United Nations designated the International Youth Day in 2000 — now observed every Aug. 12 — to raise awareness of youth issues around the world. (Photo courtesy of UNFPA)

In International Youth Day Celebration, a Glimmer of Hope

AUGUST 18, 2015

Jakarta. “Youth is not part of the problem, but youth is part of the solution,” said Moudy Taopan, one of the panelists talking in the celebration of the International Youth Day last Friday afternoon.

Generally defined as people between the ages of 10 and 24, youth makes up a significant one-third of Indonesia’s population. According to the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), the country is also projected to have the so-called “demographic bonus” within the next one to two decades. This means the number of productive-age people — mostly comprising of youth — will trump that of elderly people and children.

And yet, young people is still rarely discussed, let alone involved, in the policymaking process of many governments globally. With this in mind, the United Nations designated the International Youth Day in 2000 — now observed every Aug. 12 — to raise awareness on youth issues around the world.

In Jakarta, the day was commemorated in a celebration organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the @america cultural center in Pacific Place, South Jakarta. Opened with a remark by US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake, the event endorses this year’s theme of “Youth Civic Engagement.”

“Today is about young people,” Blake said to the audience. “Indonesia and the United States are both multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracies. What that means is that we have the opportunity to participate in a very meaningful way. We can use social media, we can get involved in political parties, we can form non-governmental organizations. We can do so many different things to have a very concrete role.”

UN resident coordinator Douglas Broderick — the representative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Indonesia — echoed Blake’s encouraging statement in his subsequent remark.

“There are many success stories of youth in Indonesia for us to follow. Their voices are indispensable and they prove that hard work pays off,” Broderick said, before citing his ten tips for young people.

“Go to an event, read an article or talk to an expert each month in a field or subject that you know nothing about and scares you,” he offered one piece of advice.

Attended by many young people in the audience, the celebration continued with a panel discussion between youth leaders from various backgrounds. The aforementioned Moudy, for example, is a youth officer at the Indonesia Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI). She was joined by four more panelists, including Anindya Restuviani, Vania Santoso, Gigih Rezki Septianto and Vidi Aldiano.

“Youth involvement and participation are very important in achieving the goals of sustainable development, but their opportunity to become involved in political, economic and social areas is still very small and often non-existent,” opened Margaretha Sitanggang from UNFPA who moderated the discussion.

Responding to the theme of youth civic engagement, the discussion revolved around ideas to engage more young people in development. This was mainly based on a new issue brief published by the UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel whose several members appeared on-stage.

“We think it’s good to make a brief that can illustrate the current situation of the youth in Indonesia, especially on how important it is to encourage an inclusive participation for young people,” explained Anindya who works for Save the Children International.

The six-page brief gives a thorough overview on how youth as a key development stakeholder can have a meaningful participation in decision-making processes. It further explains the significance of support from the government as well as development and civil society partners in youth-related issues, such as education, youth unemployment, health and politics.

“Inclusive participation will not see young people as an object or target, but as a mutual partnership in development. It also means that the participation process will also include and be accessible to young people from various backgrounds,” wrote the co-authors.

Technology also plays an essential role in motivating youth activism, as explained by Vania, a youth engagement officer at UNICEF and eco-entrepreneur.

“UNICEF has a global program called U-Report for young people to voice out their views. And Indonesia happens to be the first country that utilizes social media for this program,” she remarked, before asking the audience to follow @UReport_id on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Moudy told an inspiring story about her initial involvement in youth activism as a 16-year-old in East Nusa Tenggara ten years ago. Concerned by the high rate of unwanted pregnancy among teenagers in the province at the time, she and friends successfully established an advocacy forum on youth and reproductive health that raised support from the local government. 

“Our local legislative members involved us in their policymaking process, resulting in regional regulations on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health,” she said. “Even though I live in Jakarta now, the forum still exists there. I believe youth has the capability to make change.”

Later on, Gigih Rezki Septianto, who co-founded a youth organization called Charity Lights, called for young people to recognize their distinctive values to advance in today’s economy. “You have to seize the opportunities and create the opportunities for yourself,” he remarked

Well-known singer Vidi Aldiano also stresses the importance of having an entrepreneurial instinct. “I started out as an entrepreneur. When I was 18 years old, still in senior high school, I founded a music label and management with a very small team,” he said.

“An entrepreneur’s job is to create jobs first and foremost, and for me, it’s a noble thing to do. By becoming an entrepreneur, I can also develop my many passions,” Vidi added, saying further that he has also ventured into fashion by starting his own clothing line.

In addition to the panel discussion, the event also marked the launch of Youth Booklet’s second edition. This annual UNFPA publication profiles 32 accomplished Indonesian youth leaders who make waves in three major fields: environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship and community empowerment.

The impressive string of personalities featured in the book come from all walks of life, ranging from research analyst and young politician to television host and comic author.

In his closing remark, UNFPA representative in Indonesia Jose Ferraris said, “It is the Youth Advisory Panel who selected the people featured in the Youth Booklet — those who have done really amazing work in economic empowerment, advocating for social equity and justice, youth health, environment and sustainable development.”

Ferraris also made a statement about the post-2015 development agenda that would replace the UN Millennium Development Goals framework whose run will end this December. 

“This agenda is going to be a lot more youth-friendly than the MDGs. We saw at least 12 paragraphs concerning youth issues, from education to health,” he said. “It’s also a plea to young people to be much more active in terms of their participation in their communities, societies, politics, social action and advocacy.”

This event has become a significant reminder of the potential of youth in tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues, particularly in the realm of development.  

Talking to the young audience, Ferraris concluded, “The future is right now, right here, in your hands.”