Administrator Samantha Power at the Summit for Democracy Event: “Community of Democracies YouthLeads”

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For Immediate Release

Monday, December 6, 2021


MODERATOR: We are honored to host today, Administrator Samantha Power of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. Throughout her career, she has been an ally and advocate, elevating issues impacting young people all around the world. We are really excited to have her join today's Community of Democracies' Youth Assembly, ahead of the Summit for Democracy later this week. Welcome, Administrator Power. 

So, just diving right in. We want to know, from your perspective, in terms of how we revitalize democracy, rights, and governance, why youth, and why now? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's a great question, and we do need a little bit of revitalization with democracy a little bit on its back heel in recent years. So, we need the infusion of young people. And I just want to start by saying how delighted I am to join the Community of Democracies' Youth Assembly event today, to thank you for organizing it. And to reinforce my commitment here at USAID to do everything we can through our programs. But also through our policy engagement to increase youth participation wherever we can, not only in civic life but also in political life. 

I know you'll be hearing a little bit later from EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. I met with Jutta maybe a week or two weeks ago in Brussels. And it's pretty exciting, actually, to sit down with the European Commission and hear their ideas about how we can work together to support youth in revitalizing democracy, rights, and governance around the world. 

In terms of your core question -- why youth, why now, other than the backsliding point -- you're the future, you're the present. Not only the future, 65 percent of the global population right now is under 35. In some parts of the world, it's even higher than that. It is vital that governments and civil society take steps to enlist young people to make sure that they are engaged. 

I think on a lot of issues, young people are frustrated by the planet they are inheriting and frustrated with what they perceive to be insufficient leadership on issues, for example, like climate change. But frustration doesn't take you very far. We really need young people to be part of coming up with the solutions. 

Recent data shows that across the globe, youth satisfaction with democracy itself is declining. Not only in absolute terms but also relative to how previous generations felt at the same stages in life, so when they were young too. And, I think, again, that's this dissatisfaction with growing inequality, what is perceived to be a lack of government transparency and accountability, frustration with corruption.

And, I think if I look back at some of the lessons from the development community, I think for too long development actors have viewed young people as maybe beneficiaries of particular programs, rather than the shapers and the people who can offer some of the greatest insights about how to design these programs in the first place to get better solutions. 

So I think you all have been forceful advocates for more urgency in the way that people are approaching key issues of today. You're more forceful advocates for marginalized communities. I think that much of the anti-corruption energy on the streets, particularly before COVID when there were these large protests back in 2019 around discontent really with what was being delivered by our governments but often rooted in concerns about corruption. Youth were at the heart of so much of that, so you're clamoring for accountability. 

I'm excited to see young people involved in institutions as well. Often, if I take my own students -- because I used to be a professor before I came into USAID -- and often they would talk about starting their own NGO or being a social entrepreneur or starting a tech company that was going to deliver really productive socioeconomic outcomes. 

But I would always say, also, well, what about government? Would you ever consider running for office? Would you ever consider joining the civil service? And sometimes that requires, you know, more persuading. But to enlist young people in all aspects of finding more urgent and more comprehensive solutions to the problem of our times is absolutely critical. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. And given the challenges that you outlined, such as declining youth satisfaction with democracy, how do you think that youth-led organizations -- how should they, and more broadly, civil society, and movements respond?  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to generalize, but just to take note of an obvious comparative advantage that young people have that is completely intuitive to you. I see it in my kids, which is tech and digital. Your ability to connect and to build networks -- that's now true increasingly across borders, as well. But also across communities that in the past might have been siloed. 

For example, student movements and labor movements sometimes didn't come together, but there are now opportunities for young people to build bridges there and increase their impact and the impact of their advocacy. 

I also think we're seeing young people more and more identifying informal pathways to participate in civic and political life. So again, to draw back on the digital, waging digital campaigns to challenge the power imbalance, pressuring elected leaders for greater resources, rights, and equality. 

It's really important that young people increase their leverage by voting wherever they are eligible to vote. That's something young people don't always do in great numbers. But, when elected leaders know that you not only have strong views and even expertise, that you don't just have social media platforms, but also that you're a voting block, that's going to matter a heck of a lot more. 

So, I think, again, the other aspect of it is there's a lot of dark news out there. Just climate change alone is enough to make one want to shut down one's social media feed or turn off the TV and watch sports. And I think you all can do a lot to highlight bright spots, to really be disciplined in pointing to what is working to create, kind of, positive feedback loops and not just taking note of all that we know is left to do. But it's really important that young people retain fuel for the energy that they bring at the outset and resilience -- fuel for that resilience that you need because we're not going to reverse these trends on democracy overnight. We're not going to halt warming to 1.5 degrees celsius tomorrow. 

We've still got many more pledges and much more implementation that has to be secured, just to take one example of the climate space. But we need to stay in this fight and not expect instant gratification. But also be prepared to pull back and celebrate those small milestones along the way. Because those pit stops, as we say, those stops that you take to get fuel, those are critical to staying in these networks and in these fights for the long term. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. Perhaps my next question will be, so how does USAID then engage youth partners in the Year of Action and beyond in concrete and also meaningful ways? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I love this Year of Action concept. And when the year is up, we'll have to have another Year of Action, because we can't afford for young people to leave the field. But we did launch this year something called the Global Lead Initiative, and this is a USAID-wide effort to support 1 million young change makers over the next four years. So, we're going to work alongside young leaders to tackle the world's most significant development challenges. That's going to entail everything from greater investments in education, investments in civil and political engagement to try to enlist more young people, again, into the fold, leadership development programming across all sectors including democracy, rights, and governance. 

We're thinking more and more about civic education. How to design and deliver effective youth-led digital citizenship programming, especially in an age of misinformation and the exploitation of these platforms to lead people, let's say, in a less constructive direction. How can USAID work across its 80 missions around the world to support partners who are trying to help young people responsibly consume and produce information, whether that's just information about what's going on in the country or information on their rights, their responsibilities, on the role of government, digital literacy, civic education?  

These are going to be a big part, I think, of what we will increasingly have to focus on given the kind of unruly cybersphere. And the ways in which the internet, which had been a source of great hope and still offers tremendous promise when it comes to building social networks. But also where we've seen some of these polarizing effects and some of the very silos that many thought the internet was going to break down, those silos then getting recreated where people are becoming more extreme in those platforms and propagating misinformation and disinformation without even knowing it. 

USAID recently put out a request for information in an effort to stand up a potential powered-by-the-people initiative, and this would be something where we would work with American and international researchers, activists, and civil society organizations to help increase our understanding of how to improve the efficacy of collective action. 

We have seen nonviolent peaceful movements make a profound difference historically. We celebrate those movements. But can we gain a better understanding about what we can learn from the history, from the empirical work, to inform the work that we and other actors are doing today? 

So, I think the idea is through new platforms, both online and offline. This initiative would seek to promote exchange, learning, and the piloting of new approaches. So, if you all are intrigued at all by this, look at, if you could. Respond, engage with USAID in our efforts to figure out how best to support grass roots civic actors especially, again, youth-led and youth-serving organizations. 

Through the platform, that's another link --, We will also at USAID continue to engage and encourage young changemakers to share resources and do peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. We're excited to have the Community of Democracies join USAID's platform. Earlier this year that happened. They joined as a global partner, and again, we still believe in the power of shared spaces to increase exchanges of ideas, tools, resources, and evidence, critically, evidence. 

The last thing I would just emphasize is the importance of community and intergenerational support. We recently administered, with our partners, a 10 country survey of over 7,000 young people. And we actually found -- I think we all know this in our own lives -- that our relatives and our family exert the greatest influence over a young person's opinions on civic and political engagement. And the findings also showed that only 35 percent of young people said their community was supportive of them participating in politics. 

So, again, this underscores back to my own point about my own students and trying to enlist them. Not only in starting their own NGO or their own company and to be entrepreneurial, but to think about being entrepreneurial within institutions. And so, how do we develop a whole-of-community approach to support and encourage young people to engage in civic and political life. 

MODERATOR: Yes, thank you, Administrator. These are very interesting recommendations and examples that you provide. As a community, we are tremendously glad to join the platform and continue to cooperate with the USAID regarding this matter. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Well, I think I've done what old people do with young people all the time, which is to talk at them for a really long period of time. So, I want to close us out here in our Q&A, which has been mainly A's, answers by me. But with a question for you and the assembly gathered here today and looking forward to the chat and the comments on this. What commitments would you like to see countries make that strengthen the environment for young people to meaningfully participate in civic and political life? 

MODERATOR: Thank you, Administer Power, for asking this question. Well, I think that recognizing young people as partners is my main recommendation, and it can be used as a guide for any commitments that will be made at the Summit for Democracy. 

And, first of all, this means, really, involvement of young people in democratic decision making. But even besides that, the governments need to invest in support and finance, when possible, youth-led organizations at national and local levels, but also provide capacity building, offer educational and employment opportunities, address digital divide, and finally, address also negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth, which has threatened young people's educational attainment, future prosperity, liberties, and disproportionately affected their mental and also economic well-being. And we are really looking forward to the Year of Action and taking all of these recommendations from the Youth Assembly that will hear from young people today forward over the next year. 

And thank you, Administrator Power, just to close, for your long-term commitment to engaging young people as true partners in meeting, really, our communities, the most important goal. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Right. Well, we at USAID can't wait to see the ideas that grow out of today and beyond. And above all, figuring out how to partner with you to make sure that we are getting the most out of all that young people have to offer. Again, not treating young people as beneficiaries, but as agents in making the change that is so long overdue. Thank you so much. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. It was a pleasure. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The pleasure was mine.  


Last updated: December 07, 2022

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