Youth Civic Engagement through Social Accountability

Mr. Gerardo Berthin

Youth civic engagement is a pivotal issue within global academic and policy debates on democratic governance. Elections are an important component of democratic governance but are not the only measure of it. The existence of effective and accountable public institutions to meet citizen needs and civic engagement are also important components of democratic governance. Civic engagement refers to the ways in which citizens participate in the life of a community to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future. As such, civic engagement involves being active and participating in public affairs and focusing on collective interests. Civic engagement is a process that in practice requires knowledge, skills, and motivation. Therefore, civic education can be a means to develop knowledge about political processes, governmental institutions, and power relationships, as well as skills for civic engagement.

Young people are an important stakeholder group for achieving, strengthening, and sustaining civic engagement. The research question the paper investigates is how can youth enhance knowledge and capacity for civic engagement? This paper weighs in on youth civic engagement from the angle of social accountability tools. In addition, this paper will also provide initial evidence showing that working with university students and introducing them to civic engagement through social accountability, even with short and focused workshops that combine a mix of pedagogical approaches, has a potential to lay down a foundation to increase civic engagement and facilitates the development of basic knowledge and skills. The paper will examine three specific experiences in Belize, Guatemala, and Fiji, all emerging democracies. The three cases highlighted in the paper suggest that exposing youth to approaches, like social accountability, can enhance knowledge and capacity for civic engagement and youth could be in a better position to positively affect much needed change efforts in emerging democracies. The paper will show the factors that help translate the knowledge and skills acquired into sustainable assets for civic engagement. Young people, particularly in emerging democracies, have not been necessarily exposed on a large scale to the potential of social accountability to support civic engagement and participation in public policy processes. The paper will extract lessons from the three experiences and analyze how social accountability approaches can contribute to the promotion of civic engagement among youth university students.

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