slogan uttered by Stella Agara, representative of Africa at the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board, to launch the opening ceremony of the youth assembly of the 7th World Urban Forum which took place last week in Medellin, Colombia. As I left Medellin on Wednesday morning, I had a clear vision of what this forum would mean for me. After the plenary sessions, events, panels, exhibitions and networking opportunities, I returned home with clear words of wisdom ingrained.

As an integral part of the World Urban Forum, the youth assembly welcomed about 500 young people granting them an opportunity to join world leaders and voice their opinions. The UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board members facilitated the youth discussions and helped shape the ongoing process of getting young people involved in the activities and work of the UN-HABITAT. The forum serves as a platform for young leaders to meet mayors, local government leaders and other partners; a good example of young people’s inclusion in decision making.

The major discussions of the youth assembly were geared towards HABITAT III, the Post 2015 Agenda. The sessions covered topics of youth empowerment, sports, and sustainable development to name a few. My favorite session, themed Youth and Urban Safety, analyzed what works with youth to make cities and regions safer. It was organized to showcase some of the models, approaches and tools that have been successful in creating safer cities. In particular, the session sought to share approaches that focus on youth involvement employed by the UN Habitat’s Global Network on Safer Cities (GNSC) to build safer cities across the world. The participants and panelists recommended that youth be integrated in planning, governance and management of cities. Such a move is vital to ensure meaningful youth participation in the procedure of developing safer and sustainable cities. Cities should also provide innovative public infrastructure to enhance youth creativity. The panelists also recommended the involvement and integration of youth in development processes – Youth should be seen as problem solvers rather than being portrayed as perpetrators of problems. It is equally important that the meaning of youth encompasses young men and women and not just one gender.

Apart from my role as a participant, I was so inspired to work with all the members of the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board who had the mission of organizing the youth caucuses every morning and ensure that the voices of young people gathered in Colombia is taken into account in the youth statement that is presented at the closing ceremony of the World Urban Forum.
It is clear that globally, youth is only seen as beneficiaries of services rather than strategic partners in policy and decision making; young people feel marginalized, alienated and suspicious of the lack of youth involvement therein. This ought to change because youth are a good asset and a valuable human resource to be developed and not a problem to be solved; youth should be seen as partners and not only as beneficiaries. There are massive opportunities and potential for youth to rise up and defy precedence by undertaking leadership roles. Consequently, I have to congratulate UN-HABITAT which is leading the way in helping young people unleash their potential in several ways such as the Youth Advisory Board which is composed of 14 young people from all over the world who work nationally, regionally and internationally, to provide strategic advice to UN-HABITAT on issues of urban youth development while advocating for youth inclusion at different decision making levels. “Youth, Nothing for us, without us” is not just a simple slogan but the first step that youth can take today regardless of your location. You can decide to be part of a global change and say today to your local leaders: “Youth, Nothing for us, without us!”