Youth at the forefront of conflict transformation

An argument broke out in the online meeting with a passion-filled exchange about the extent and means that young people should be included in political leadership positions. In one participant’s country, she said, “direct representation is the only way to make change.” In another’s, he reacted, “experience and expertise are essential for real leadership, and this shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of inclusion.” Another participant, who had been quieter, took the mic.“Can we define what we mean when we say youth?”

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, constituting the largest ever youth population, but what does that mean to those who fit the criteria to be included in that demographic? When the peacebuilding contributions of this generation are increasingly being recognized by various sections of society – governments, civil society, and researchers – how do young people view themselves and their abilities to enact change? 

In the 4-week Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange course on Youth, Peace, and Security, young people led and defined the conversation about themselves. Meeting weekly online in highly diverse groups guided by trained facilitators, core concepts of conflict and peace were discussed in a way that privileged participants’ lived experiences as expertise and brought identity, local contexts, and relationships to the fore. In one participant’s words, “it was like a conversation with the world.” Another participant described it this way:

“This experience broadened my thinking on peace building and conflict transformation processes. It gave me the platform to create new connections and relationships. To have young minds across the globe see the need to do something about the conflict situations around us. Indeed there is hope knowing that together we can take steps to make our world better and shine the light for others.”

Facilitators echoed the potential for action that was created through building connections and relationships. Facilitator Yehuda explains this as follows;

“This course allowed participants to reflect on themselves and the perspectives of their peers, which provided them with opportunities to see how complex and interconnected our world can be.  Each voice provided another outlook in seeing a different perspective, and another opportunity for their own personal transformation. These perspectives helped many participants in seeing the world from multiple frameworks and provided more possibilities in understanding what conflict and peace means to each individual. Each participant also had the opportunity to meaningfully contribute in their own way to building peace through their individual projects, which added to the momentum of youth taking action in the spirit of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250.” 

Facilitator Valentina was impressed by the engagement of her group;

“If only a 4 hours of online dialogue produced so much enthusiasm, ideas and plans for future collaborations in a cross-cultural group of young people coming from Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Italy, Ukraine, what would happen if policy-makers sat for 4 hours of their time and listened to what their youth has to say about peacebuilding?” 

As a component of the course, the potential of new knowledge and networks were amplified as they ended the 4-weeks with an action-oriented final assignment. They were asked to explore together what specific actions they could take to contribute to peacebuilding locally, and in collaboration with their group, internationally. Participants collaborated to decide what changes they wanted to see towards a more peaceful world, and what concrete steps they could take to influence that change. 

There were also infographics, animations, surveys, advocacy campaigns, blog posts, conflict analysis, and a myriad of other forms that this action took. 

Organizers and facilitators indicate that they saw promising signs for continued engagement of the participants with the discussed topics:

“The group I facilitated is made up of a group of highly committed, highly motivated change-makers that already were willing to change things: they only needed an occasion to meet up with like-minded individuals in order to start making great things together, and this course gave them the chance to do so. Their collaboration for peacebuilding will likely go beyond the 4-weeks course.”

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