In the political sphere, youth is a period of transition during which individual relationships with government change from passive to active. Reaching the age of enfranchisement is a milestone that enables individuals to formally participate in the political process of their country. However, a healthy democracy is one that enables and supports the inclusive participation of all citizens, including those below the voting age. With nearly half of the world’s total population 25 years or younger*, the current youth generation of approximately 3 billion people could be one of the most influential groups of voters in history.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) fosters youth participation in democratic processes and around the globe. Our youth programs are rooted in international principles protecting and promoting the rights and responsibilities of citizens in pluralistic societies. IFES works to create a culture of engagement for those who have not yet reached the age of enfranchisement. We also provide training, incentives, tools and opportunities for newly-enfranchised voters to participate in elections and advocate for positive change within their communities.
During our more than 30 years of history, IFES has found that a democracy flourishes when all citizens are informed about democratic principles and have the opportunities and knowledge to engage in decision-making processes. IFES prioritizes youth engagement and works to foster lifelong patterns of participation in community and public affairs through formal and nonformal programs as well as by working with election management bodies and civil society. Globally, IFES’ youth-focused activities have included:
- Organizing youth debate clubs in Afghanistan;
- Creating a civic education elementary school curriculum in Libya and university-level curriculum in Georgia and Ukraine;
- Developing a digital media campaign to promote online activism and mobilize youth in Kenya;
- Implementing an election conflict and security training in Bangladesh;
- Researching barriers to participation among youth with disabilities in the Dominican Republic;
- Supporting young women to develop leadership skills in Myanmar;
- Holding democracy camps that emphasize critical thinking and decision-making skills in Kyrgyzstan; and
- Using technology to encourage civic participation in Tunisia.
As a learning organization, IFES has an internal Knowledge Management Initiative Working Group on Youth and Civic Education and Engagement to help grow the research, tools and technical expertise we offer our partners worldwide.
*International and national definitions of youth range widely, with different definitions encompassing the age range 10-40. The most common age ranges define youth from somewhere in the mid-teenage years to the mid- to late-20s. As an international nongovernmental organization, IFES responds to specific country contexts and donor requirements, and as such does not adhere strictly to one definition.