The Save the Cave social media campaign.
Young people in Kosovo, Europe’s newest country, are impatient. They make up half of the population and are keen to see Kosovo integrated in Europe as a vibrant democracy; however, they struggle to have a voice in the democratic process.
To address this restless and important group of society, youth political participation efforts should aim at teaching youngsters to advocate for themselves. Youth in Kosovo have the desire, talents and potential to make a difference as citizens who actively participate and influence political processes by monitoring local and national government policies, playing a role in their schools and community, and building a safe and prosperous community.
The New Media School program, for example, designed and conducted by the National Democratic Institute in Kosovo, offers an instrumental platform that equips young people with alternative channels of communication and tools for them to strategically raise policy issues publicly, while walking them through a more meaningful and greater engagement in political processes.
The New Media School prepares young activists in Kosovo to take advantage of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote social and political causes on the national stage. After three generations of the New Media School there is tangible evidence that women, youth and minority groups are better organized and skilled in identifying and carrying through issue-based advocacy initiatives that seek legislative and fiscal change, as well as other forms of government action.
Save the Cave
An example of this concrete evidence is the Save the Cave social media campaign. Young participants focused this campaign on raising awareness to help preserve the unique Gadime Cave. The campaign was designed on scientific facts gathered from a field visit to the cave, and on professional consultations with international and local experts. The initiative’s push for a legalized and formalized management under state institutions was a success, resulting in a more efficient administration and proper management of ticketing revenues.
Today, the cave is completely renovated: more eco-friendly lights were installed; the number of employees increased to 10, including 4 official guides; and the number of visitors surged to 70,000 visits to the cave in 2015 alone. The cave is a protected area and will be a legacy for generations to come, thanks to the engagement and meaningful participation of a group of young grassroots activists.
New Media School
A professional and strict recruitment process for New Media School participants, up to 35 years of age, is combined with courses in which they are equipped with skills, lectures in Information Communications Technology (ICT) and policy formulation, and mentored through an intensive course of implementation ultimately rewarded with graduation. This is unique in itself and has set a benchmark for other initiatives.
More than 50 participants have graduated from The School so far, and have produced 8 advocacy initiatives. These young people are successfully formulating policies and advocating for change. Although employment opportunities are not one of the goals of the School, it is worth mentioning that 9 participants were employed early on in the life of the institution, and by now 40 of them have found jobs. The participants have the great advantage of being exposed to initiatives and networking with many different people and institutions.
There is a clear value added in these kinds of platforms and initiatives which offer a combination of skills on ICT, and policy and advocacy. These platforms utilise the skill sets of young participants, enabling them to take initiatives that will contribute to the community and promote democratic values and participation.
They also set a democratic benchmark when a small group of youngsters achieve change in policies when the overall perception of the citizens is that nothing can be changed or advocated for in the current system. This not only brings back hope that things can be done but it returns trust in the state, and gives the citizens the sense of responsibility to be actively involved and participate in political processes.
More to be done!
“People do have space to meet with public officials, usually only at public debates. Problem is only party supporters attend public debates.” (Young Woman, Kosovo, NDI Focus Group 2014)
Youngsters, both men and women, today remain deeply cynical about political processes. They have resigned themselves to corruption and nepotism being a way of life that affects their ability to secure employment, or achieve excellence in education. This attitude must be changed and can be changed, by giving these young people sufficient ownership and empowerment to develop, make decisions and carry out measures in governance and politics. A space should be created by any party leadership, elected officials and government institutions for youth advocacy initiatives to influence decision-making and propose polices out of their concerns at all levels.
It is very common and easy for all political and government leadership to say that young people do not have enough experience, and women lack the experience and the resources to equal their male counterparts.
Most people in the focus group exercises of NDI believe that those politicians elected or appointed to government institutions have for too long neglected significant public policy areas that matter to and directly affect young women and men. There is a strong perception that policies or concrete actions have not been formulated to provide and secured for sustainable inclusiveness of youth in policy processes.
Part of this challenge is the absence of an education system designed to provide youth with the knowledge, skills and most critically, a degree of certainty, that they will be empowered and equipped to work towards an inclusive and prosperous Kosovo. In addition, government institutions need to generate both the will and the capacity to undertake significant policy reforms that will create and maintain an open space for young women and men.
It is imperative to have a meaningful equal opportunity for young people in governance, either through elected or appointed positions. Providing these opportunities will ensure recognition of young people’s values and contributions in the formulation of policies and decision-making. In this way their involvement becomes meaningful and beneficial to the entire society and will reflect the views and needs from the whole community without discrimination. It is here, where the introduction of innovative communication platforms, the use of new media in the policy-making process, as well as an inclusive and transparent interaction of policy-makers and youngsters becomes an obligation.
Equipping young people with alternative channels of communication and tools to raise policy issues publicly is essential. The New Media School has proven to be an effective methodological model that facilitates far greater engagement of youth in policy formulation and advocacy. Due to the tangible outcomes that the New Media School participants are securing and the potential for this model to be customized and applied in different contexts, it is appropriate and timely to share and analyze these achievements at the World Forum for Democracy. So far, we have seen amazing results from the policy packages put forward by the young women and men participants of this school.
openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a citizens’ newsroom. Register here.
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