What comes to your mind as soon as someone starts talking about the National Youth Council in your country? Bureaucratic old government officials, lengthy procedures, criticism and resistance towards any type of innovation, obliviousness about youth participation and long queues for a simple one-minute meeting with senior officials? Oh and did you just say NGO participation? Oh no, you wouldn’t even want to go there.
Would you actually believe if someone told you that a National Youth Council has a face book page? That senior officers use tablets to check their mails? That the National Youth Council has their own funky slogan and brand name? A place where every employee, from the chairman to clerical staff members, wear the same groovy T shirt on Casual Fridays? A place where all youth-serving NGOs are able to host their events? Well, guess what? It is neither a dream nor a joke. This is the real story we made possible in Sri Lanka.
The National Youth Service Council of Sri Lanka (NYSC) was established in 1979; made possible through a Parliament Act that appointed a Director General for Youth Affairs in the country. NYSC is governed by a board of directors appointed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Skills Development and one member is always elected by the young people of the country. The Administrative system is decentralized through provincial offices which are further decentralized into district offices. NYSC has appointed a particular staff member, entitled the Youth Service Officer, to the Village level Administrative division of each district. This staff member works closely with other local administrative officers in the provincial public administrative system to push forward youth agenda. The smallest but most powerful entity of the NYSC is the village-based youth clubs in each district. These clubs are located in almost every part of the island including the recently reconciled North and East. The Head office of NYSC offers a diverse set of facilities including hostels, an auditorium, a training center, playground, studio and the like. Unfortunately though, the usual encompass of a long history made the council yet another stereotypically “old and boring” political venue- until recently, of course.
For the first time in a three decade long history, the NYSC got its first youngest Chairman in 2010. It was fortunate that the government combined the positions of a Chairman and Director General in order to avoid conflict of interest between governance and administrative priorities. This young man began visiting every single NYSC office in the country to ensure that it was youth –friendly in every sense of the word- both physically and emotionally! All in all, he completely rebranded NYSC as ‘Sri Lanka Youth’. This was particularly directed towards sensitizing and motivating Tamil and Muslim young people to access a fearless doorway after the atrocities of a 30 year old war. The hip website and Facebook group greatly appealed to the new generation and made NYSC a cool place to hang out at and work for. NYSC promoted equality at each and every dimension, from sports to governance, thus providing a meaningful space for young people from all the parts of the country including North and East.
This week NYSC has achieved yet another milestone in the face of youth participation in Sri Lanka: a seat is being provided for a youth representative of a “civil society working for youth” at the National Delegation for UN High Level Meeting on Youth. Mind you, this is just not simply a seat. It is an opportunity of equal status; for participation, preparation and negotiation; for delivery of inputs to follow-up plans and a space to put forward the agenda of civil organizations. NYSC has already planned to accept and implement the Outcome document of the UN-HLM on Youth, in close conjunction and partnership with civil organizations and the private sector. All in all, the plan is to make “Sri Lanka Youth” a one stop shop for all diverse needs young people have. This will directly affect the drafting of the National Youth Policy that is currently underway and the finalization of the Young People’s Health Policy which is nearing completion.
Click on www.srilankayouth.lk to see what the government is capable of doing to ensure meaningful youth participation at each and every level in the country including governance. NYSC has clearly shown the possibility for a real youth-adult partnership and how an existing government system can be completed rejuvenated and restructured into a youth friendly environment.