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Empowering Youth to be Catalysts for Peace | Janith Perera

The contemporary global landscape is plagued by the existence of destructive conflicts and wars across diverse regions. Adding to the conundrum concerning world order and security, the ecological crisis and cyberterrorism exert profound destructive effects on societies worldwide. The impact is ardently felt causing severe disruptions in all sectors in most societies, which remain partially recovering from the pandemic's turbulence. Thus, the absence of peace, justice and liberty remains a pressing concern.

As the torchbearers of tomorrow and innovators of the present, youth possess an unparalleled energy, creativity, and idealism that can catalyse positive change and build bridges across divides. Especially in conflict-trodden and post-conflict societies, youth could play a pivotal role reconciling harmonious relationships amongst formerly disputing parties, resisting injustice and unjust socio-political systems, and advocating for meaningful change and progress.

The stereotype of youth as victims and perpetrators of violence has existed for quite a long time, that they were not taken seriously nor were encouraged to involve in peacebuilding initiatives. However, this stereotype has been recently challenged both conceptually and pragmatically, as evidenced by resolutions passed within the United Nations Security Council as well as advocacy and activism endeavors of youth-led and youth-centric movements at community, national, regional and international levels. This article delves into the multifaceted role youth can play in building peace and contributing towards sustainable development.

The current world is characterised by a ‘youth bulge’ or, in simple words, more young people constituting population and demographics in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This could be considered a double dividend, which one must cautiously explore. The presence of youth who may catalyst unrest felt in a turbulent world could internalise violence prompting violence and threats to security. Conversly, the same youth unrest, if expressed and harnessed with responsibility, innovation and a quest for meaningful change, can result in playing a pivotal role in building peace and contributing to sustainable development. This brings into focus how can we empower youth to be catalysts for peace, and perhaps prevent them from mobilizing unrest towards destructive ends.  

As discussed earlier, the presence of sheer numbers of youth alone points out their power if they share solidarity and attempt to meaningfully change the direction of the world order. Youth are in many societies are unsatisfied with hereditary and conventional ways, feeling repressed by political elites who have not led the societies towards progress but instead reversed the journey towards sustainable development and plagued the socio-political contexts with poverty, unemployment, debt and political instability. It takes the morale and determination of a few youth to initiate reform and revolution against corrupt and irresponsible political systems and regimes. Through solidarity and unity, youth can be at the forefront of advocating for meaningful change and challenging old ways, leading to a new social order, and perhaps a world order.

The fresh perspectives and innovative approaches youth bring to conflict resolution and peacebuilding posit a unique strength. As modern problems require modern solutions, the innovative thinking of youth is of contemporary significance, especially when seeking solutions to novel threats to security such as cyber-security. Furthermore, unresolved old problems illustrate the failure of old ways to address age-old problems.

Youth innovation can play a pivotal role in finding solutions to these age-old problems, perhaps with a risk and in an experimental approach, but potentially in line with advancements of science of technology and digital infrastructure that were not available in the preceding eras. A rise of youth advocating for policy changes and equitable socio-political structures and systems can be currently seen in different parts of the world. Meaningful actualisation of their advocacy has potential to bring forth change, perhaps fostering revolutionary changes, enabling giant leaps for mankind.

In addition to advocacy initiatives, youth can play a pivotal role in activism for peace and development. While the intellectual input of youth can foster change, there is more solidified proof of their potential in the activism that youth engage in. Youth in multiple contexts have organised grassroots and community-based projects combining multiple approaches including mobilisations for change and action, dialogic efforts and arts-based methods.

Harnessing technology, arts and entrepreneurship, youth demonstrate their potential to provide solutions to societal challenges. Through their efforts, they actively change the narrative of peacebuilding and development, reminding us that even the smallest acts of solidarity can make a big difference.

As elucidated afore, youth has progressed to the limelight as able change makers, yet they still remain largely at the risk of radicalisation and expressing their unrest in destructive ways. Therefore, international peacebuilders and political actors must ensure that the youth generation is empowered and address the formidable barriers youth face in their quest to be heard and to make a difference.

He argues that for youth to be catalysts of change, they should be endowed with quality educational opportunities, community experiences from a younger age, moral and ethical values, and opportunities to boost their self-esteem and self-confidence. Access to quality education that transfers knowledge, skills and experiences as well as cultivates values and morals is very important to foster youth to be catalysts of change.

In addition to formal education, youth should be supported with non-formal education experiences, especially through involving youth in community experiences from a young age and through inter-generational dialogues and projects where youth learn from the generations before them and simultaneously prove what they are capable of and share their innovative thinking. Volunteering is a good starting opportunity for youth to gain community experience and to develop their capabilities to be change agents.

Furthermore, training and coaching is of paramount importance for youth to boost their self-esteem and self-confidence, especially to bring innovation forth and to act with resilience despite barriers and obstacles they might face in their journey of making a difference.

In conclusion, the role of youth in building peace is indispensable in today's complex and interconnected world. As catalysts for change, they possess the passion, creativity, and resilience to transform conflicts into opportunities for dialogue, reconciliation, and cooperation. By ensuring opportunities for youth to thrive socially and emotionally, and through providing community experiences, we can unlock their full potential as architects of peace and architects of a better world for generations to come. It is imperative that we recognise and harness the transformative power of youth in shaping a more just, inclusive, and peaceful future for all.

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