Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Summits, Conferences, Meetings, Workshops, Seminars - So What?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
When you perform a search online about youth development work today, more often than not, activities that will spring up from the search performed are summits, conferences, meetings, workshops, seminars and the like. Has youth development as an agenda been concluded as the stuff of "congregation at table sides" or "big meeting halls"? Have the resources that have grown ever more precious for youth oriented activities found little else to focus on other than paying for expensive travel tickets and huge daily subsistence allowances? And what if anything does this investment bring to the furtherance of the youth development agenda, not just in Africa, but the rest of the world too?

We ask today on Connect African Development Blog as a continuation of our focus on African Youth Development in 2011; Summits, Conferences, Meetings, Workshops, Seminars - all this for what?

Youth Development as a concept and a process demands for continuous engagement of the primary beneficiaries.

The basic principles require that young people be part of the process at all levels, from the inception to review or evaluation levels. They must be part of the cycle; they must determine the conceptualization, they must determine if not contribute the content guiding efforts determined. They must be equipped with the necessary skills to ensure that their participation in the process is not merely ceremonial, but equal and decisive. But often enough, the question we are asking leads to the conclusion that young people are being given these opportunities to attend gatherings for ceremonial purposes and not really to shape particular outcomes or policy. It is simply to fulfill the obligation of activity implementation and  involvement (in some way) of the primary target group.

Young people themselves do not seem to be phased much by these prospects. You see the excitement of having stepped off the airline in a new or for others, another occasion in that foreign country. The thought of all the people they will meet, the countless times they will make contributions in the meeting (to ensure they were not silent ducks - money well spent for their attendance), the interviews they will give, the social gatherings they will attend and all those photo's they will take for those albums they will create on Facebook to stamp firmly their attendance in that gathering. They miss the bigger picture; the fact that they have a foothold inside the door, that the drivers of the youth development process they are attending are only a shoulder rub away and securing commitments (written and verbal) are only a persistent push away.

Do not be mistaken, at CAD Blog, we have the utmost confidence in African Youth. Their potential and promise to transform the continent is unmatched by any. The continent is seeing the largest youth population today (more than 1/4 of a billion under 30 in a population of just over 1 billion on the continent) and is the youngest by a significant measure. This demographic advantage will surely translate to translate into meaningful prospects for the continent. So we are very confident in the Continent's young social change makers, but we have to ensure the numeric advantage is an actual "advantage" on the decision making table and not just on paper.

Are there no other approaches on the ground to also focus light on? We need to hear about these efforts, we need to be able to substantiate all these Summits and Conferences by being able to cite other actions on the ground. Hands on work to produce new information, tools and knowledge. Actions to educate and change perspectives on the challenges we are facing. Actions to build skills and provide resource and market opportunities for young enterprising minds. And actions to ensure equal decision making for young people. When we do this, we will have broadened perceptions behind undertaking youth development work, that it entails far greater and broad approaches than conferences, summits and the like.

It is as simple as that. We are not suggesting that the institutions working in local communities or country or continental levels do not have a clue of what they are doing. And we are certainly not saying that the agencies providing the funding for these gatherings do not have adequate oversight to ensure the funds they release such gatherings go the extra mile. We are simply saying both sides need to exercise more innovation and to update their practice with time. Little has changed in the way the youth development agenda is driven. Slow decision making, competing priorities to the youth agenda and the reluctance to actually listen and put into action the fresh and new thinking from young people.

Furthermore, gatherings (local, national and or international) have a significantly positive effect on young people. After meetings, participants usually continue communicating, using the new networks to share information and more opportunities. But few of these networks last the month after period. They go silent and that meeting becomes just another one you went to. There are also others that continue, that form lasting lines of communication, that go on to challenge the rhetoric even more and add much needed strength to the agenda. The new skills, information and networks from that particular gathering go on to translate more youth pressure to particular challenges in the youth development challenge. We need to understand the recipe from these cases, because the Pan Africa spirit behind the connections young people make in these gatherings can be a contributing force to furthering the youth agenda much in the same way it was with the founding fathers of modern Africa.  

The CAD Blog will take this as a challenge to ensure these voices and ideas are heard. It will provide a platform for young people for the remainder of 2011 to air an alternative thinking, new ideas and proper use of new opportunities and technologies available today. Doing this we hope will shine light even on old approaches being used in a new way to drive the youth development agenda and once a collective of actions  is shared, we will probably have challenged the young people taking part in these gatherings to ensure their engagement actually counts. We would have also mobilized enough support for this question to also ensure decision makers actually implement the outcomes of these gatherings and they do so alongside and equally with young people.

Editorial Team.
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  1. Working in a youth development organisation here in the UK, I will observe that one of the major issues resides in not really grasping the fact that youth unemployment is either at the core of social instability in Africa or strongly influences it. Youth development and employability should be at the core of national strategic plans. While flashy conferences are "interesting" there is a lack of ability to translate these agendas in tailored programmes adapted to each community's needs and structure. These programmes should be built and implemented by young people at grassroots level.

  2. Thank to Affi Luc for your comment. We will be sharing pieces on Youth Unemployment soon and we hope we will receive more comments from you. We are following closely following the UN Consultation on Youth Unemployment and are reviewing the latest Global Youth Employment trends and expect to provide an Africa specific picture on the subject.


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