The local government sector is the closest to citizens as it represents and acts in their interest and to meet their needs. Youth represent the largest segment in Nepali society. According to Nepal’s National Youth Policy, approximately 20.8 percent of the total population of the country falls in the age group 16-25 years while 40.68 percent of the population falls in the age group 16-40. Young people are the most influential and influenced segment among their local communities and they interact either negatively or positively with policies and strategies enforced by the various local government institutions. As such, it is imperative to listen to youth aspirations as well as utilize their vast energies in serving and advancing their local communities through youth participation to create an environment where rule of law is ensured, corruption reduced and transparency within public bodies created to build strong and inclusive public institutions.

A Journey of Collective Change

I have been working through AYON (Association of Youth Organizations Nepal) to improve youth’s involvement in local governance and increase their participation in parliament and elections for over three years now. Throughout 2017, we worked with young people from diverse backgrounds of Nepal where they were trained on parliamentary processes through project ‘Youth Mock Parliament 2017’. The participants would be elected in parliamentary roles in the mock parliament and would role play the duties as Member of Parliament. This ‘Learning by Doing’ approach educated the participants on law making processes, procedure for parliamentary dialogue and responsibilities of the Members of Parliament. The success of this project lead to the adoption of ‘mock parliament’ concept as a yearly program under the National Youth Council of Nepal. The local and municipal levels of the government have been recommended by the government to carry out the mock parliament with some municipalities already implementing the practice.

Based on these experiences, I came to realize that youth are concerned and willing to put their issues at policy level but are held back by lack of practical knowledge regarding the complex bureaucracy and policy formulation processes of Nepal. This is especially true after Nepal transitioned into a federal structure in 2015 with three levels of government: Central, Provincial and Local Government. The young people needed to understand the principles and processes of the new federal structures. Local level election were held in 2017 and had been given the authority over local level policy making and budgeting to address local issues. Youth issues could now be addressed through new policies and included in the local level planning and budgeting. But first, the youth needed to be empowered, to realize that their voices mattered, and collectively raise the issues that concerns them the most. This is why, after being elected the President of AYON in 2019, I decided that we would now work to empower, educate and involve youth in the processes of local governance.

Architects of Good Governance

Their role in good governance should involve the following eight major pillars: full participation, rule of law, transparency, consensus orientated equity, effectiveness, efficiency, accountability, and responsiveness. Youth should take an active role in each of these areas and understand their obligations to ensure that these areas are interwoven into the fabric of governance.

Hence, AYON has been continually working in increasing youth’s participation in local governance. In August of 2019, AYON organized a panel discussion on ‘Local Level Planning’ process where inclusive young people from all 32 ward of Kathmandu Metropolitan City were invited to have a dialogue with local representatives of the Metropolitan City Office, Ward Chairperson, representatives from Election Commission Nepal and National Youth Council. Discussion were held on planning and budgeting processes at local level and spaces where youth can intervene to make sure their issues are included in local level plans and budget.

Similarly, AYON is currently working with the support of UNDP: Parliament Support Project in 3 provinces of Nepal to develop the capacity of youth to engage with Members of Parliament at provincial and local level. The program brings together youth from various mainstream and marginalized communities of the province and educates them about the law-making processes at local and provincial level. In addition, leadership and capacity development training are provided so that they can engage with the parliamentarians and be a part of the processes of drafting policies. They are taught how to use the tools/mechanism provided to them by the state to hold decision-makers accountable and respond to their concerns. These youths are also taught about the SDGs and convergence of effort for implementation of the SDGs from public bodies and their own role in achieving specific indicators of the SDGs.

Besides this, we have been working on capacity development and voter education campaigns with our partners IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems). On November 30, 2019, almost half a million people across Nepal were eligible to vote and elect representatives for 52 vacant positions. Of the voters eligible, only 65.43 per cent cast their votes. AYON reached out to 2804 eligible voters of 9 Wards in 7 districts with voter education campaign via mock polls.   Our target was to encourage people to use their voting rights, reduce the number of invalid votes in the elections. We want to contribute to the increment of voters in the next election and to create active and capable young custodians of free and fair election.

Partnership for Change

Youth should understand the extent of own value, how they have an important role to play for the nation, but also how the role of the youth is not so different from the role of the citizen. However, I think, youth have extra responsibilities, such as sharing information, capacity development, seeking information, acting as a good role model and moreover, to cooperate with local authority in order to ensure the safety and security of the commune. As mentioned above, it is necessary to build consensus with equitable representation of the minorities and the decision-makers. Youth and the adult population can benefit from one another's skill set, knowledge and capabilities too. The youth have the ability to impact and significantly change the future of the commune by acting passionately for the well-being of their society. But this cannot be done without partnership.

Youth must observe the change and progress of local development. They should take an active role at local level to follow up on the budgeted plan on youth-related projects. Youth participation can improve and increase good governance. Their fresh insight and contemporary knowledge of society, technology and cultures can bring effectiveness and efficiency. Youth groups need to advocate for an open system of government where information and communication is easily assessable. This will help in 2 ways, 1) create transparency in government 2) increase effectiveness of communication and service delivery. Moreover, youth participation in development will help to reduce the widely accepted stereotype that youth are either passive or a problem for society.

In order to promote the role of youth in local development and good governance, a forum, seminar, and round table discussion should be organized between young people and the decision makers. This would provide the opportunity for the exchange and sharing of ideas and experience from working with youth. Collectively, it will result in formulation a wholesome result. Furthermore, promoting public information and using peer talk can be an effective strategy to engage the youth. Commitment to youth should be greatly encouraged and they should be motivated to play a more significant role in society.

However, there exists gaps between young people and decision makers where the decision makers remain out of touch with the needs of the youth. Although many of the needs of the youth are cross-cutting for age, ethnicity, cultures, gender, identity and geography: some issues are specific and need direct intervention. Local government are well-suited exactly for this purpose. And this is where youth councils can play an important role. The National Youth Council (NYC) of Nepal is a government body that are primarily in touch with youth. The NYC can act as a bridge between ministries, governments and youth peer networks so that local initiatives are tailored to youth-specific needs.