A recent Advocacy Accelerator webinar discussing innovative youth advocacy approaches highlighted a few illustrations of how youth work in their various advocacy engagements. The Uganda women’s march for instance, which was widely covered in regional, national and international news, used social media to publicise and recruit supporters and protesters alike to put pressure on the state to ensure women’s safety and to ensure justice for those women who have lost their lives. The social media mobilisation campaign did more than garner support, it provided updates on the several cases of women being kidnapped, provided analysis of the issues at hand one tweet at a time, and documented its own process of organizing the protesting online. Ishtar Likhani, one of the webinar’s panelists spoke about starting a cafe bookstore which was motivated by a desire to create a social space for young people working in different areas of advocacy to meet and commune. Beyond these approaches, how do we think about innovative approaches in youth advocacy? Are we limited to “methods” to the extent that it forms our primary focus when discussing the subject at the expense of thinking through innovative approaches holistically? On what are these methods founded? What sustains our commitment, where we have it, to these innovative approaches such that it is not merely a trendy development in advocacy that we find ourselves participating in?

When we have career fairs or career days in schools, whether university, primary or secondary, are there human rights advocates present to speak to students? Do we have people who advocate for any issue, present to speak to students about careers in advocacy? I had never thought about this until I met Dumiso Gatsha who runs Success Capital, a grassroots NGO in Botswana whose work focuses on sharing knowledge and skills with young people on human rights. Dumiso and his team, among other projects,  proposed an app to provide access to services for communities of LGBTIQ+ people and sex workers in Botswana as part of the ‘Out with it Project’ by Mpact.  Apps, mixed media and other technologies are often an expected and commendable aspect of youth advocacy, but it is the ideas that youth have and bring to advocacy, their perspectives on different issues in their work which influences their approaches to advocacy that should most importantly be explored, highlighted and documented.

Youth being among the marginalised in society affords them perspectives in advocacy of those on the outside looking in, which combines with the perspectives on issues affecting them from their own experiences of the exclusion and challenges they face. They’re rightly passionate about the issues that concern them as well as those problems left behind by the generations before them, yet their passion is mischaracterised oftentimes as a failing, as pointed out by Vania Kibui, one of the webinar panelists. The passion expressed by young activists fuels advocacy and brings soul to the work involving challenging hegemonic power and the destruction it causes. Anger, one of the expressions of this passion is frowned upon within institutionalized activism and more generally in various professional sectors unless expressed in accepted ways such as peaceful protests. But young people are angry yet forced to repress their anger which then lies within them undetonated. Youth perceptions and experience of the societies in which they live, one in which unemployment is the order of the day and moralising which are used as a tools to silence the youth, both informs and explains the passionate disposition seen in many young people. The passion in youth should not be dismissed or silenced but understood and harnessed into a powerful tool for advocacy. If harnessing anger for advocacy is achieved, then injecting and accepting passion, specifically harnessing anger, could also be seen an innovative approach to youth advocacy.

“These days if you’re not being innovative”, chances are you are not “getting funded”.[1]

While the above quote seems tongue in cheek, it points out the trendiness of ‘innovation’, but there is also a serious interpretation of this statement even if it’s not all true (projects are still getting funded even without being innovative): innovative approaches to advocacy need to be resourced and given a chance both by those providing resources for advocacy and those doing advocacy work. That said, it is important to note that youth is not synonymous with innovation, and while innovation is necessary where other approaches have not worked, or have not worked as well as expected, it would be insufficient and inaccurate to only associate youth with innovation in the superficial sense, both in advocacy and in other industries and sectors. What this does is perpetuates youth exclusion in decision making in some ways, for instance overlooking young people’s capability to contribute to advocacy in ways that are not immediately seen as ‘innovative’. So while we advocate for youth inclusion in decision making and encourage youth to take up advocacy in issues of concern, we need to be careful not to tokenise this ‘innovation’.

In the process of reflecting on the webinar discussion on innovative approaches used in youth advocacy, it was extremely difficult to find documentation, research, analysis or reports about innovation in youth advocacy specifically. This raises an important question, are we really interested and invested in innovative approaches used by youth advocates? Where is the proof of this interest and investment? Success stories and fail fairs are important in any case because it lets others know what has been tried, what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Avaaz, a five year old global online activist network known for their petitions platform,  does this incredibly well on the ‘Avaaz Victories’ tab on their website. They have documented over 100 victories that have been achieved where their platform was involved in one way or the other. We urgently need more accessibly and readily available documentation of youth advocacy generally and we need to document the innovative approaches in advocacy used by youth. The advocacy accelerator is contributing to this important work through their platform which shares several youth advocacy related resources, however, more needs to be done both in documenting youth advocacy and in ensuring the documentation does not only live on a resource page or in email inboxes.

[1] From “#8 Playing the ‘innovation’ card” on the blog Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like.