"Why aren’t young people involved in decision-making processes that affect their lives?"
Youth activist from Serbia Olga Dević - on importance of building build close ties between decision-makers and young people
About the author:
Olga Dević (19) is from Belgrade, Serbia. She is an activist in the field of youth policy and children's rights, and she is an advocate for active youth and child participation in the society. She is a member and advisor to numerous youth organizations on a local, national and international level. Olga led many youth projects and initiatives in Serbia and abroad. As a peer educator and trainer who led more than 250 workshops and training for young people and children.
Youth participation in society can be viewed from different perspectives and depends on individual points of view. In general, it means taking an active part in decision-making processes at all levels in our lives. The question is: why aren’t young people sufficiently involved in decision-making processes that directly affect their lives?
At the moment, our planet is home to the largest generation of young people in history. There are 1.8 billion young people who are between 15 and 30 years old. Close to 90% of youth live in developing countries, shaping their societies, empowering their peers to take actions on global and local issues, while not leaving anyone behind. I think it’s quite hard for young people to be heard by decision makers. As a youth rights and policy activist, and as a young person myself, I find that the reason for this is the prevailing belief that young people are too young and immature to make a difference?! Do you also feel that young people can make a difference only when adults agree to let them? I don’t think we should settle for the status quo. From personal experience, I know that our determination, as well as our energy, can overcome every obstacle and limitation in order to drive positive change in our communities.
"I always hear decision-makers and adults say that children and young people are future leaders. But wouldn’t it be wise to start preparing us for this future before it actually arrives?"
Most changes are made by a small group of people, gathered around the same idea. More and more young people are stepping up in their communities and raising their voices for issues that are important for both their generation and for the world. In order to support young people and to ensure that our voices are taken into account, UNICEF has launched U-Report, an online platform through which we can share our opinions on various issues that matter to us. In my country, in Serbia, U-Report helps encourage young people to express their opinions on topics that are important to them. Also, U-Report ensures that young people's perspectives reach decision-makers and are taken into account when creating various national policies which affect youth on the local level. As a U-Reporter, I’m an example of how young people can make a difference and motivate their peers to strive towards a common goal - a more peaceful, more equal and tolerant world where no one is left behind.
As an activist for youth and child rights, I have recently had an opportunity to participate at the Western Balkans Summit as a youth delegate from Serbia, where I presented the situation of Serbian youth. I had an opportunity to speak to influential EU decision-makers and representatives of UN agencies, government officials, and Embassies about the situation on the labour market and how it affects millennials. I highlighted the issue of temporary and informal jobs which can lead to unfair working conditions, as well as poor pay for youth. It’s clear that the jobs which are available to young people must take into account their actual experience and skills, as they are just embarking on their career path. At the same time, the current educational system does not provide the practical skills which are needed for young people to be competitive in today’s labour market. I talked about the necessity to encourage entrepreneurship from an early age, as well as about the existing gap between the educational system and the labour market. I had the honour to meet newly elected high-level EU decision-makers, as well as representatives of EU agencies and discuss with them the challenges faced by young people in Serbia. This gave me hope, because youth voices from the Western Balkans were actually heard at the highest levels of the EU and were taken seriously.
It’s crucial to build close ties between decision-makers and young people. This is a good step in ensuring that the importance of active youth engagement in decision-making processes is recognized. The potential of our generation will be visible once we are given the chance to be partners in building a better community. Young people are the most valuable resource that exists in this highly volatile and changing world, so decision-makers and society should not waste it! Imagine what the world would look like if 1.8. billion young people knew that their voices can make a real difference?