Investing in youth for peace and development – A call to action
March 15, 2019
“If we fail to harness the potential of youth for peace and sustainable development today, we are basically nurturing marginalization, further mistrust and even radicalization in the future, when we could have empowered generations of peacemakers.” – Forest Whitaker, March 8, 2019
In early March 2019, Forest Whitaker visited Geneva to advocate for youth empowerment, accompanied by young peacebuilder from South Sudan, Magdalena Nandege, member of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI). Together they participated in a series of events with Interpeace, in the context of the UN Human Rights Council and the
Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), addressing the need to invest in youth for sustainable peace.
WPDI works with former child soldiers in post-conflict countries like Uganda, with youth in conflict-affected regions like South Sudan and with former gang members in Mexico and South Africa. Their methodology values the importance of working within communities, fostering local ownership and inclusion – peacebuilding principles that are at the core of Interpeace’s DNA.
We are proud to have joined forces with WPDI to advocate for youth leadership and promote peacebuilding approaches that have proven to be effective during Interpeace’s 25 years of experience.
A call for the international community to make transformative change
President of Interpeace, Scott M. Weber, was joined by Actor, Director and Founder of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), Forest Whitaker, at the Association of Correspondents to the United Nations in Geneva on March 8, 2019. Together they made a global call to action, urging governments, the private sector and civil society to invest resources and funds to specifically mobilize young people in the service of peace and reconciliation in their communities.
Although half of the world’s population is under 30, the role of youth leadership in peacebuilding processes remains largely unrecognized and unacknowledged. Forest Whitaker expressed that too often youth are seen as the problem and not enough as part of the solutions. Notwithstanding, young people are working collectively and independently for peace and sustainable development in many conflict-affected regions: “I created WPDI precisely because I view young women and men as doers, as potential partners in the creation of positive change who deserve to be supported, trained and accompanied.”
A strong commitment from the international community is needed to invest in the capacities and agency of young women and men. Scott M. Weber added, “Young people want to be heard, they want to be part of the decisions that affect them, their communities, and their countries – they have an immense ambition for action that we must put to the service of peace. We must go beyond the current ad-hoc efforts and achieve the catalytic scale to make real, transformative change happen.”
Efforts to build on youth leadership in contexts like South Sudan are essential for sustaining peace
Following the Press Conference, Forest Whitaker and Scott M. Weber were joined by Magdalena Nandege, and representatives of UNHCR and the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and the Netherlands in a Human Rights Council Side Event, to discuss the peacebuilding issues in South Sudan.
South Sudan is not only the youngest country in the world, it is also one of the poorest. Internal conflict has caused nearly 380,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million displaced. The panel discussion addressed the strategies and actions that are needed to ensure peace and prevent human rights violations in the long term.
“We have to go to the grass roots to understand the problem or implement a programme. Find out who are the conflicting people, who are the trusted people and work with them. You need to adapt and put yourself at the level of people you talk with.” Magdalena Nandenge, South-Sudanese midwife and peacebuilder working for WPDI, asserted the importance of investing on local capacities for resilience. As a 25-year old, Magdalena is a clear example of how the international community must rely on the dedication and courage of young people living in conflict. “From the very beginning to the very end, there needs to be a partnership with the community,” Forest Whitaker added.
The conversation continued the next day, at the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), in an event co-hosted by Interpeace: “South Sudan: World’s Youngest Nation at the Crossroads to Peace”.
“In South Sudan young people make up over 70% of the population, but they are marginalized. They are not included in decision-making in their communities.” Scott M. Weber was the moderator of this event with Forest Whitaker and Magdalena Nandege as the panelists.
A short film was screened, illustrating the work WPDI has done in South Sudan to empower youth with peacebuilding and conflict management skills, to help build a peaceful network of young leaders who have the ability to strengthen their communities. “Youth are trained to be leaders. We help them see the problems and be able to act on them. Trauma work is a key focus to deal with the conflicts they are facing,” explained Forest Whitaker.
A powerful discussion was undertaken, emphasizing the need to focus our attention to preventing the violence of exclusion, by empowering youth living in conflict. The factors of exclusion will push or pull individuals to engage or reject their community, and as a result the international community must seek to design and implement approaches that are inclusive and locally-owned.
Investing on our collective future
WPDI and Interpeace recognize the growing evidence base that shows that the empowerment of young people is the key factor to peace in many of the most fragile and conflict-affected settings in the world today. As a result, we encourage a transformative change to the way we engage young people in peace and development. This is particularly critical across Sub-Saharan Africa where 71% of the population is under the age of 29.
Interpeace was privileged to stand besides WPDI Founder, Forest Whitaker and peacebuilder Magdalena Nandgege, promoting a collective shift in the way we perceive young people and invest in them and their agency to build long-term sustainable peace.
Watch the full event held at FIFDH on March 9, 2019 –