Action/2015

 

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This time last year I had just returned from my ICS placement in Zimbabwe. 12 months later and today I was speaking to room of journalists about the launch of Action/2015, continuing to push for the voice of young people at the table.

I spoke to them about Brandon, a boy that had approached me wanting to learn what rights he had as a young citizen of Zimbabwe. I reflected on not only the importance spreading that knowledge to empower the younger generation, but also the importance in upholding those rights at a national and global level and making sure governments are held to account.

 

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My 12 months post-ICS has been full; I have been lucky enough to access key decision-makers in the post-2015 process, lobby high-level meetings and keep advocating for the rights of the young people I met on placement. As we begin this crucial year where a billion lives hang in the balance, I want to see those same opportunities made available to the fellow advocates fighting for change all over the world. I want their voices to be heard and their input to be more than tokenistic, for young people to have meaningful participation in the decisions that will directly be affect them.

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Young People as Partners – We’re not just saying it

This 15th-16th April 2014, saw the first high-level meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development (what?!) and the overall consensus post conference seems to be: great talk, time for action.

As a Youth Delegation, we hoped that by joining key decision makers and influencers from around the world, we would demonstrate the importance of including young people as partners in effective development and that we would open up communication between those attending and those watching around the world.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

And we certainly had some successes. Many of the conference delegates commented on the overall youth presence that was felt at the conference. Whether it was from listening to some of the young speakers in the panel sessions or seeing images from young people around the world projected in the main entrance, our mantra “half the world’s under 25” was heard.  My main concern is that they’re not taking us seriously, and truly seeing the value that young people bring.

Our team of seven had worked hard in the lead-up to the conference collecting voices and inputs from around the world on the themes being talked about at the meeting. With over 400 following our Facebook page, we provided a platform for an active community to share and get involved with discussions surrounding the GPEDC. We then brought this to the conference delegates via the voice wall, at our marketplace stand and in the 3 speaking opportunities we were allocated.

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We had a number of meetings and the most meaningful by far was the half an hour spent with David Hallam, UK Envoy on Post-2015 Development Goals for DFID, discussing how young people should be considered across the board in the development of the Post-2015 agenda. While there were many photo opportunities, there was a call after the first day for this not to be tokenistic and come day two, we were back and ready to push the initiatives and actions already being taken by youth from all over the world to further the effective development progress.

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For example, Benjamin Mwape was speaking in the South-South Cooperation focus session and talked about the policy sharing that had he had recently been involved with between Zambia, Ghana and South Africa on comprehensive youth development plans. Karma Yonten, a young entrepreneur with a successful small enterprise from Bhutan, spoke in the private sector plenary session of the difficulties he came up against when initially trying to secure loans to start his waste management company Greener Way and called for the decision makers present to make this process more accessible to young people in order to encourage entrepreneurship.

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There were definite frustrations surrounding the two days. We’d hoped to be able to make more use of the comments and question sections at the end of the panels, however those slots had all been pre-assigned and there wasn’t much room for challenges from the floor. Never mind, no space to talk? We’ll make it.

As a team, we feel it is a huge achievement that there are now two paragraphs in the annex of the communique calling on all GPEDC stakeholders to take an active role in supporting youth-led, data-driven accountability and governance (something that is already being set in motion through the Big Idea).

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We’re pushing for, and believe in, young people being active partners in effective development. In fact, I’m going to out there and say: in order to achieve effective development, young people NEED to be active partners. Half the world’s population is under 25! The progress everyone was getting together to discuss is going to be lived by the next generation and that generation needs to be on board to believe in it and make that progress real.

We are calling for the new co-chairs to establish young people as a major stakeholder in the GPEDC partnership. They can make this a reality by putting young people on the steering committee and pushing the delegates to deliver on the commitments they made at the conference.

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“I will always invite a youth representative to future panel discussions” – Anders Nordstrom, Ambassador for Global Health at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Young people are often stereotyped as being unprofessional and disengaged. Well, we’re at the table. We’re bringing ideas, actions and already putting initiatives in place. Who’s going to join us?

Let’s See Young People Lead

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It has been an exciting lead-up to next week’s high-level meeting in Mexico. I have been interning at the Restless Development Headquarters in London and working closely with my counterpart, Merybell, in the Dominican Republic to collect input from the world’s youth for the GPEDC. It has been a fast paced 3 weeks and I’ve jumped straight in with acronyms up to my head.

Who am I?

I’m Dawn and I will be a Youth Communicator at the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) conference. As a Development Advocate (supported by the Gates Foundation), passionate about empowering young people, I want to make sure that they are considered across the board in the development of the post-2015 agenda. I believe it is essential that the messages from the conference next week are accessible to everyone. Governments, private entities and civil society members will be coming together to discuss how effective development can occur through partnership and the world’s youth need to have a role in shaping the decisions that will directly affect their lives.

So, what is the GPEDC.!?

The GPEDC stands for the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (click here). Co-chaired by the UK’s Secretary of State, Justine Greening, it aims to bring together nations, business and organisations to ensure that funding, knowledge and policy is shared in order to maximize development impact in the continuing fight to help improve lives and end poverty.

The first high-level meeting aims to assess how and what progress has been made since the last objectives were set at the meeting in Busan, 2011. 1300 key players and decision makers from around the world will gather in Mexico City, 15th – 16th April 2014, to review and discuss how to continue moving forward.

What will the youth communicators be doing (apart from trying to get a selfie with Ban Ki-Moon)?

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As a Youth Communicator I will strive to make sure that young people from around the world are represented at this high-level forum. So far, Merybell and I have been busy gathering opinions and ideas from all over; Jordan, Nigeria, Haiti, Ghana, South Africa, Japan, Venezuela and more. Together, Merybell and I have compiled their quotes, designed images, edited footage and from next week, this will be displayed on the ‘Voice Wall’ at the GPEDC conference. The content so far has been inspiring:

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Aside from myself, there will be 6 others in the super youth delegation; three will be Panellists, each specialising in one of the main themes, and the other four will be active participants in the discussions, sharing evidence and experience on development from the grassroots level, both in the main panels and the focus sessions.

The meeting will address three main themes: the Private Sector, Middle Income Countries and South-South cooperation. It is an opportunity to share knowledge, discuss what works and what hasn’t in the past and look to the future to see how best to collaborate in the above areas.

Why?

Half the world’s population is under 25. That’s a lot of positive energy. Restless Development (the youth-led development agency) is supporting a youth delegation to reach out and engage young people from different countries, regions and networks to participate in these global discussions. By being there, the Youth Delegates will show the value and advantages of working with young people to increase development effectiveness. I am excited at the prospect of playing a role in making sure that the voice of the younger generation is heard; that the decisions that are being made on their behalf are informed and right for those who they will be affecting.

How?

We want you, reader, to join us. Become a remote delegate of this conference, making it truly global.  On this Facebook page, you will find us hosting debates, encouraging discussion and relaying key elements of the conference.

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On Twitter you’ll see more real-time updates and join the conversation.  You can follow me (@dawn_1989) or Merybell (@MerybellNabilah) or check the hashtags #myGPEDC #GPHLM. Highlights will also be on @RestlessDev.

The voice wall will be hosted through Instagram @RestlessDevelopment. To add to it, you can upload your image or 15 second video with the hashtags #myGPEDC and it’ll show here with all the others from all over the world.

We will be working hard to make the conference as interactive as possible and to ensure there is two-way communication between the conference delegates and those how are unable to attend. Join us in showing the Global Partnership how valuable young people and their input are and that we want to be there too.

Why I think International Aid is important #stopthemyth

Recently I completed the International Citizen Service, a government funded programme that gives UK and European citizens the chance to live and work in the global south countries with national counterparts to try and tackle some of the big issues the country might be facing. Whether it’s a high unemployment rate, an HIV/AIDS epidemic or access to sanitation, cross-cultural teams will work together to learn a little bit about international development, experience communities vastly different to their own, but mostly learn something about themselves.

Group Dance

I was placed with the youth-led development agency Restless Development. I learned I would be going to Zimbabwe, living in a rural school for 10 weeks and leading sessions, events and awareness campaigns on life-skills and sexual reproductive health rights for the students and community. From the moment I started telling family and friends about the new adventure I would be embarking on, I was met with comments such as, “Why do you want to go there when there are people here in the UK that need help?” and “Why do these people deserve our money when they don’t even help themselves?”

It was important for me to be asked this, as up until that point I had partly assumed a) that no one could criticize voluntary efforts to support those who haven’t had access to the same opportunities and b) it’s too hard to give an explanation to anyone who has to ask this sort of question. Not only was that condescending, but quite frankly, a cop out. These are exactly the type of conversations I should be engaging in, the perceptions and misunderstandings that need to be changed, and by avoiding them I was doing the greatest disservice to the people I met on placement: devaluing their voice.

So let me respond to them now:

“Why do you want to go there when there are people here in the UK that need help?”

Because I am not able to put two people side by side and say that one deserves help more than the other, based on where they have come from. This is my short, personal answer. For details on how investing in the poorer countries is essential to establish a sustainable future, please read the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2014 Annual Letter that was released this month. In it, Bill and Melinda respond head on to the common misconceptions that come up time and time again when discussing international development and aid spending with one main objective: #stopthemyth

But in the meantime, that is what I say to you: that while I was in Zimbabwe, encouraging young people to think about ways of preventing HIV transmission and working on a student-led initiative to reduce the drastic amount of violent bullying in the school, there was no way I could have justified taking away the funding that had allowed this project to take place.

“Why do these people deserve our money when they don’t even help themselves?”

Whoever said they’re not helping themselves?! Well, the media has, I guess, with the stories of corruption, of aid money being given to governments (and charities) that doesn’t end up making it’s way to those who need it. Bodies of power not listening to or being perceptive of the needs of those who depend on it – sound familiar? And as Bill noted “Four of the past seven governors of Illinois have gone to prison for corruption, and to my knowledge no one has demanded that Illinois schools be shut down or its highways closed.” (Read in full here).

But I think the point that can sometimes be forgotten when talking about developing countries and getting on our high horse, is that, as in EVERY country, there are real people. There are stories and thoughts and feelings, just like yours and mine.

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 “You can help bring about a global belief that every life has equal value” – Melinda Gates

 Also, lets get away from this “help” idea. We are not crusaders galloping in with a “beacon of hope” (worryingly, a notion I overheard). As was spotted on one school wall in Zimbabwe by a fellow volunteer: “What you do for us, without us, is not for us” Why can’t we be supporting one another? Just like when we face difficulties at home, they are made easier with assistance from our friends, new perspectives and ideas; we just need to apply that on a wider scale.

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Every single day on placement I was inspired by the people I met, continually struck by their creativity, innovativeness and passion. The pupils would share their ideas on how we could support those living with HIV in their community, composed from scratch an event programme that would raise awareness and take steps to reduce stigma and prejudices faced by those who had been open about their HIV positive status. We brought together adults and young people to try and discuss issues their community is facing and the students showed bravery in asking questions on no-go areas such as, “Why aren’t mothers speaking to their sons about safe sex practices?” (a huge feat in a culture where there is a strict hierarchy between old and young).

I didn’t go out there with the belief that I would change the world, to be honest I went out there not knowing what would happen at all. But since returning, I can look back and feel that my team and I provided a space. A safe environment, separate from an unvarying routine, where the young people we worked with were asked to give opinions, question things and come up with solutions. To be creative in thinking about the change they’d like to see and what part they could play in trying to achieve it. They were intelligent and resourceful, dedicated and motivated. None of which can be bought, but all of which can be nurtured. How can people who have these qualities not be deserving of opportunities? Why should they be denied access to the tools they need to create a better life for themselves and their families?

 This excellent video highlights perfectly the figure that’s getting lost in translation between government, media and the general public. With people guessing that the UK spends anywhere from 10% – 40% on overseas aid, they’re often shocked to find it’s quite a bit lower. Did you know that from a £25 000 a year income, £52 in taxes goes towards overseas? That’s enough measles vaccines for 346 children. That’s 346 lives.

Help dispel these misconceptions and encourage a stronger understanding of the support we give our international counterparts. RT this post, or something you’ve learned that you didn’t know before and help #stopthemyth.

A sample of my experience in Zimbabwe with the Restless Development ICS programme.