On 20February, the Scotland Malawi Partnership was excited to host its annual Youth Congress at Hampden Park in Glasgow, with more than 300 young people kicking off an ambitious legacy programme with events, media coverage and active youth engagement. At the Scotland Malawi Partnership, we have been celebrating the importance of youth voice in international development since 2004, with our first Youth Congress taking place in 2012 in the Scottish Parliament. Each year, the Youth Congress brings together hundreds of secondary school students from across Scotland to celebrate their links with Malawi, develop skills and pledge responsible actions.
The Year of Young People serves as a reminder that, too often, young people are excluded from decision-making and conversations that affect the world in which they grow up. With young people comprising over one sixth of the world’s population, the importance of recognising today’s young women and men as economic, political and social contributors, with the ability to meaningfully engage with global citizenship and shape the future, cannot be underestimated.
Today, more than 122 governments have adopted national youth policies. Empowerment for historically marginalised communities has become a social undercurrent throughout the growing demand for global accountability. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals emphasise specific targets for developing the skills that young people need to thrive and find employment in the 21st century.
As we explored at the Youth Congress, by promoting critical thinking and global citizenship as thematic priorities of the Year of Young People, we can provide young people with appropriate platforms to have their voice heard. In this way, #YOYP2018 is set to inspire a nation of new leaders, critical thinkers, and global citizens.
I also recently attended the British Foreign Policy Group event in McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh, Global Heritage, Global Ambitions: Scotland’s International Relations, where one of the panel, Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP, spoke of her own positive childhood experiences in Malawi that stayed with her for life. It was clear that Malawi had had a big impression on Ms Thornberry, as it does for countless young Scots today.
It is often these personal experiences that shape our individual and collective approaches to global citizenship. These are the opportunities we encourage young Scots to take advantage of, especially given Scotland’s long-standing civic links with Malawi. At our Youth Congress, we heard inspiring individual stories from hundreds of young people speaking about their own Malawi partnerships and their personal experiences – all of which were an encouraging vision for the future, and a reminder of the importance of youth leadership.
Critically, these personal experiences bring social justice issues “home”, challenging those harmful, patronising ideas about aid “saving” Africa. Reciprocity, one of our guiding Partnership Principles, is key to global engagement. Critical awareness and respectful engagement needs to be instilled within our education systems, our national policies, and how we apply the Sustainable Development Goals. We have the opportunity to prepare young people for growing up in a world that doesn’t just “talk” about the importance of these values – but provides real opportunities to live them as a way of life.
Ultimately, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that despite many global insecurities, young people have the opportunity to contribute responsibly and in an informed way, through critical global citizenship, to an inclusive society. We must ensure that we do not fail to equip young people with the most important of life skills: a social justice conscience.
Many of the young people at the Scotland Malawi Youth Congress may go on to study international development or law, as I did. Some may turn to politics in an effort to remind us that “good” foreign policy requires a common understanding of critical global citizenship. Others may explore working in global health – like the three university medical students whom I supported in finding summer placements with organisations in Malawi. These are just a few of the opportunities we explored with our young people at the Youth Congress, and we hope that this energy, sense of internationalism, and understanding of what it means to be a global citizen will continue throughout the Year of Young People and beyond.
Grace O’Donovan, Member Services Officer at the Scotland Malawi Partnership