Policy Engagement: The Place of the Youth

“Our greatest foreign policy weakness is our divisions at home. Our greatest foreign policy need is national cohesion and a return to the awareness that in foreign policy we are all engaged in a common national endeavor.” – Henry A Kissinger

It’s been a fruitful week getting to engage on different forums sharing perspectives from my end, launching of our YouTH Voices Network and most importantly being able to participate in two important professional youth networks which I am super delighted to be part of i.e. HYPER| Healthcare: Youth Perspectives. EmpoweRed and Young Pharmacists Group (YPG) under the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya. In these important and critical groups some of the most outstanding aspects have been the common desire and interest of young people to play an active role in shaping how national programs are run which are anchored on the prevailing policies. For this matter, in both there was a common commitment to contribute to policies and to actively get engaged. Being a young person myself, I feel the need to get engaged in policies to set course and to bulletproof our common futures and that of future generations. This is one thing we must have at heart starting off and I am confident we are able to do that if we equip ourselves with the skills, have our hearts in the right place and commit to do the right thing not what’s convenient today.

Early this year, I mentioned an interaction I had with my boss and mentor around the “youth advantage” which can be summarized as idealism, inexperience of failure and lack of baggage in the form of responsibilities & commitments to attend to. With this it therefore makes it easy for the youth to make substantial contribution to national agendas when and where enabled to do so. Being at the center stage of all this action with my colleagues I am confident there’s great progress being made and I’m glad that corporations are taking it up to allow young people to take action on what matters to them as witnessed with HYPER. We all have an envisioned ideal future and what counts is how we bridge the gap between where we currently are with the challenges we are experiencing and facilitate the transition to that future. To make this happen there are critical pieces that need to be looked into and these are;

  • Understanding of policy processes and skills acquisition to understand the implication of existing policies, policy development processes and the spaces available for engagement. There is no way that we are going to influence policies from a point of ignorance. It has never happened and in case it ever does the only outcome will be spectacular failure because it wont give a sustainable solution. We need the knowledge to act and therefore let’s read up and master the skills. With the toolbox in place the next phase will be application.
  • The envisioned ideal future to work towards which and why it matters to get to it. In 2019, I had a conversation with a senior visiting professor who during our last meeting before she could travel back home made it clear to me. In her words, “the world isn’t a forgiving or a kind place but with your heart in the right place you can weather the storms.” Having your heart in the right place is the same as standing for what’s right not convenient. Pursue what you believe have value for the entire ecosystem rather than yourself and your kind. There’s more to life than you, your people and your interest. Stay open, pursue the greater good and use that good to create value for yourself and those around you. It’s more beneficial than corrupting systems to your favor.
  • Alliances are critical and that’s why humans have the power of communication which has enabled us to cooperate in large numbers to drive meaningful contribution in our communities. The critical piece here is knowing who is an ally, what value they stand to add to your policy agenda and how to engage them to ensure they are aligned on your policy agenda. Having people who can articulate the implications of a policy direction in the immediate environment, system-wide ripple effects and the long-term time-based metrics of that policy. These helps in building a case and having trusted, credible people on your end is as important because they have the authority and benefit of trust to leverage their social, moral, capital & professional capital in shaping policies.
  • Take action. Be involved in policy development processes, articulate your points with authority and diligently to convince those involved covering the different probable areas that are bound to be affected. If you can do that, you are half way there. The other half is letting others help you carry the weight and encouraging them along the journey while also empowering others to support in bearing the weight. Policy development isn’t about the document coming to place but having it in action. Policies are living documents and when not applied they are dead which is a challenge with most policy documents which are literally dead as nobody knows about them, nobody practices alongside their guidance and most unfortunately, nobody works to enforce them. If we can empower and enable more people to adopt some of these policies, regulations and best practices into day to day operations, we breath life into the policies which helps them shape our ecosystem. The ultimate desire we’ve had all along.

We have a chance to make a difference in our communities but only if we act right. I hope we will do so. Let’s unite and work as a unit knowing that what’s good for our common future is good for everyone. There’s no need for antagonism if we really understand the value of what we intend to realize in our aspirations.

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