THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING TRUST: SPARK partners in Amsterdam for Joint YEP Meeting
‘In the Netherlands youth wings are independent from their mother parties’, explained Jelle van Nuland from JOVD, the (conservative) liberal youth league, a realisation that is far from reality in Burundi, South Sudan and Palestine. In these post-conflict societies, though they form the majority, youth are mostly underrepresented and excluded from the public and private sector, including politics. This year’s Youth Engagement Programme (YEP) joint training week tackled this and other complex issues concerning the socioeconomic position of youth. The training was held in SPARK’s hometown Amsterdam, from the 9th till the 12th of March.
SPARK was thrilled to welcome staff and partners from Burundi (New Generation, FO.CO.DE), Palestine (PYALARA) and South Sudan (SUTCO), many of which were in Europe for the first time. Not only did the training create an opportunity for the YEP partners to grow together and inspire each other; it also opened up a platform where the team could gain some perspective and reflect on the impact of their campaigns in their countries. YEP has reached its final year, so this year’s focus was strengthening the created campaigns, monitoring and evaluation, and the sustainability of the programme, beyond 2015. How to sustain the networks of youth? How to continue to push talented youth into decision making positions in political parties, civil society organisations and businesses?
Facing comparable challenges, SPARK’s partners and staff were able to share the progress of YEP and its campaigns in their respective countries in the past year, as well as exchange the brilliant failures experienced and valuable lessons learned.
One of the common issues experienced by the youth in each country is the lack of trust between the youth and political leaders. In the case of Burundi, Teddy Claude from New Generation expressed that ‘the political culture is based on violence’. The youth are often manipulated and abused by politicians to do their dirty work but their interests are not represented nor protected. Rights of the youth are not defended and they are not given the opportunities to grow as youth leaders in positions with decision making power. This needs to change and is part of what the YEP programme aims to tackle.
To put it in perspective, Elyse Ndayihimbaze from SPARK’s Burundi office explained that ‘people vote for safety’. He goes on to say that ‘poverty makes people vulnerable and in general, people do not trust the election process. Often people are reluctant to vote as they see no point in doing so, suspecting that elections are rigged anyway’. Reasons for voting are often linked to the benefits of association with a political party rather than solidifying support for the values and policies of that particular party.
Living in fragile states with often politically unstable contexts, some of the valuable lessons learned across the board included always being ready for the unexpected, having a plan B ready, never underestimating the government and hidden agendas they may hold, the importance of networking and maintaining a multilevel approach.
There were a number of special guests invited to teach during the training sessions including Erik Dirksen (Economics Lecturer, UvA) and Justin Koornneef (Social media strategist, www.bkb.nl). They were able to pass on valuable tips and information to improve the implementation of YEP. Dirksen spoke about the concept of public and private partnerships and corporate social responsibility to help with networking and future partnerships, while Koornneef gave some excellent advice on how to improve the YEP campaign’s online presence through developing a clear social media strategy.
It can’t be all work and no play! The second half of the training was a touch more dynamic and interactive in terms of location and activities. On Wednesday the group spent the day in The Hague and enjoyed a tour of the Dutch Parliament, by Meus van der Poel (Public Affairs expert), with an insightful meeting with MP Roelof van Laar (Labour Party) and special guest Marjolein Jongman (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) about the Dutch constitution. The team was inspired by van Laar’s journey from civil society, being the founder and director of a small NGO called Free A Girl, towards politics. After the tour, the team caught up with members of the Christian Democrats party for a lesson on policy writing followed by a Q&A at the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy with youth representatives from 3 different youth wings (JOVD, CDJA and JD). The following day the team was invited to Radio Netherlands Worldwide in Hilversum for media training where they were able to practice radio interviewing in the studio.
Meeting with the representatives from the Dutch youth wings was particularly inspiring as they were able to see how they organise themselves and work independently from their mother parties. They appreciated the way the youth wings mobilise and encourage youth to get involved in politics and how they developed their own policies reflective of their specific needs. Hearing their experiences and how they organise themselves inspired the YEP team to implement similar strategies in their own countries. For example, they were particularly impressed by the relationships between youth wings with their mother parties and between different political parties in general. Joyce Sebit from SPARK’s South Sudan office observed that there is ‘an open atmosphere of tolerance and respect for differences of opinion where positive criticism is encouraged and well received.’ Although ‘each political party may have their own political agendas, they have a common goal and interest in mind, serving the people.’ These are values that the YEP team are inspired to instil in the youth they work with back home. Overall, the training was a strong bonding experience for everyone as they were able to learn together and encourage each other to continue on with the challenging, yet rewarding work they are doing in their home countries.