THE BLOG
19/06/2015 17:33 BST | Updated 19/06/2016 06:59 BST

Young People Aren't the 'Leaders of Tomorrow': They're More Than That

At Plan, we've supported young people who have intervened to stop child marriages in Bangladesh, youth activists who have helped raise the legal age of marriage in Malawi, and in Pakistan, young campaigners successfully making sure that their provincial governments deliver on a promise of free and compulsory education.

When trying to solve a problem of public concern, a good place to start is to talk to the experts - the people who are in the know. So when developing a new policy on childcare, you'd talk to parents. New health directive? Talk to the doctors and nurses who are on the frontline.

What if the experts on a particular topic happen to be young people - children, in fact? This is a group whose knowledge and experience has typically been undervalued and underused. It should (but often doesn't) go without saying that children and young people are the experts in what is happening in their lives; logically, tackling the challenges and problems they face should be done in open and constructive partnership with them.

While this hasn't always been the case, it's changing. Thursday evening saw the launch of an international partnership to help end female genital mutilation and child marriage, two hugely damaging traditional practices which, thankfully, have been moving up the global agenda in recent years. There are lots of organisations and initiatives working on these issues - but this one has a difference. #YouthForChange is being planned, designed, delivered and led by young people.

We're often told that 'young people are the leaders of tomorrow', but it's a bit of a tired platitude. What's so often forgotten is that young people can also be the change makers of today. With their inherent knowledge of the problems they face, their innovative thinking and their natural understanding of the possibilities opened up by new technology, young people bring something to the table that adults simply cannot.

And while, in the world of international development at least, young people are often consulted on projects, it's all too rare to see them actually drive a project from its beginning. Yet, as I know in my work as CEO of Plan UK, if you give young people the chance, the results are consistently impressive.

At Plan, we've supported young people who have intervened to stop child marriages in Bangladesh, youth activists who have helped raise the legal age of marriage in Malawi, and in Pakistan, young campaigners successfully making sure that their provincial governments deliver on a promise of free and compulsory education.

On the international stage, we're making sure that young people are heard in the design, implementation and monitoring of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will guide the world's development work for the next fifteen years. These are transformative projects that we know are working; globally, our commitment to youth participation projects like these currently totals £50 million.

Here in the UK, too, our Youth Advisory Panel help us design our strategy and regularly assess the effectiveness of our work - including telling us when we're getting it wrong.

#YouthForChange, which is funded by the UK's Department for International Development, will build on this sort of work and encourage international collaboration and co-operation between young people in the UK, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Young people in each country will be joining together to tell their government what they think needs to be done to reduce - and eventually stop - FGM and child marriage. They'll share their experience, successes and challenges, making sure that we have a strong youth voice in the ongoing global movement to end these practices.

And strong youth voices were certainly heard at the launch. "In the battle to end FGM and child marriage," we were told, "it's impatience that's the virtue." To see teenagers so inspired - and inspiring - at such a young age blows out of the water the notion that young people are all apathy and nonchalance. The passion, knowledge and determination made for an occasion fizzing with energy and promise.

In terms of promise, 2015 is a big year in our ongoing global mission to end poverty, promote equality and secure justice for the world's poorest people. There are opportunities that we cannot and must not miss. One of them is this: that we make sure the voices of children and young people are not just heard, but listened to and acted upon. #YouthForChange will be making sure that happens, and as adults, we're delighted to be part of it.