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Sri Lanka’s Youth Plan for Sustainable Development

The Rio+20 Summit is in full swing and the Sri Lankan arm has taken its first initiative, in which a statement has been presented to the Minister of Environment. Post-war Sri Lanka certainly is in need of a system of sustainable development and at this stage the country has a fresh start in which adopting such a system is relatively trouble free; or so it should be.

The statement that encapsulates several vital areas in sustainable development was drafted by over 30 youth-led and youth-focus local organizations that are involved in environmental conservation, management, climate change, sustainable development and advocacy for environmental issues. Bringing these organizations together and orchestrating Sri Lanka’s participation in the Rio Summit, is the Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka (YGSL) that was established earlier this year (March 2012). The statement is a position paper on which future projects will be based. The paper was presented to the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry had arranged for the involvement of youth groups in the process. Nashen Gunesekera, the drafting committee chair, says it shows the enthusiasm of the government as other governments had not involved environmental conscious volunteer groups, apart from the ministry’s own.

Attaining sustainable development

A large team of local environmentally conscious youths has formulated a multipronged action plan, addressing several key areas that are intrinsic in the development of a nation. Top of the list and under the umbrella of youth policy positions, the statement mentions society’s role in sustainable development. The activists believe that equality is essential, they explained “our aspiration is equality for all, and not the luxury of the 20 per cent of the world’s people who enjoy the exploitation of 80 per cent of its resources.”

Well-being and happiness as well as right mindfulness were also highlighted as the cornerstone to sustainable development. Society being at the heart of development, even with an extraordinary physical plan, it cannot fruition sans the right mindset of the people.

The economy is another key area that needs to be addressed, and therefore, the team included environmental sustainability and poverty reduction, and a Green Economy in the statement. YGSL explains, “A Green Economy should replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed. A Green Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and respecting and preserving the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

A green economy manages consumption and production in an environmentally conscious manner. The document indicated, Agenda 21 (Chapter 4.3), which is an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992) states that; “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.” According to the team enabling the SCP should be the focus of any emerging international outcome. SCP is a systemic process of lifestyle and livelihood behaviours that ensures the wellbeing of all people in an equitable manner while conserving the ecology for current and future generations.

Political solutions are on the cards as well as sustainable development governance, which they said, “We understand Sustainable Development Governance should necessarily create platforms at every level for the voice of youth to be heard and to be considered within the decision making processes, for it is on the shoulders of youth the responsibility rests.”

On that note they believe it is necessary to establish an office for the ombudsperson — high commission for future generations. “We the youth representatives of Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka understand that there is a lacuna in current decision making processes and institutions of the world, especially as all of them fail to consider the long term effects of decisions made today. The proposal stated at paragraph 57 of the Zero Outcome document calling for the establishment of an Ombudsperson/High Commissioner for Future Generations is thus an opportunity to meet this short coming and by establishing such an office, we believe that both the aspirations of youth and future generations will be protected.”

How Sustainable Development Can be Achieved

The team also presented a set of recommendation that can be adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the governments in the international arena. They laid emphasis on the inclusion of the youth at all levels of decision making so the future can be shaped to suit the next generation better. The team expressed, “We wish to state by participation, youth are empowered and are given the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential hence enabling them to harness their skills required to move the world toward the paradigm shift which is necessary to achieve economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”

Employment for the youth is also mandatory for a better greener future, according to the local Rio+20 Summit members. “At present there is a lack of green job initiatives and access to green skills training programmes for young people. We believe bridging the skills gap among young people through improved education and training will be a key to achieving environmental objectives and a transition to a green economy.”

Education and training  —  skills development opportunities, the opportunity for youth to volunteer to achieve sustainable development.

The President will present the paper as part of the country report at the summit. Neshan Gunesekara said, “The international community will analyze, scrutinize and criticize the paper. The point of presenting the paper at an international forum is so that other countries can take stock of what Sri Lanka has achieved over the years and adopt some of these strategies that will help them.

He added that, he personally believes that the youth of Sri Lanka is very environmentally conscious, and they have shown an initiative but what they lack, is the support of the government and other authorities, in implementing plans and taking their concerns into consideration.

Well, that’s good news for BB too. Having particular goals will help us channel our efforts in these areas and those connected to contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. It should also make devising project plans easier. So three cheers to our Rio paper!

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.


On Independence

Talking to the YaTV  Sri Lanka-Today programme, BB-ites Dinidu De Alwis and Sachith Vidanapathirana offer their perspectives on the independence day.

The Talk touches on issues such as democracy, economic freedom and individual liberty, development and a whole host of other things. The relevant clips are included below. The full program is available on youtube (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Principles of meaningful youth participation

We were most Impressed with the set of (draft) guidelines put together by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program on the “Principles of Meaningful Youth Participation”. Working in the sphere of youth-led development both in Sri Lanka and internationally, we have encountered two basic views among young people in their understanding of youth participation in decision and policy-making. Some see this as a collective bargaining tool for special privileges while others see it being a critical part of consultative decision making, leading to a better overall outcome for everyone.

Most at Beyond Borders fall into the later category. At the end of the day, youth participation in policy making isn’t about cheap bus fares, it’s about making better policies or initiatives which actually ‘work’.

We say, if you are designing a policy or a program for women, include women in that process. If you are designing a policy or a program for fisherman, then include fisherman. Likewise if you are taking a decision which affects young people, include youth in that process. It’s not necessarily because young people have a ‘right’ to be included in this, but if for nothing else, it would make your policy or program better. Who else would know better about the situation than people who’s actually living it?

On this, the compilation from the CLPP would be a great asset for anyone working on youth related issues. The following is an excerpt from the official document which can be downloaded here. This is a work in progress, The CLPP invites young people working on these issues to contribute to make these principles more representative.

  1. Meaningful youth participation is essential to ensure that programmes, policies and services sufficiently address the needs of young people

Effective programming must reflect the needs of young people and can only do so through full participation of young people at all levels of program development. Thus, young people must be fully and meaningfully involved at all levels in the planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes, policies and services related to youth issues and aimed at youth. Including young people in meaningful, substantive, decision-making roles in policy development will result in more effective programs, policies and services.

  1. Young people have a valuable contribution to make to society and must be given opportunities for their voices to be heard, recognized, respected and integrated in all policy and decision-making processes

Young people are in the best position to identify, assess and articulate their needs and realities. As such, it is important that young people occupy an equitable seat at decision-making tables to represent their perspectives. In addition, youth voices should be included beyond their capacity for identifying and talking about youth-specific needs, since youth perspectives bring important value to such discussions. It is important for young people’s perspectives to receive equal consideration as those of others.

  1. A commitment to training and building capacities of young people is essential for effective youth participation

Young people generally have less experience in decision-making processes, especially in higher-level decision-making venues. Therefore, it is vital for young people to have access to training and capacity-building opportunities to develop the necessary skills and knowledge for effective participation in decision-making processes. Support from older allies is a key element for these capacity building opportunities.

Youth leadership development programs can be an effective and more beneficial way of creating capacity building opportunities for young people. Such types of programs emphasize developing leadership amongst young people rather than focusing on already accomplished young leaders. This not only provides capacity building opportunities for more young people but also gives space for their participation to be less tokenistic and representative.

  1. Tokenism and consultation are insufficient forms of youth participation.

Inviting young people to observe decision-making processes without conferring equitable decision-making authority is not meaningful youth participation. Tokenism (when young people appear to be given a voice, but have little choice about how they participate and limited or no influence in decision-making) is actually detrimental to meaningful youth participation, as it does not treat young people as equal actors in decision-making processes. Consultation is useful in some contexts, but is not a true form of meaningful youth participation, because young people are only able to advise or consult without influence over the final decision-making process.

Tokenistic participation of young people also creates representation issues, as “youth” becomes a singular identity. For example, inviting one young person to represent all young people does not reflect the diversity that exists amongst youth. Effective youth participation requires recognition on all parts that young people have intersectional identities and possess a range of experience and expertise. These aspects should be integrated in the discourse around effective youth participation and steps must be taken to encourage young people to participate in decision-making not only about youth-specific issues, but also other broader issues.

  1. Youth-led initiatives should be supported

Youth-led initiatives are the most effective at conveying genuine youth perspectives. As such, they should be supported, encouraged and integrated into broader decision-making processes. Strategies should be developed and implemented to strengthen partnerships between youth-led initiatives and youth-focused.

  1. Decision-making processes must be planned with due consideration to young people’s realities

Young people’s realities present certain specific limitation and conditions that might hinder their participation in decision-making processes. For example:

    • Young people often have fewer financial means, which places limitations on their capacity to pay for travel arrangements, materials, equipment, etc.
    • Young people in school have schedules that differ from most full-time employees. To facilitate meaningful youth participation, it is important to organize meetings and events that respect students’ school schedules.
    • Young people sometimes require parental/guardian consent either legally or culturally to participate in initiatives or events. Decision-making bodies should keep this in mind when making arrangements for youth participation
    • For local travel, young people often do not have personal vehicles. Decision-making bodies should therefore schedule meetings in locations that are easily accessible by public transportation or should make travel arrangements for young people
    • For international travel, young people may have a harder time acquiring travel documents, such as passports and visas. Thus, they may require additional support when making logistical and travel arrangements
    • Thus, resources should be made available for youth participation from funders, government and larger civil society organizations
  1. Meaningful youth participation requires a serious commitment by all actors in a decision-making body.

In order to meaningfully integrate young people into decision-making processes in a sustainable manner, decision-making bodies must examine the organizational structure in which they work so as to reduce or eliminate the barriers to meaningful youth participation. This will often require certain changes to the structure or working methods of the decision-making body. All actors must commit to adopting the necessary changes in order to facilitate youth participation.

You may contribute to the document by filling this feedback form and emailing it to lmb04[at]

Copenhagen Consensus : Live web Cast

A live webcast of the presentations delivered to the youth forum of the Copenhagen Consensus, a process which aims to prioritize solutions to the world’s biggest problems is now available on the event website.

The remaining sessions for 27th and 28th of May will focus on issues like diseases, water and sanitations, global warming, subsidies & trade barriers, among others.

The webcast and archived videos (to be made available soon) can be viewed here starting at 1.30 pm LK Time (GMT +5.30). previously, this blog featured a post which discussed global development priorities based on the Copenhagen Consensus.

A New paradigm on global development – Think solutions, not problems

One of the most controversial videos at Unreel, the documentary festival organized by us a few weeks back, was this one, a A Ted Talk by Bjron Lomborg in which he talks about prioritizing global development issues based on his experience with the Copenhagen Consensus.

I’m not going to comment much on the video (I highly recommend you see it) except to summarize it’s main points, which are:

  • There are lot of problems in the world – commutable diseases, AIDS, malaria, climate change – it would be great if we can solve all those problems. But we don’t.
  • contrary to the norm of many development forums, there should be a focus on solutions to problems, rather than problems themselves. Because at the end of the day it’s solutions that matter no matter how grave the problem is.

This is essentially what Copenhagen consensus does. By assessing potential costs and benefits of proposed solutions to global development issues it is able to prioritize a list of solutions their expert which solutions to be tackled first. The process is lead by 50 international economists including 5 Nobel laureates.

The video gets a lot of people worked up. Partly (no, let me say mostly) because their pet issue doesn’t make the top of the list. The 2004 version of the Copenhagen consensus – the 2008 round is now under way – rates, for example, solutions to climate change at the bottom of the list as the worst possible projects one can do.

This obviously upsets a whole lot of “activists” dedicated to the cause of climate change.  But short from sentimental reactions (militant environmentalists like to think of Lomborg as a heretic) I can’t think of any reason why anyone would disagree with the basic idea of the Copenhagen consensus.

Sure, you can, possibly, disagree with the way in which the list is made, but at the end of the day you have to concede that if you spend more money on some issues, you spend less on some others. One would think then, that everybody would be happy with a scientific method of coming up with a prioritized list. But disappointingly this is not the case.

I don’t expect activists or NGOs to prioritize issues or celebrate the Copenhagen consensus. That’s asking for too much. At the end of the day you have to admit that NGOs, activists and other development organizations on the ground are driven by their  own convictions about the world rather than a careful analysis of global development issues. I don’t expect this to change, nor do I think there is anything particularly wrong with this or whether changing that is even possible or necessary.

I can confirm that, as a voluntary youth organization working on development issues, Beyond Borders doesn’t do a pseudo-Copenhagen consensuses either (although we vaguely tried when we started out, I recall). It would be next to impossible for someone to volunteer for something they don’t believe in.

But the point is, someone has to do the prioritization. That responsibility must lie with funding organizations who are in a position to guide which “causes” gets funding and which doesn’t. You might think that’s kind of cruel for people dedicated to a cause which is not on the priority list, but that’s kind of how it happens anyway, except the prioritization is neither transparent nor by the looks of things — scientific.

Initiatives like the Copenhagen consensus are a welcome development, it would among other things, at least prove as a wake up call for people (particularly young people) mislead by media hype generated by certain issues. How else can one explain for example, this list of most popular “causes” on Facebook.

— Deane

Deane is a Core Group Member from Beyond Borders Sri Lanka, the opinions expressed are his own and not of Beyond Borders or it’s partners. Deane maintains a blog where he often writes about issues related to (mostly) economics and politics.

The Godaya Initiative

BB-ite and the author of the ST Mirror’s Godaya Column, Dinidu,  has started a (somewhat) novel concept aimed at helping the poor – Peer2Peer charity.

Dinidu has this his to say about what he calls The Godaya Initiative on his site :

The Godaya Initiative is a result of one of my travels to Hambantota which resulted in an article and a post. It promotes direct person-to-person support for families that are living in extreme poverty, or people who are disadvantaged due to different reasons. Since this is not done through an organization or an institution, financial support is not encouraged.

How can you help?

  • Sponsoring a child
    • Educational support (School stuff, books, uniforms etc.)
    • Nourishment (Milk powder, supplementary vitamins etc.)
  • Healthcare
    • Purchasing medical supplies
    • Providing assistive devices (Hearing aids, spectacles, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs etc.
  • In addition, you can provide books for schools and libraries, schools with computers you’re disposing of, or by any other means you think you can help. If you have something to give, I will find you someone who needs it.

Beyond Borders usually doesn’t engage in direct charity, so we are not involved with this one either. However, we see the value behind things like this and we can vouch for Dinidu’s honesty and integrity. We assure you he has no conceivable use for “School Stuff, Books or uniforms” besides giving them away to intended recipients.

Do get in touch with him if you are interested in helping out, you can also see the dedicated page of The Godaya Initiative on his website.

Casual Googling reveals more P2P do-good initiatives such as this one.

Being the change

The sunday Times in an article about our open forum on Climate Change :

Forums are possibly one of the most effective mediums to discuss telling issues. And the one held on the July 21, at the British Council, could simply be described as argumentatively informative. With “How importantly should Global Warming figure in development agendas of developing countries” being the title of the forum, the focus was primarily on Sri Lanka.

The event started off with an introduction by Gill Westaway, the Director of British Council, Sri Lanka. She touched on British Council’s ongoing effort to raise awareness among the public about the risks posed by climate change. She mentioned that although Sri Lanka, as a country, has many issues to be dealt with, the country is not exempt from the issue of climate change, while emphasising the need for action, initiated especially by young people….

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