The Education Cannot Wait Youth- and Student-led Subgroup, the first and only democratic youth constituency in the humanitarian sector, is calling on all humanitarian funds to create youth constituencies and empower them to elect a representative in their decision-making structures.
From Mogadishu in the East, to Accra in the West, and from Khartoum in the North, to Cape Town in the South, more than eighty youth-led NGOs from across the African continent are part of the ECW Youth- and Student constituency and they are mobilising together in support of a more inclusive and democratic sector. As an established entity, the constituency pledges to support any and all organisations in this effort.
(Picture: First meeting of the League of Nations in Geneva, 1920. Published on Twitter by UN Geneva)
In January 1920, the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, was established at the Paris Peace Conference. Six days later, the first Assembly of the League took place in Geneva, Switzerland, crowding the city to capacity. Of the more than one hundred delegates in attendance, none fell within the designation of youth, despite the fact that young people would inherit the future the delegates had assembled to build.
In the years that followed, humanitarian actors upheld the established tradition, convening without considering the voices or engagement of young people. In October of 1945, when more than fifty-one countries created the United Nations, little in terms of intergenerationality had shifted in the halls of international humanitarianism. Another generation of young people stood to inherit the consequences of wars they did not wage, unable to co-create a future of peace.
“For nearly a decade, I have been part of the response to the insurgency of Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria. I have seen how resources are allocated, and I know where they should go. But if voices like mine are not included—the most affected—humanitarian funds will miss out. Simply, nothing about us, without us.” - Ibrahim Ishaku Balami, Executive Director of Nigeria’s Future Resilience and Development Foundation a member of the ECW Youth Constituency
In 2020, Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies, created a youth constituency to influence high-level humanitarian policy, disrupting a century of convention. Youth-led NGOs from around the world applied to join, and after only a few weeks, they were represented in the fund’s governing structure. For the first time, young people sat alongside Presidents and Prime Ministers. Most profoundly, they co-created policy not as individuals, but as a democratic collective.
"Our democracy ensures that youth representation is not tokenistic, but representative of the views of young people everywhere.” - Samuel Sasu Adoteng of Ghana, a representative of the All-Africa Students Union a member of the ECW Youth Constituency
Over the next two years, the youth constituency provided input on emergency programs across the Middle East and North Africa, including in Afghanistan following US President Biden's withdrawal of U.S. troops and in Ukraine following the Russian invasion, in addition to multi-year programs in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Burundi, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Niger, and Mali. The constituency slowly carved out a democratic space within the fund and across the sector, building working relationships with leaders and sending delegates to conferences in Paris, Geneva, Dubai and New York.
On International Youth Day 2022, the Education Cannot Wait youth constituency called on all humanitarian funds to create youth constituencies in a segment for U.N. News. The elected youth representative of the fund, Henry D Wright spoke to the camera from the Palais des Nations, in the same halls where diplomats from around the world convened for the assemblies of the League a century before. Henry elucidated the call in a syndicated op-ed for Inter Press Service, co-written with the Director of Education Cannot Wait, and members of the youth constituency from Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, and Kenya personalized the movement through their own stories in a blog post for the Geneva Global Hub.
(Video: Youth Representative H.D. Wright releases the call to action from the Palais des Nations, Geneva, 2022)
If you are interested in finding out more about the Youth- and Student-led Subgroup or applying to join you can do so here.