Five ways the youth voice at the GPHLM could move from rhetoric to reality

15 Apr 14

The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) High Level Meeting (GPHLM) takes place in Mexico from 15-16 April. If you’re following, it’s likely that over the next two days you’ll be hearing a lot about the importance of youth.

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So, here’s my own take on five specific ways that the Mexico GPHLM could mark a real step forward for youth-led developmentIn recent weeks, youth leaders from across Restless Development’s network have been mobilising, with hundreds connecting over social media. And now, seven inspiring youth leaders are in Mexico charged with bringing a critical youth voice to the meeting. In a two-day workshop earlier this week, the group worked through the vast array of inputs and started to map out how rhetoric might translate into something rather more concrete.

Youth discussion

1. It’s time to give youth a leadership role in the governance structures of global partnerships. Civil society organisations have fought hard for – and achieved – collective space, largely through the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness. Governments, controversially, are doing much to court the private sector. Now, the GPEDC Steering Committee is considering broader representation in its ranks. This will likely include, post-Mexico, a wider range of voices not already at the table. It’s absolutely clear that youth must be one of them. Beyond the Steering Committee, it’s high time the GPEDC identifies a structured way to bring in youth voices outside of rare high level meetings.

2. It’s time to put youth at the heart of national decision-making on everything to do with development. Different stakeholders are jockeying for a position in the global processes. But the reality is that GPEDC strongly promotes country ownership and a light global process. In discussions about new global development goals after 2015, it’s going to be the negotiating positions and national development plans of countries which determine the “what” and the “how” of development. Concrete commitments in Mexico towards robust, youth-friendly national processes – with youth involved at every stage - might do far more for youth-led development than arguing over the text of global outcome documents.

3. Middle Income Countries badly need global partnerships which actually prioritise the issues that matter to young people. More and more emerging economies are taking on “Middle Income Country” status. But while overall income averages are increasing, inequality is soaring. This means MICs are fast becoming the ideological arena for arguments about what development should be. But even post-Busan, the development cooperation system - designed in the days when development was understood as aid flows between countries - isn’t well set up to help Middle Income Countries address the issues that matter most to young people. Last year, Restless Development carried out a series of consultations with youth on their priorities for the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Time and again, young people talked about rising inequality, broken governance and unemployment as the issues that mattered to them most. If development cooperation doesn’t help MICs address these acute challenges, how long until we see more of the youth-led protests that erupted in Brazil and Turkey? Both the GPEDC and the UN Development Cooperation Forum (the UN-led partnerships framework for post-2015) need to hardwire the idea of development within countries, as well as between countries, into how they promote cooperation.


4. Youth-led development could help to resolve the impasse over public-private partnerships. One of the possible dividing lines in Mexico is over the role of the private sector. One key critique of the GPEDC and the UN’s approach to partnerships (MDG 8 and its successor) is that they aren’t sufficiently underpinned by clear parameters, principles and accountability frameworks. The result, it’s argued, is the biggest push towards the privatisation of development ever seen. While big businesses tend to have been well-represented in global development discussions, the voice of small business - small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) and the informal economy - has been less visible. But youth organisations, entrepreneurs and leaders are at the forefront of innovation; they’re already creating exciting and successful new models of social enterprises that defy old divides. In fact, there’s much more the GPEDC could learn from young people as they try to navigate this tricky dividing line.


5. It’s time to stop talking about empowering young people to hold governments to account, and actually do it. And so to the Big Idea. Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of the Global Partnership. Arguably, the GPEDC’s biggest strength is the fairly robust monitoring framework it has in place, tracking progress against hard indicators. Concurrent global processes like the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership carry significant political will behind them. And to top it all, it looks like we’re going to have a much-hyped data revolution (well, at least a data evolution) at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework. So far, so good. But citizen and youth-led accountability will remain pipe dreams if they’re the sole preserve of policy elites and those in the global North. We know we now need a massive scaling up of initiatives to shift the power. Initiatives like CIVICUSData Shift, to be launched at the GPHLM, will try to put data generation and use in the hands of citizens. Over the past year, Restless Development’s Big Idea pilot in Ghana, Nepal and Tanzania has already been mobilising from the ground up young people and equipping them with the tools to drive accountability on the issues that matter most to them. Now, over the next two days, government signatories to the Global Partnership have a key role to play in making concrete commitments to back innovation and the kind of accountability driven by citizens and youth.

Over the next 48 hours, you’re bound to hear a minister or global leader name-check the world’s youth and how important they are. When you do, please take a minute to challenge them to help us make youth-led development a reality.


Mark Nowottny is the new Policy and Practice Director at Restless Development.

You can follow him and the rest of the youth delegation at the GPEDC High Level Meeting here:

You can also follow them on these Twitter handles using the #myGPEDC #youthvoice and #GPHLM hashtags:

Also check out this amazing video made my Merybell, our youth communicator from the Dominican Republic, here.