The Importance of Youth Engagement: A Reflection on International Youth Day

“Young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek – and young people must be full partners in that effort.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The United Nations has designated August 12th as International Youth Day. Therefore, we would like to dedicate this month's blog post to the importance of youth engagement.

Youth are effective change-makers, as they lead advocacy efforts in all essential fields, including climate change, global health, LGBTQ+ rights, and many other social justice efforts. Youth engagement is seen as being sustainable when solving both global and local challenges. Their innovative solutions have the potential to build towards larger-scale conversations and promote positive social change.

COVID-19 has impacted all segments of Canada’s population, with young people playing a key role in the management of the pandemic. For instance, pressures on Indigenous communities have increased, leading to the aggravation of existing problems and the creation of new ones. On the other hand, students have been required to participate in online learning, and for the many youth affected by the current infrastructure and housing crisis, this online learning could be occurring under unsafe living conditions. In addition, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian youth were already struggling with employment and the high cost of living, and the pandemic has created new challenges to youth guidance and other social services.

While policymakers in Canada continue to discuss shaping cities for their youth, young people often appear to be a forgotten generation. However, youth have been responding to the pandemic through social impact innovation. There are many youth hubs that are currently developing effective ways of addressing COVID-19. For instance, in 2020, over 1,100 youth members collaborated through Pivot Hub to perform urban research and co-create an open and accessible web-based information hub that centres youth-informed data. Pivot Hub has been spotlighting youth-driven data and insights about important topics relating to youth in 47 Canadian cities throughout the pandemic.

Furthermore, the government of Canada has shared its first State of Youth report. The report draws on the lived experiences and insights of 996 young people, as well as their ideas and policy-directed solutions for relevant issues and topics. It is intended for youth, informed by engagements with youth, and contains a significant portion drafted by youth. Unlike Statistics Canada which defines youth as aged 15 to 29, this report engaged youth between the ages of 12 and 30 (in addition to anyone outside of this age range who self-identified as “youth”).

In closing, youth engagement is crucial to ensure that young people have a sense of belonging that assists in their social, intellectual, and leadership development. In addition, youth engagement can lead to several community benefits such as increasing the likelihood that young people will vote, volunteer, and contribute actively to their communities over the life course. As youth constitute the future generation of community leaders, it is important that they know and understand the stewardship values and issues of importance to their communities.