By Bas van Rossum

More than half of the global population is under the age of 30, and are known to face the greatest risks to their well-being in times of crisis. So, given that so much is at stake for them, why do young people tend to be the least involved in the decisions that shape the world we live in?

While a young person’s ability to influence decisions that affect them is recognized as a fundamental right, humanitarian organisations – and society in general – still struggle to find ways to respect youth as real people who have a strong voice and something to say. This failure often results in badly-informed decisions, and frustrated young people trying to be heard within a system that doesn’t recognize or address their needs.

To change this, there will have to be a move away from the generally consultative, tokenistic approach of participation, to a genuine partnership between adults and young people who share equal control, power, knowledge and resources and are willing to actively listen to one another.

There is also a need to stop seeing young people as ‘targets for change’, and instead recognize them as ‘agents that make change happen’.

Ownership, control, influence

This will involve a shift away from adult-directed approaches and towards environments where young people are empowered to take ownership, take control, and exert influence on the issues that matter to us. By recognizing young people as equals who are just as knowledgeable about their lives as others, humanitarian organisations can stimulate them to think critically, speak out, and act upon the challenges they face without regard for obstacles. We shouldn’t talk about youth participation, but instead focus our efforts on young people co-shaping and taking ownership of the world by helping to make the decisions that affect our communities.

Change, however, doesn’t come by itself. This change will need people with vision, who believe in the power of youth, who will dare to challenge the system, and who will break with old approaches and create ways for young people to take control. Not in parallel with, or directed by others – but in equal partnership with the common goal of making this world a better place for us all.