In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice.

By Fadhil Bakeer Markar, Communications Team Lead and Youth Focal Point, UNDP Sri Lanka

“Children and youth deserve a better future in their own country, not necessarily somewhere else. It is the responsibility of the adults not just to bring children to this world but contribute to creating a socio-political environment that is conducive for their advancement and well-being.” – Professor Siri Hettige, a senior sociology academic at the University of Colombo.

We’ve heard many such calls for more opportunities for young people, the need to engage with them, and the responsibility of adults and institutions. But to me, these calls often miss a key point: the central role of youth themselves in shaping their own present and future.

Youth make up almost a quarter of Sri Lanka’s population: 4.64 million or 23.2 percent. Like youth globally, Sri Lankan youth have often been the focus of public attention for the ‘wrong’ reasons. I believe it is because we, as a society, often fail to recognise them for the ‘right’ reasons. We fail to highlight the positive contribution they make to society. We fail to place trust in them to lead. We fail to live up to our commitments and provide them the space to engage.

Youth here want to be involved in their future. Over 665,000 Sri Lankan youth actively took part in the My World 2015 survey, questioning norms and sharing aspirations. The Sri Lanka National Human Development Report 2014 on Youth and Development notes increasing political momentum and commitment to youth and provided vital research to create youth programs tailored to our local context.

Youth participants of UNDP Sri Lanka’s Twinning Schools Programme caught in action whilst doing a music video for the song ‘Colours’. Photo: UNDP Sri Lanka

At UNDP Sri Lanka, we see youth as a positive force for transformative change. Using UNDP’s corporate youth strategy ‘Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future’, country offices will work with partners through a four pronged approach, focusing on support, engagement, influence, and sustainability.

This strategy guides us in Sri Lanka and provides a framework for our work.

Across the island, we work with youth on leadership and enterprise development, social innovation, volunteerism, educational awareness, and advocacy initiatives. Our current work with youth is diverse so that we can meet young people’s needs.

For example, many youth noted the need to have space to voice their opinions, which we are now providing through our UNLOCKED initiative. Combining our youth and innovations work, we launched an online blog space for young Sri Lankans. Following a successful pilot, the second phase started in partnership with Daily Financial Times (Sri Lanka’s leading business newspaper), which will publish the weekly blogs in parallel. Seventeen trilingual youth and development-themed blog posts have been published and we have 50 young bloggers signed up.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has said, “The combination of youth and innovation has the potential to create solutions to development challenges and to transform societies.”

For us at UNDP Sri Lanka this combination is very important, as seen in our partnership with Dialog Axiata, one Sri Lanka’s largest private telecommunication companies. Together, we hosted two social innovation hackathons. Over 300 creative and technologically savvy young Sri Lankans came to the first in Colombo, to develop solutions to challenges around civic engagement, electronic waste management, and employment. The second, in Badulla, focused on region-specific challenges of the Uva province.

This is just a glimpse of what we are doing in Sri Lanka. We at UNDP will continue to work with our youth, to give them the driving seat and let them shape their future and work towards a goal of sustainable human development. We don’t want to be just a development partner, but to be the development partner for young Sri Lankans.

So that they can remain in Sri Lanka and be recognized for the right reasons.

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