Reflections on Meaningful Youth Engagement at the 2023 Global YEO Summit – A Dual Perspective

By Wevyn Muganda, Founder of Isirika Social Enterprise and Nancy Taggart, Vice President of Making Cents International
Speaker Wevyn Muganda sits center on an all women's panel to talk Beyond Diversity.

We are reflecting on the successes and lessons from our first in-person Global Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) Summit following the pandemic. We have heard many comments on how energizing it was to have such a vocal and significant attendance from youth leaders and professionals—over 40 percent of participants were young people under 35.   

This blog offers two perspectives on youth engagement at the Global YEO Summit, from Wevyn Muganda, a youth participant and young activist from Kenya, and Nancy Taggart, an adult ally and Vice President of Making Cents International. We hope by highlighting both perspectives you will gain meaningful insights and take away recommendations to continue the ongoing discourse on youth engagement. 

Reflections from a Youth Advocate

After one year of virtually engaging with and co-leading the YEO Action Team on Inclusion and Engagement, I was excited to attend the Summit in May 2023 and share the findings of our work. Following consultations with youth and youth-serving organizations, our Action Team achieved two outcomes: the development of an online repository of existing tools on meaningful youth engagement and the formulation of key principles of meaningful youth engagement in economic opportunities, focusing on youth opportunity.  These outcomes are aimed at adding value to the YEO ecosystem by guiding stakeholders on some of the best practices and available tools for their interventions. 

The Global YEO Summit was a moment to pause and reflect on the progress as well as setbacks to meaningful youth engagement. I appreciated the Pre-Youth Summit that included among other things capacity building workshops for young leaders, networking sessions with peers and adult allies as well as discussions that led to the Youth Manifesto on Economic Equity. My main takeaway from the capacity-strengthening session was the concept of understanding currencies to build influence and grow my impact as a leader. I was able to reflect on my currencies, such as my relationships with diverse youth networks, and how that is a resource when it comes to strengthening youth engagement in decision-making forums. The Pre-Youth Summit recognized the need to not only create a dedicated space for youth engagement but also the need for preparation of young people to meaningfully engage at the Summit. Opportunities for engagement must be matched with preparedness and adequate resourcing, if we are to achieve meaningful youth engagement. 

On the other hand, while there was representation of young people, I noted a low representation of young people from the Global Majority, particularly at-risk and vulnerable youth populations. This limited access can be attributed to systemic barriers, such as high financial costs to facilitate travel logistics (e.g., visas) and limited information on the Global YEO Summit. These barriers are why an intersectional approach is critical in the design and implementation of interventions for young people. We must assess how intersecting axes, such as class, gender, race, and disability, influence the extent to which young people can access opportunities to engage. It is not enough to create space for youth engagement, we must be deliberate about providing the necessary resources and political will to make it a reality for the young people in the margins. 

Reflections from an Adult Ally

After participating at the Summit for many years and, this year, being a part of organizing it, I was happy to support strategies for strengthening voices and participation by young leaders and professionals. One example was the development of the Youth Manifesto created by young leaders as a call to action for stakeholders to commit to equitable partnerships with youth around youth economic opportunities. YEO intends to use the manifesto as a reminder for partners in the community to be accountable for equitable partnerships with and for youth. YEO also made a concerted effort to involve youth leaders in reviewing and selecting the breakout sessions which informed the summit agenda, ensure youth contribute their insights as moderators and speakers in plenary and breakout sessions, and create more opportunities for young professionals to network and develop connections with adult allies. 

While I share the enthusiasm for the progress that has been made, it’s interesting to note that it was largely the adult allies who commented on the success of the youth participation at the Summit. Unfortunately, in some cases adult stakeholders still tended to dominate the discussion and dialogue at certain sessions and, more broadly, there are ongoing challenges of finding ways to have non-elite youth voices represented in convenings.  

At Making Cents, we, in collaboration with our youth partners like Wevyn, are thinking through ways to balance discussions and include voices that we rarely hear from. We are hoping that some of our program work will aid in this as well. For instance, USAID’s YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation (YP2LE) Activity, led by Making Cents, developed a training on meaningful youth engagement for “adult ally” staff within USAID that could be pivotal in changing mindsets and practices within the largest bilateral donor. This training could set precedence for changes in partnership and funding practices among other funders. We are also working in Guyana, Jamaica, Ukraine, and Grenada to conduct positive youth development training among youth-serving providers, which will go a long way in fostering systems change within institutions to be more responsive to approaches and services for youth.  

I’m proud that Making Cents is leading or contributing to solutions for strengthening meaningful youth engagement in the youth development and economic opportunities sectors, but there is no doubt that more actions are needed across programming and as part of convenings. Below are some recommendations that we think will help. 

Recommendations for Meaningful Youth Engagement in Convenings

Building on the recommendations made during the Summit’s intersectional inclusion plenary, we believe that more must be done to strengthen young people’s involvement in economic opportunities and decision making. Some of these include: 

  • Collaborating with youth-led organizations and networks to ensure that convenings include and amplify authentic voices from the local to the global level. 
  • Ensuring representation and consultation of young people in every step of planning, implementation, and evaluation of Youth Economic Opportunities. This may involve: 
    • Supporting youth speakers to ensure they have skills and guidance for speaking or networking at convenings. 
    • Awareness raising or mini training for adult stakeholder presenters on how to facilitate or co-present with young leaders to ensure youth’s perspectives are equally heard. 
  • Valuing youth participation as critical knowledge and expertise that requires financial investments. This valuing includes providing financial compensation to youth for their input in the planning of events. 
  • Convening in a location of the Global Majority or hosting regional events outside the U.S., where more young people can participate. 
  • Planning convenings with sufficient lead time in order to allow young people to attend.  

To achieve meaningful youth engagement, we must be willing to invest our time and resources towards creating a conducive space for engagement, preparing young people to participate effectively, and documenting the impact of young people’s leadership. By applying these recommendations, amplifying youth voices, acting collectively, and collaborating globally, we know we will continue to make progress on advancing SDG 8.