Enabling the Youth to Raise Their Voice
A conversation with Daniel Ouedraogo, Senior Youth Engagement Strategist, UNICEF Cote d’Ivoire
Daniel Ouedraogo, Senior Youth Engagement Strategist from UNICEF Cote d’Ivoire, shares about their Cote d’Ivoire UNICEF office strategy and new approaches to working with youth. He also tells how U-Report and other UNICEF supported platforms have enabled local young people to raise their voice and take actions on issues they care about.
If you could tell us about the current scenario in Cote d’Ivoire and what it’s like for young people growing up there.
Daniel Ouedraogo (DO): More than half of the Ivoirian population is below 19 years old. With half of the population under the age of 19, Côte d’Ivoire’s greatest asset is its youth. Yet, when we ask young people if they feel their voice is heard, 60% answer no.
We sent a poll around the official launch of U-Report in Côte d’Ivoire and asked people, what was the most important issue for them. The vast majority (68%) answered jobs, followed by education (20%).
Many young people fail to graduate from high school and for those who make it to university, many say that the quality of education in public universities is low and doesn’t prepare young people for the job market, while private universities are expensive. There’s a really strong need for education that builds skills needed for jobs, including entrepreneurial skills, so they don’t have to rely on the market but have the confidence to start their own initiatives. Whether young people access higher education or not, employment is a big challenge. They are ill prepared for the job market and there aren’t enough jobs for them – there is a high demand but not enough to go around.
Many of the questions we get through U-Report are about jobs, whether we can employ young people through our platform which is why we created a JOB info box including UNICEF job postings and information about the government employment agency. That is also why we held a live chat on employment with UN HR specialists, government counterparts and experts from the private sector.
We believe the Cote d’Ivoire UNICEF office has a strategy in place to engage young people. Do you think it may be replicable in other offices?
DO: "In the last year, UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire has experimented with a new approach to engage young people, for and by young people."
It is driven by the Chief of Communication who has made it a priority to give a voice to young people and give them the tools to make themselves heard. The first step that was taken by her, was to hire young people to lead the way. She hired me as Senior Innovation and Youth Engagement Strategist and since then, the team grew. There are now five of us. Stephane is our young people mobilizer. Aisha is our youth engagement strategist focusing on gender. Milequem is our multimedia content producer. Yann manages our online community. We all want to see positive changes in our communities and we were given the opportunities and tools to do so.
Then, what we have done is to integrate the youth engagement activities already in place. In Côte d’Ivoire, there were two main activities engaging young people. First, the youth reporters, a network of 150 young people across 10 locations around the country, trained in radio and journalist techniques, who broadcast weekly radio shows and publish content on the web, to promote child rights. Second, Voix des Jeunes, a reality TV programme where young people identify problems in their communities, debate them, find solutions and implement them. It’s really popular and had close to 15 million viewers last year. Thousands of young people want to be on the show, but only 24 participants are selected, so we turn their enthusiasm into action online as well as working schools, universities and communities.
Then in 2017, we added U-Report to the mix. You know what U-Report is, but we use it differently. We do carry out polls every two weeks but we also use the platform as a way to share information answer young people’s questions.
Our team answers to an average of 3000 to 5000 messages per month going from “how to get tested for HIV?” to “I have been victim of violence, what can I do?” We also do monthly live chat dedicated to a specific topic: employment, menstruations, sexual harassment, etc. In Côte d’Ivoire, programs also fully integrate U-Report and youth engagement programs. But what is very different is Côte d’Ivoire is that U-Report is not only a virtual community. Youth U-Reporters from across the country get together and take positive actions in their community. We have seen U-Reporters cleaning up schools and latrines. They organized school breakfast and computer workshops. They are engaged and they are empowered.
The beauty of having integrated these three initiatives is that they can support each other. To participate to Voix des jeunes you need to be a U-Reporter. As U-Reporter, you can vote on the solutions proposed by young people on Voix des jeunes. Youth reporters are U-Reporters. They report and U-Report polls and amplify results. Etc. A few countries in West Africa now run U-Report and Voix des Jeunes but few integrate them the way we do in Côte d’Ivoire. I think the synergy between the three programs make it very dynamic and contribute to create a group of young people who are the voice of positive change in their community. We are still experimenting but strongly believe our approach could be repeated in other countries.
You are said to have a strong motivation and dedication for working with young people. Can you share some of your experiences and what inspires you?
DO: I didn’t want to say this, but you are forcing me to! Last year I was honoured to receive a recognition as the most promising young leader of Côte d’Ivoire. I received it in part because of the work I have done launching the Voix des jeunes programme in Côte d’Ivoire.
I am also a blogger. A considerable number of young people follow me and look up to me. They often ask me for advice. It’s a lot of responsibilities and it’s also a great privilege to be in this position. This motivates me to be the best I can be.
I have worked with a few different organisations before coming to UNICEF. I worked for Google, a youth organization called Social Change Factory who run the Voix des Jeune programme across five countries in West Africa.
In all my roles, what motivates me is to help young people be the best version of themselves they could be. I feel very fortunate to have met people along the way who inspired me. A key person is the Director of the Social Change Factory, Sobel Ngom, who set up Social Change Factory in Senegal. I was inspired by his vision of giving back to the community and using young people as the catalyst for change. His achievements impacted me greatly. The challenges that we go through as teenagers in Africa are huge, and I think it can make a huge difference to have good mentors at that age.
What is your advice to young people in Cote d’Ivoire who want to be engaged and are not able to?
DO: "They should start small and wherever they are instead of waiting for a big opportunity to arise."
That is one of the key messages of our youth engagement approach and we promote it through all our platforms. I usually say to people one of my favourite quotes from Albert Pike: “What we are doing for ourselves dies with us, but what we are doing for humanity is immortal.” So I say, if you want to be immortal and have your name go down in the history of your country, you should start where you are, be engaged in your community and take it from there. Of course, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes the challenges are too big. In reality, you cannot win every battle, but I believe that you can always do something to try and turn the tide, however small.
What do the next few years look like for your office and young people in Cote d’Ivoire?
DO: I feel very optimistic about the future. I feel we have put in place the basis of something very positive. We are starting to see some changes that we can’t quantify yet, but we see some changes.
There is a growing group of engaged and capable young people gravitating around UNICEF with a positive discourse and actions.
This adventure only started a year ago. I can’t wait to see the movement growing. I am confident together we can find solutions to the gaps of our education system and job market.
Through U-Report, Voix des Jeunes and the Youth Reporters, young people are raising their voice and taking actions on issues they care about. I am hopeful their voice will be heard and that decision makers will be inspired by their actions. We are the young people of Côte d’Ivoire and our voice matters.