My work trips to Kenya always energize me. Interacting with Kenyan partners reminds me why our work at PRB matters so much. My recent trip to Kenya was particularly invigorating because I got to meet with seven members of a youth advisory group formed by PRB and our Kenyan partner, Centre for the Study of Adolescence (CSA). The youth advisory group is helping to guide us in the development of a new communication tool and strategy on youth and the demographic dividend in Kenya. This group of young professionals taught me a lot in the short time we had together.

Often we talk a lot about youth but not so much with them. To realize a demographic dividend, we need to invest in youth but we also need to fully engage youth in meaningful ways. While I was in Kenya, I gathered input from the youth advisory group members about what they thought were critical investments for a demographic dividend in Kenya. As we spoke, they shared some great insights on meaningful youth engagement…and solidified how important it is that PRB continue to gather advice from youth as we develop and implement our activities.

Meaningful youth engagement is an inclusive, intentional, mutually respectful partnership between youth and adults whereby power is shared, respective contributions are valued, and young people’s ideas, perspectives, skills, and strengths are integrated into the design and delivery of programs, strategies, policies, funding mechanisms, and organizations that affect their lives and their communities, countries, and globally.

-YouthPower Community of Practice*

Here’s Alex Omari’s take on how meaningful youth engagement should look in Kenya:

This interview with Alex underscored for me the importance and effectiveness of meaningful youth engagement. Youth have a right to be involved in policy design, implementation, and evaluation, AND, their meaningful involvement will improve policies to better serve young people, their communities, and countries. How true this is! Young people know their lives and needs and can articulate priorities for the future in ways that are more realistic and grounded than those of us outside this age group. More meaningful youth engagement means better policies and programs…and ultimately, more impact.

Meaningful youth engagement is not tokenistic, but rather, is fully inclusive of the diversity of youth voices, intentional in terms of when and how youth are involved, and mutually respectful in the way they are involved. Too often efforts to involve youth fall short, as Imali Ngusale describes:

Meaningful youth engagement is particularly needed in decisionmaking on the demographic dividend. In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the potential to reap a demographic dividend is several decades away. The current generation of youth will be the working population that drives the demographic dividend, and their children and grandchildren will benefit from it. As such, we should involve youth now in all demographic dividend decisionmaking. Youth have valuable ideas that must be included as we envision the right set of policies and investments in each country’s roadmap to a demographic dividend. Here are Corazon Ayoma’s priorities for a demographic dividend in Kenya:

“Believe in us, invest in us, and we won’t fail you” is the take-away message for policymakers from youth. Sheenan Mbau emphasizes this message below:

Through PRB’s ongoing work in Kenya, we will to continue to engage with youth advocates to elevate their voices within the Kenyan demographic dividend policy agenda. As part of these efforts, we will share new communication tools and strategies with youth advocates and train them on how to effectively communicate with policymakers about the demographic dividend—both at national and county levels.  In the process, I have no doubt that we will continue to learn actively from youth themselves about how to shape priorities and actions to propel Kenya towards a demographic dividend.

*Disclaimer: PRB is not a member of the YouthPower project, just an admirer of their work and this definition.