Youth participation

Prerequisite for long-term success

With its youth participation approach, terre des hommes schweiz enables young people to actively influence and take responsibility for the development of their communities. Through the process of participation, members of the target group act as experts in their particular living conditions. Participation democratises the community by giving community members the ability to express their opinions and influence how they want their present and future to look.

Three teenagers with black and yellow T-shirts. Print: I might be young but I have a BIG voice.
Young people have something to say. Listening to them is half the job done.

Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) awards children (and youth) the right to freely express their opinion about all matters and decisions that affect them. Their opinion must be taken into consideration in a way that is appropriate and congruent with their age. On the basis of this article, the prevailing conviction among development organisations since the mid-1980s has been that development goals can only be achieved if the target group is actively included in all decisions that affect them. Participatory processes are used to increase the self-interest and acceptance of development processes among those affected by them, so that the projects can have long-lasting effects. A participation approach strengthens local ownership of the development processes, i.e. a sense of individual initiative and personal responsibility. The participation of the target group in such processes is therefore a prerequisite for the success and longevity of development cooperations.

Contribution towards peaceful and democratic structures
By involving and empowering the local population, it is possible to change existing power structures to the advantage of the civil population. The German Association for International Collaboration found that young people who learn about democratic values and processes when they are adolescents contribute to the development of peaceful and democratic structures in their countries later on, as active citizens.

Promotion of decision-making skills and assertiveness
Participatory processes also bring the creative potential of youth to the fore, which benefits the entire community. Young people bring unexpected solutions to the table and take on responsibility in projects, organisations and in their communities.
In addition to the social benefits, participation also aids personal development. Participatory processes help youth to develop their identities, as they are taken seriously and supported, which boosts their self-confidence[A1] . They become more assertive and develop decision-making and negotiating skills.

At the project level, youth are actively involved in the generation of new ideas as well as project planning, implementation and evaluation. The methods and degree of participation are always adapted to suit the people involved, to make sure they do not feel overwhelmed. The partner organisation encourages the young people to make their own decisions, while of course taking into consideration factors such as age, level of education and previous experience with participatory processes. Guidance throughout the project is always based on the needs and skills of the youth involved.
Youth are also involved in decisions that affect the organisation. For instance, they are surveyed before the organisation’s annual plans are drawn up, so that the plans can take their needs into account. terre des hommes schweiz views participation as a process of mutual learning for both young people and organisations. Young people are allowed to take on responsibility and organisations must be prepared to relinquish some of their power in return. This requires our partner organisations to be very open and flexible.
Young people should be able to have a say about all the aspects of society that affect them. This can include schools, healthcare institutions or (local) politics. Our partner organisations work to ensure that youth can have a say in these various subsystems and thereby help to make them suitable for young adults. This is achieved through the use of youth committees, youth hearings or round table discussions. If direct contact with the relevant institutions is not possible, the organisations act as spokespersons for society’s young voices.

Desk for Youth Participation

Sabin Müller
Projects Switzerland and Desk for Youth Participation
Sabin MüllerProjects Switzerland and Desk for Youth Participation