(August 2011) At the start of the UN International Year of Youth in August 2010, UN Focal Point on Youth Nicola Shepherd stated: “The International Year is about advancing the full and effective participation of youth in all aspects of society…we encourage all sectors of society to work in partnership with youth and youth organizations to better understand their needs and concerns and to recognize the contributions that they can make to society.” The current efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment; and to address issues related to fertility, reproductive health, and development, provide tremendous opportunities to work with and on behalf of the largest generation ever of young people. Yet, young people’s engagement in the development process continues to be informal and sporadic. Ultimately, collaborative partnerships with young people are fundamental to support national and community development and to achieve the MDGs. In a PRB Discuss Online, Roli Mahajan, International Year of Youth Journalist for Advocates for Youth, answered questions from participants about how to mobilize and engage youth in the development process.


Aug. 18, 2011 10:30 AM (EDT)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Cecily Westermann: It is crucial—at least here in the U.S.—that the young become involved in preventing pregnancies. In a multicultural and multireligious society though, sometimes the concept of pregnancy prevention violates the tenets (or practices) advocated in the subcultures, the churches, or the young person’s family. How can we present pregnancy prevention in a favorable light without appearing to put down the teachings (or examples) of religions, subcultures and families? Thank you.
Roli Mahajan: Preventing pregnancies will only be a possibility if we advocate for safe sex options. For any country in the world it is important that we prevent ‘unwanted’ pregnancies. I think that having a baby should be a woman’s (young or old) choice because it is her body and she has full rights over her body. I believe that we should try and use media as well as advocacy techniques which reflects on making love/having sex as an event which people indulge in for pleasure and not for having babies, which they might not want. Hence, showing the disadvantages of having too many children and of making people feel responsible for a life that they have created will imbibe a sense of responsibility in them such that they are careful. One example of a message which can be imbibed in one’s communication with society is: Religion speaks of looking after your responsibilities and having 10 children who one can’t look after should prick a person’s conscience since they are not following their religion which preaches them to look after their creations well.

Juanita Tamayo Lott: Dear Roli, PRB has a Millennial Generation communication and leadership program that highlights key demographic concepts such as fertility, mortality, and migration through discussion and animated graphics. Through these videos, each under 10 minutes, students, teachers, and anyone interested in population issues can learn demography’s real-world application and impact. Do you think this wold be a useful model for mobilizing youth in the development process? If so, specifically how? Thanks for your good work.
Roli Mahajan: Thank you for letting us all know about PRB’s initiative. As a communicator, one is always told to present one’s message in an attractive way such that it educates, informs and entertains the target audience at the same time. This program seems to do just that and be a creative way to attract the youth and explain technical details to those who might otherwise loose interest in issues which affect them. Mobilization is possible only when one’s advocacy is powerful which in turn depends on the message and the way it is presented. So short videos, animated graphics seems to be a great model for the “sms” generation.

Santosh Kumar: The global economic slow down has dimming effects on mobilizing youths in development processes. How would you explain the Arab spring in mobilizing youth in development process?
Roli Mahajan: I had the opportunity to meet some youth activists who made the Arab Spring possible and one thing I learnt from them is that dissatisfaction leads to mobilizations and protests. People in Egypt were dissatisfied with their government, lack of freedom, quality of life and inequality so I think if the global economic slow down will create dissatisfaction among the masses then at their saturation point even they will protest. Examples of this can be seen in Spain and UK. Many economists and political observers have attributed the recent riots in UK to the feeling of discontentment amongst the youth because of employment opportunities. People join hands against what they perceive as evil or source of their discontent, youth are no different. I think it is during times of slow down that youth can actually be mobilized more since they are the people with the passion to change the world and it is at times like these that they have the time to give the larger picture a thought.

Winnifred Nankinzi Kaggwa: Hi, kindly advocate for male reproductive health services for purpose of increasing level of awareness in Africa. How can they be helped to address all issues in this international year of youth to support their counterparts?
Roli Mahajan: I think one method of advocating for male reproductive health services is by using modern technology like sms-es (forward messages which has some awareness information byte or gets them to a movement) as well as Facebook (pictures which provocate people to think/blog entries which helps conversations to be initiated) or networks like that on ning where topics related to male reproductive health services can be discussed. These networks can also serve as good places to meet virtually and decide on strategies as well as learn from other people’s models. Sharing knowledge and creating awareness as well as making accessible support groups for young people should help address such issues.

Robert Prentiss: What can we learn from the recent riots in the United Kingdom about youth participation in the development. Obviously, many rioters must have felt excluded from the greater society in certain ways to react so violently. If this is the best a developed nation can produce, should be lecturing non-developed nations on how to proceed?
Roli Mahajan: I don’t think lecturing would work anywhere. No one likes to be told what to do. The only way to proceed is to help educate society to imbibe old morals like sharing, leading better and protected lives with whatever they have, learning to make something out of nothing and last but not the least: Not giving in to avarice. Youth needs to join hands work together to help build a sustainable world with governments who are more accountable and committed to equality and justice.

Mu’azu Muhammad: what are the means do you think we can use in mobilizing youth to take actions on Maternal and Child Health Issues in Africa, with regard to rural population who have no access of what so ever with social media?
Roli Mahajan: Social media might not have a wide reach (because of lack of education more than any other factor) but mobile phones and networks do. A country like India has 97 percent mobile reach so I think African countries are also moving towards the same if not there already. A lot of sms and automated voice programs provide support to remote communities so this should work for mobilizing youth around maternal and child health issues. Mobile companies tie up with ngos or developmental initiatives and spread messages which inform and educate to rural population. Traditional media like plays, theatre and games can also do wonders in such fields. This blog entry with the video might clarify my message better: www.amplifyyourvoice.org/u/Bookfreak/2011/5/8/GAMES-CAUSES-and-US.

Carolina Posada: How do you have youth meaningfully involved in national level advocacy efforts without being hijacked by political forces at country level?
Roli Mahajan: Youth has a mind of its own and no one can hijack us or our opinions unless we become divided or are not sure of what we want with our mobilization efforts. This might help because one of the speakers helped in youth mobilization such that Obama had to agree to meet the environmental activists and answer how his government was still committed to helping in reducing the effects of climate change: www.amplifyyourvoice.org/u/Bookfreak/2011/6/12/Networking-and-Social-Media-Campaigning.

Corinne F: Will you discuss best practices on sizes of youth advisory councils or groups?
Roli Mahajan: Sizes of a youth council don’t matter though I think that they shouldn’t be too many such that too many cooks spoil the broth, dilute the message and the basic reason of their existing but on the other hand having a very small group of maybe around 5/6 may not bring any varied opinions on the table. A youth council should be such that it represents a spectrum of opinion from active and committed people who in the end want the same goal.

Soumya: How to empower young people particularly females to engage in meaningful programmatic conversations with adults?
Roli Mahajan: I am a firm believer of the principle: “united we stand, divided we fall”, hence young people need to stand together and for each other. Young people, irrespective of their sex/gender should support the under-represented. Groups, virtual and on ground, should help mobilize young girls and women to work together to decide the agenda that they wish to have a conversation with adults about. Sometimes when adults don’t get it, showing them the error in their methods through creative mediums like cartoons, plays, songs can be fun and effective.

Kakaire Ayub Kirunda: How can the Ugandan media best serve a youthful group of people who comprise over 70 percent of the country’s overall population? In other words, what kind of youth issues should the media be tackling in a country where many young people are redundant?
Roli Mahajan: Media should tackle issues which involves youth and makes them feel useful and not redundant. Media should inspire the young to study and then share their knowledge as well as go back to their “good” traditions which advocates enjoying the little that we have instead of inspiring for all materialistic things. I support the notion that “all good things in life don’t need to be paid for”. So a media, which upholds good values as well as embraces new traditions like equal position for men and women in society and that young people are meant to be heard and not just seen, is my idea of a well-serving and responsible media community.

William O’Hare: I would like to have your guest talk a little about how data and statistics have been used to promote mobilizing of Youth in the development process.
Roli Mahajan: Data and statistics are very important especially when you are out to convince a policy maker or politician that what you are talking about and advocating for is a grave, serious and important matter. It is on the basis of this statistics that UN was convinced to celebrate this year as the year of the youth else if they didn’t know about the number of young people in this world today (data and statistics) how would they realize that Young people are important and their issues need to be dealt with.

Issa Almasarweh: Do you agree that mobilizing youth requires rational socialization that can create positive work attitudes and ethics? There are many easy gainful jobs available for youth that don’t need high school education or vocational training. Allow me to name thousands of these jobs that thousands of unemployed Jordanian youth of both sexes are not taking because of improper socialization and school curricula: vegetables/fruits collectors, farmers, buildings’ guards and attendants, car washers, backers, shippers and handlers, lifters of construction materials, builders, gardeners, restaurants workers, home servants, and many others.
Roli Mahajan: I do not support the notion of not educating yourself so that you could get a job which might not need that much education. I am not sure about socialization but education is very important and one should study until one feels fulfilled. Dropping out of college to earn money through jobs where growth prospects are minimal will have long term impacts on both the individual and the society. How much one wants to study or at what position one wishes to work is their personal choice but dropping out of school to pursue jobs like vegetable collectors etc might satisfy individuals for a day or two but in the long run they will always regret not having educated themselves to better their standards of living.

Shahid M. Minhas: Don’t you think that the religious and ethnic extremism is one of the major reason for not getting close to each to the global youth for the common health goal of protecting youth from deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS? What strategies could be made to bring global youth closer to each other in spite of religious and geographical differences and ideologies? I believe that this is possible to unite majority of the global youth on a common platform, practically. I will share my thoughts in the discussion.
Roli Mahajan: Religion and ethnic extremism is one of the reasons but not the only reason why we have not been able to reach the common goal of protect young people from dangerous diseases. Platforms of discussion and sharing of positive inspiring communication material can go a long way to bring the global youth together.

Ahmed Jazouli: How to engage governments in the inclusion of youth in decision making through a permanent process? With all the changes going on in Arab countries that proved youth potentials, how youth social movements can turn to be catalysis for established democracy and sustainable development? Thanks
Roli Mahajan: We make our governments and if we don’t then we need to decide that we will have to make our government accept our representation. Arab spring was all about representation of people in the process of decision-making which ultimately would affect them. Young people need to join hands, dream and then follow these dreams unconditionally until they become a reality. These words might sound too optimistic or ideal but it is the people, who dare to dream and not follow the crowd but their dreams, are the ones who become the catalysts for change and development.

Kate Plourde: Roli, As a journalist and blogger, how do you think practitioners can best facilitate young peoples’ use of social media, such as twitter or blogging, to advance their sexual and reproductive health rights and needs?
Roli Mahajan: This blog entry (which I have stated to answer an earlier question): www.amplifyyourvoice.org/u/Bookfreak/2011/6/12/Networking-and-Social-Media-Campaigning gets some experts to speak of the power of social media from the users’, developers and practitioners point of of view. It also responds to your question of how blogging and twitter can be used to advance the areas which need to be spoken about in context of SRHR. One example: A practitioner might put up a photograph or video on a social media website around SRHR issues, this will generate discussion and work to inform young people of their rights while others of the needs of young people.

Pradip Tiwary: Foreign labor migration is the common among of the youth in Nepal. Remittance from labor migration plays the vital role not only to reduce the poverty and improve the living standard of their families but also it is equally importance in national income. In Nepal remittance (mostly youth earning) are not uses in productive field which lead further labor migration. In this situation how we mobilize the youth in development process?
Roli Mahajan: Migration obviously effects development of a country but to say that youth earnings are not counted in a country GDP is incorrect. Youth present within the country might aspire to go outside their own country but we need to create circumstances which would influence and inspire them to come back after picking the necessary skills/experience such that they contribute towards their own society.

Trilochan Pokharel: Many developing countries are at demographic dividend. But they are unable to harvest this opportunity. How can the demographic dividend utilized best? In the other hand, many developed countries are at demographic deficit. In global demographic dynamics how this imbalance can be managed?
Roli Mahajan: I would like to give a child’s perspective here: when one sits on a see-saw until someone balances it with their weight the only child who is sitting on the seat would always remain on the ground. Same goes for countries, if only we could balance the demographics that simply! I think intra-country and inter-country movement regulation controls could play a big role in managing these imbalances as well as nurturing people such that they become tolerant towards each other (be it the people migrating or those who are receiving the influx).This would also require us as people to accept that the world is flat in the real sense of the world.

Dr. Yasmin Siddiqua: Could you please share few best practice cases which might be replicable in a traditional society like Bangladesh? For youth in Bangladesh, sexual exposure in early are, particularly before marriage is not uncommon, however, formal sex-education as such is absent. Different studies have found lack of proper knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS among youth, while information from young high risk groups reveals high incidents of high risk activities for HIV/AIDS. Based on your experience, please shed light on this area as well. Thanks.
Roli Mahajan: I think peer-education would work wonders in a society like Bangladesh. Online courses could educate small groups who could then run helplines in their colleges or for their friends (through phones or virtually or even in small groups), showcasing of short educative films at gatherings or through social media are some of the methods that I could think of when I think of trying to spread the right information around. Sharing of informative blogs or having a collective blog site on topics which might otherwise not be picked could also be a medium of reaching out to people.

Carolina Posada: How do we link and strengthen advocacy efforts from the south/developing countries/community level to regional and international efforts?
Roli Mahajan: The global south is trying its level best to be heard and I think some really great initiatives have been taking place like the networks run by a lot of organizations which aim at trying to link up people who could help connect local to regional and regional to global movements. One such place that I can think of is the constellation’s network on ning. I would be happy to elaborate if you could be a little more specific in context.

Carolina Posada: What do you recommend to make UN-level advocacy efforts (both the wins/losses and the skills gained) meaningful when advocates go home to do in-country work? What ideas are emerging for increasing influence when processes seem to be becoming more formalized and more in advance of the actual UN meetings?
Roli Mahajan: UN as an organization can do so much to ensure that its efforts remain meaningful for advocates at all points. It can support the advocates by mentoring at all steps even after the gatherings/trainings, it can be more youth friendly and create effective checks and balances such that bureaucracy can be reduced while the advocates are held accountable if they do not deliver what they had promised. I think we need to reduce the meetings a little and concentrate more on equipping people with knowledge and skills to better their societies. Few but effective meetings would go a long way to ensure less red tape-ism and more activism with effects.

Wanjiru Gichuhi: Is the world in a position to stop the spiral effect of the youth being at the peripheral of the development process? In fact, the world has failed the young people in many ways and the waste being lack of jobs. Regardless of where the youth are, they are experiencing major delays to being formally involved in the development process. When they graduate, even from even from well-to-do and well endowed universities, most start at the bottom of the ladder and this time not entry level positions. They just get employment for survival at the level of those who dropped and opted not to proceed to college. In this scenario, the youths’ motivations get crushed and they have to build new strategies all over again to get to their destinies. Most if not all get literally lost as they struggle to make ends meet for their basic needs and demands for survival. At the same time, most are faced with huge payments of their educational loans from informal jobs—a real dilemma and paradox. Their voices are literally lost in the struggle for survival but not formal development. So, given these circumstances, how can we expect the youth to be part of the formal development process unless a holistic and collective effort is put in place?
Roli Mahajan: No. I wish I could say that the world is equipped but it isn’t. We are still doing a lip-service to youth inclusion because if the youth really felt included they would not be indulging in riots in countries like UK. I think you have summed up a lot of young people feel but you have discounted the fact that young people also want to see a better and more sustainable tomorrow. They are not always bothered about materialistic pursuits and most of the times, they remain optimistic and small things can satisfy them. It is these characteristics which make them unique and capable of not bothering to censor themselves when people who earn big pay packets would. Therefore, they are and will always be a part of the developmental process. As long as there is positive development, the formal or informal aspect of the process does not always matter.