Young citizens are at the forefront of change

Throughout the world, it is often youth who are driving democratic reform, economic growth, and social change in their communities and countries. Using a combination of traditional civic tools such as protests and campaigns and more innovative approaches like social media memes, passionate youth are activating their networks to tackle climate change, foster equity in education and health systems, and create new employment opportunities. Through this, they are harnessing their energy to promote a new set of norms and policies to include more diverse voices and populations.

While social media has allowed more inclusive mobilization by reaching youth from farther areas, many movements are still concentrated in capital cities. Youth in more remote areas are often excluded from national campaigns, funded trainings and activities, and other government services. They lack access to the essential information and tools, cannot afford expensive travel, and are unable to leave home responsibilities for the extended time it takes to reach the capital.

This discrepancy in access to programs can be seen in Mongolia. In April, hundreds of youth gathered outside the government palace in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, to protest high levels of inflation, political corruption, inefficient government spending, food shortages, and unemployment. Protests heavily relied on youth already in the capital, while a large number of youth outside the capital were unable to participate due to the prohibitive amount of time and cost to reach Ulaanbaatar from their respective aimags.

Group in Dundgovi, Mongolia, present their concept poster on creating an easy e-commerce platform for local small businesses.

World Learning began tackling this challenge in 2016 through its Leaders Advancing Democracy-Mongolia Program (LEAD). Participants worked with communities to design and implement projects that addressed key areas in need of support and change, such as the environment, poverty, and anti-corruption. These projects benefitted more than 9,000 people directly, and more than 4 million people indirectly. According to an external evaluation, the program “contributed to greater social inclusion of traditionally excluded communities,” and also “encouraged those communities to make their voices heard in decision-making.”

Following the success of LEAD, alumni called for more localized, shorter trainings while maintaining a focus on socially excluded communities. This led to the creation of the “Ideas into Action” design sprints.

This citizen-centered model provides a streamlined framework through which youth analyze local issues, devise potential solutions, and then bring these solutions to action all during fast, two-day workshops. In the process, youth use human-centered design principles to rapidly learn local decision-making processes, identify key networks, and complete the project cycle. Ultimately, the goal is to give participants the tools and platform to freely learn and create their own innovative, implementable solutions.

In Mongolia, LEAD alumni throughout the country were trained as facilitators and oversaw the sprint methodology in their communities. The combination of the streamlined structure of the sprints, with the guidance from local facilitators, allowed World Learning to reach youth in even the most rural and often excluded aimags, such as Bayan Ulgii, Mongolia’s only Muslim- and Kazakh-majority aimag.

Over time, it became clear that many of these complex and multifaceted challenges could not be solved through a two-day workshop. The program goals therefore shifted from being results-based to process-focused. As a result, the design sprints provided a much-needed opportunity for youth to explore issues in-depth, learn new perspectives, and discover how to collectively mobilize citizens, government networks, and private-sector resources to create positive change.

Mongolian youth in Orkhon brainstorming, clustering, and prioritizing local challenges.

Feedback from participants in the design sprints showed this was the first time many had full control — and the critical skills needed — to solve problems in their local communities. The mix of participants from public and private sectors helped groups see issues from different angles and perspectives. The flexible nature of the sprints also allowed participants to think critically about issues important to them and have autonomy over how to solve them.

“I learned that when we dig deep into the root causes of the issue, it is easier to understand the issue thoroughly and find its solution,” one participant said.

World Learning’s “Ideas into Action” design sprints are one piece of World Learning’s Technical Approaches — Civic Engagement and Advocacy. This work ensures that youth from all areas of the country learn effective tools for activism and support their efforts to create sustainable change in their own lives and communities.

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World Learning empowers people, communities, and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.