By Sandra Valdivia Teixeira, Communications Lead for the GPSA & Mauricio Rios, Communications Officer for the Governance Global Practice
Young people are the future of a country and, when engaged in economic development, can be a catalyst for positive results, and even for reducing the drivers of conflict. Take, for example, this pilot project with youth in Tajikistan.
Khorog - the capital city of the GBAO, located right across the border from Afghanistan, 600Km from Dushanbe - had a history of sporadic local conflicts where local youth was affected. The lack of job opportunities forces many young people to migrate and those who are not able to leave remain in a desperate and disillusioned state.
This project, supported by the State and Peacebuilding Fund and the Global Partnership for Social Accountability, brought out the voices of the most marginalized and disadvantaged youth, gave them confidence and, most of all, a sense of belonging in the society, reducing the space for potential conflict and risky behavior. How did it happen?
Over the period of almost six months, from April to August 2018, a series of activities were carried out, through collaborative social accountability mechanisms, that helped build community resilience through youth engagement in policy dialogue with government authorities on socio-economic issues that were relevant to them.
For the first time, for example, Tajikistan held a national roundtable on youth engagement in economic development back in July. Over 40 representatives of various state institutions, Youth Centers, donors, and international and national CSOs participated in the event. The discussions highlighted the need for a collaborative platform such as the National Council on Youth Employment, which could help tackle the challenges and focus on building the human capital of the youth.
In Khorog, for instance, the project supported the creation of the Youth Council. A platform that brings together state authorities, private sector and youth is helping to build trust between these actors and addressing the capacity building needs of the most vulnerable, particularly on issues concerning youth employment and social participation.
Suraj Chorshanbiev, chairman of the State Department of Youth Affairs in GBAO, has no doubt that the creation of Youth Council was a very important step: “Only through such interaction with youth can we determine the challenges it faces and understand the main issues to help us determine the scope and seek solutions. Our dialogue allows us to create a feedback mechanism to further address the issue of youth unemployment.”
The engagement of the Youth Council in regular meetings with the local authorities and other stakeholders led to more collaboration and other positive changes in attitude. The Youth Council can now sit on the consultative panel for other youth-oriented projects in the community supported by government.
And to further strengthen the role of the Youth Council in the decision-making, Suraj suggested that it would be important to increase all stakeholders. Equally important is to develop research and analytical skills among the Youth Council members to enable them to present issues based on facts and enhance solutions-based dialogue. These competencies can strenghen the role of the youth in peacebuilding and as development agents.
On the other hand, Khudobakhsh Khudobakhsov, a member of the Youth Council GBAO, noted that the platform was an essential step to improve the effectiveness of dialogue between the Youth and state authorities: “Earlier, we rarely met with state representatives and we did not have a platform for conducting open direct dialogue, which resulted in irregularity of such meetings. Today, we have an opportunity to directly and systematically engage with local authorities through the Youth Council. Through this project, I learnt that only a collective dialogue with all stakeholders can help us achieve the desired results in youth development.”
For the first time, Khudobakhsov noted, he felt that he was being heard and that he could contribute to the improvement of his community:
“Before my engagement in this project, me and many of my generation considered that no one cared about the issues and difficulties that we are facing as youth. This affected negatively youth attitude towards the environment they live in (…)”, he explained. “The benefit of the dialogue is difficult to underestimate as it showed to all stakeholders, state and non-state, that issues of youth are important, and there is a need for a concerted effort by all to solve challenges that youth also faces in the community. More importantly, the project provided a platform for cooperation on the issues of youth unemployment, where youth participated actively. Slowly, the attitudes of youth are changing and so is their perception of the situation.”
A seed funding initiative was also implemented to further strengthen the youth participation in socio-economic development. The activity aimed at capacity building in entrepreneurship and the employability of targeted disadvantaged young people. More than 90 applications from young entrepreneurs were received and ten were carefully selected. It is anticipated that these projects will create over 50 additional jobs in Khorog, once operational.
As this project illustrates, social accountability-related activities which can build bridges across citizens and state actors can help to build consensus and reduce the drivers of conflict. The success of this pilot project should also be attributed to the “mediator” role that civil society organizations, such as Consumers Union of Tajikistan and Madina, can have not only in mobilizing citizens but also in working with local authorities to bring both parties together for an effective dialogue.