Let’s Get Engaged, Civically

Posted by Andy Rabens
August 12, 2015
A man proposes to his girlfriend framed by cherry blossom trees in peak bloom, in Washington, D.C.

On this International Youth Day 2015, I want to get down on one knee and ask youth leaders from around the world to get engaged -- to get engaged civically that is. It is time to publicly affirm our commitment to using the power at our fingertips and the connectivity in our hands to become more civically engaged in our communities and countries in order to proactively shape the future that we seek – a future of expanded interconnectedness, inclusivity, and opportunity.

The coming year is filled with great promise: the adoption and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that will help shape the next 15 years; a climate summit in Paris that will tackle challenges of environmental sustainability; and the possibility to capitalize on diplomatic openings in Cuba and Iran by building mutually beneficial relationships for the future. We are also encouraged by  the chance to  further empower global youth through regional initiatives empowering young leaders from Africa (Young Africans Leaders Initiative - YALI,)  South East Asia (Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative - YSEALI), and the Americas (Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative - YLAI) as well as  helping to support a global youth stakeholder network that will counter violent extremism while promoting peace and inclusivity.

But to turn these opportunities into concrete, transformative action, we need young leaders from all corners of the globe to get active, get energized, and most importantly get civically engaged.

Civic engagement is the fundamental idea that power resides in the people, the citizenry, to continuously shape the communities and countries within which they live. And for progress to take place, it is up to the people - to all of us, as active citizens, to determine what that change looks like and how to drive it forward. 

Civic engagement can take many forms: volunteerism, service, community engagement, and electoral participation. You can follow in Khine’s footsteps from Myanmar who works a day job as a young female doctor but who volunteers some of her personal time as a secretary of a non-profit foundation; you can follow in Federico’s footsteps from Mexico who started a youth organization to pool collective voices together around local challenges; you can follow in Mohammed’s footsteps in Uganda who gives back to his community of Bwaise through work at a youth employment center; or you can follow in Sara’s footsteps in Morocco and get active in local politics.

The collective power of civic engagement is well-known. My boss, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel, often reminds young people about the importance of service by quoting the founding fathers of America, who said, “A republic, to survive, needed not only the consent of the governed but also their active participation.” And when you apply that ideal to a global context, it suggests the need to have active global citizens pushing, advocating, and engaging in the civic space to ensure that their communities and countries progress.

As young global leaders today, we have no excuse not be civically engaged. Because of technology and demographics, this is the most empowered generation of young leaders the world has ever seen: 60% of the world is below the age of 35; power has shifted from hierarchical institutions to individuals and networks; new media platforms have opened up space for communications to flow; and technology has helped us overcome barriers of information and opportunity.

Today the power is at our fingertips and the opportunity to shape the global landscape is at our front door. On this International Youth Day 2015, let’s take this big step together; let’s make the commitment to apply the power we wield to the civic engagement opportunities in front of us. And the sum of our collective efforts will shape the world in the years to come.

About the Author: Andy Rabens serves as the Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.


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