There have never been as many young people as there are today. This is particularly true in Africa and the Middle East. Young people are a considerable asset to their countries, with a critical role to play in the political, social, economic and cultural landscape. Yet their potential is still untapped, and their contribution to their nations still hasn’t been fully realized: a large part of this young population remains uneducated, unemployed or uninterested.
Youth is a pivotal period in a person’s life; it’s the bridge between childhood and adulthood. According to Erik Erikson’s stages of psychological development, each individual experiences a phase during which they search for their identity, a phase where they blend their identity with friends and want to fit in, and a phase of “generativity”, where they start wishing to build a legacy and guide the next generation.
With that in mind, we understand that the very nature of youth is to be involved and contribute. It is quite difficult for me to believe the line that young people lack engagement in society nowadays. So why is it the case, then?
There are various reasons why young people are less likely to be active citizens: the lack of effective communication between them and decision-makers, for example. Also, young people feel used instead of empowered, so they don’t easily embrace the “old school mindset” in doing things. Often, they lack information and don’t fully understand how political institutions, economic development, public services or social inclusion work – and nothing is more vital to a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Ten years ago, when I began working with young people, I was surprised to discover that many of them don’t know where or how to get started. They had dreams, energy and enthusiasm, but no proper knowledge of how to be active, and no proper guidance to channel that energy.
Back then, the internet was a new concept in Morocco, and was still confined to a very limited population. A young person could only access information through traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines); and they could only find out about the activities of a political party or a public gathering for a social cause, through word of mouth, provided they knew the right people.
Social media is the most adapted communication tool of today’s younger generation. It’s easy to see why: accessible and user-friendly, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn let you create and showcase your personality, develop new contacts, discuss issues and keep in touch in real time. They allow you to read, analyse and share content without any prerequisites.
Media is no longer the one-way communication channel as it used to be. With connected devices becoming ever more ubiquitous, questions can be answered and misunderstandings avoided. It has become easier to connect with people from different places and backgrounds: to benefit from their experience, to support a cause without being directly involved, to engage with organizations and movements, and to mobilize people in less time and with less cost.
Working with young people in Morocco over the years, I have witnessed a change in how they engage: they have become better and more active citizens, in both a formal and informal way. Thanks to social media’s diverse platforms, young people can view content about their region, about influencers and decision-makers. They can participate in online petitions, join groups and talk to like-minded people on Facebook, contribute to the debate on Twitter, report an injustice on Instagram, or share videos and podcasts on Youtube. Social media fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, and young people can engage directly, not just as individuals, but as part of a community in their own personal way.
While many young people in Morocco are engaged in social activities outside social media, youth engagement in “real-life” organizations, projects and awareness-raising is comparatively insignificant, and remains concentrated in major cities, where most government, civil-society and private-sector activity is focused.
How can we help the momentum of online youth engagement spread to real-world local areas? We need to provide monitoring and funding for local initiatives, organize more events and training workshops, and attract more attention to civil-society activities in smaller cities, towns and villages. We need to create local success stories that inspire and drive young people, and which they can showcase on social media to inspire others.
I believe that participation and engagement is a natural attribute of youth, and has been like this for as long as humanity and social interaction existed. Young people will continue to expand their contribution and participation for as long as they have the tools. Even though more than half of Morocco is connected to internet, more efforts have to be made in terms of youth mobilization and participation, in order to see this contribution growing exponentially towards a better, more inclusive world.
Shaping Davos is a series of live events hosted by the Global Shapers Community from 19 to 24 January. Forty cities around the world will be connected via two-way live-streaming and satellite broadcast technology to discuss 10 topics related to the theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos-Klosters. Join the conversation at shapingdavos.org
Author: Touria Benlafqih is Programme Director of Enactus, Morocco, and a Global Shaper from the Rabat Hub.
Image: Keenen Thompson and Jessica Mellow (R) surf the web while waiting in line to buy an iPhone 4S at the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York, October 13, 2011.