In February, ICP Executive Director Susan Stroud traveled to the UK to participate in a conference entitled “Democracy and the Power of the Individual”, organized by the Ditchley Foundation. The conference brought together academics and practitioners from around the globe to discuss the “relationship between democratic governments and their citizens in the age of the internet and social media.”
The conference tackled several question, but focused on the power and limits of social media. Participants questioned the use of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, asking if they are just better, faster, cheaper means of communication, or if they can change behavior, giving people more active roles in government and greater self-determination.
As the recent revolts throughout the Mideast clearly show, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to disseminate information, gather support, and help power a revolution. The internet and social media have already helped to give the general populace a more active role in government; the question is how such sites will affect the day-to-day business of governing.
While in the UK, Susan also met with several youth service organizations, including the Commonwealth Youth Programme, VSO, British Council Active Citizens Program, and Raleigh International. These organizations have different methods and areas of focus, but all have impressive programs engaging young people in their communities.
For instance, part of the Commonwealth Secretariat, The Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) is an international development agency that works with young people in 54 different countries. CYP focuses on three strategic program areas: Youth Enterprise and Sustainable Livelihoods, Governance, Development, and Youth Networks and Youth Education and Training. They do this by providing skills and resources for young people to create businesses, working with the government to increase the impact of young people, developing youth work as a profession and a number of other tactics. CYP just launched a new website, yourcommonwelath.org, designed to get more direct feedback from young people around the world.
The British Council Active Citizens Program promotes community involvement and improvement around the world. This includes programs such as establishing dialogue and helping to reconcile two warring villages in Kenya, engaging 4,000 young people in Pakistan and implementing skills-training programs at home in the UK. The British Council also organized the Youth in Action for Global Change symposium where Susan gave a keynote address in January, and it is planning a Youth Policy Symposium Series in May.
VSO is an international development organization that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. VSO has volunteers in placements around the world, serving in capacities as varied as an urban planning advisor in Zambia, a physiotherapy lecturer in Ethiopia and an art and design specialist in Bangladesh. In the UK, VSO has a special program for youth, called Global Xchange, which partners two young people from different countries in an immersive volunteer experience.
Raleigh International focuses on providing international volunteer projects for people taking a gap year or career break, and works with people of all ages and levels of experience. It works in Costa Rica, Borneo, Nicaragua and India and has projects concerned with the environment as well as community development. Raleigh International is also featured on ICP’s Green Youth Service Online Resource Center.
Are you familiar with other innovative youth civic participation programs in the UK? We’d love to hear about them in the comment below!