What do the Filipino youth want from their leaders?

(Blog contribution to the World Bank. Click to access original site: World Bank EAP Blogs)

Scroll through social media in the Philippines, and you’ll get the feel of how young people have transformed digital spaces into a microcosm of what the Philippines should or should not be. If only their ideas and fervor in cyberspace could be translated to engaged participation on the ground, the light at the end of the tunnel would be brighter.

“So what now after the May 2016 elections?”

We asked this question at an event for the Knowledge for Development Community (KDC) network a few months before the May 9 national and local elections. The KDC was formed by the World Bank office in Manila in 2002 to promote knowledge sharing of development issues. It’s a network composed of 19 universities, non-government organizations and think tanks across the country. We turned to the largest segment in our network – students – and asked: “What do you want from your next leaders?”

Spearheaded by Silliman University based in the Visayas in Central Philippines, the KDC organized youth discussions in three cities in each of the major island groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. St. Paul University Philippines handled the discussions in Tuguegarao in Luzon, Silliman University for Dumaguete, and the Western Mindanao State University for Zamboanga based in Mindanao. The project involved 30 youth representatives in each city: 15 in-school and 15 out-of-school. Its composition was not just sensitive to, but also affirmed, the equal value of the out-of-school youth in development processes.

Participants and facilitators during the youth discussion session at Silliman University

We clustered questions into four major themes: education, employment, environment, and engagement. They were asked about their personal views and their hopes for the country; the extent to which government is a partner and considers them one; why problems that cripple the country remain pervasive; and how to break barriers that breed cynicism and apathy among young people.

Their responses ushered in a grounded perspective of their sense of the country’s development. They revealed issues and concerns that are (alarmingly) nothing new. They offered practical solutions that are sensitive to regional nuances and responsive to social narratives that strike a chord with each of us.

On education: They recognize government support but lament poor access to quality education due to lack of good roads and bridges. They also noted the continuing threat to peace and security, and teachers struggling with low morale due to pay issues and outdated and inadequate learning facilities. Those from remote rural communities would rather stay home, because while the cost of tuition is waived, they still have to worry about where to get the money for transportation and food, forcing them to drop out of school. Thus, they propose for the government to work with schools to create programs where they are able to earn money and study at the same time.

On employment: Young Filipinos are talented and ingenious yet there’s little support for them to become entrepreneurs. They recommend increased access to micro-financing opportunities or credit to enable young people to start their own businesses and eventually generate jobs. Developing a regional career guidance mechanism was also brought forward, to promote courses that are more relevant to the needs of their localities, instead of those that zero in on high-income jobs in big cities and abroad.

On environment: Common to the participants is the need to promote tree-planting and coastal clean-up activities, but they bring to light the failure to monitor progress, sustain and scale up these efforts. It doesn’t help that local governments have also failed to enforce environmentally sound ordinances in favor of so-called “economic” interests. So the youth suggests the development of a public inventory of area-specific environmental problems and efforts made to tackle these. And to address the “disconnect” down the line, they recommend institutionalizing environmental education to penetrate households in the village or barangay level.

On engagement with citizens: There’s distrust in youth-oriented government agencies. They say that since officials heading these agencies are usually political appointees or connected with political clans, these are vulnerable to undue influence, corruption, and abuse. A more objective composition with less government intervention was sought in achieving better representation in government offices.

So what do Filipino youth want beyond the May 2016 elections? They want leaders who can see them for who they are: “We are engaged, optimistic, the next breed of changemakers – and we want to help.”

If you count yourself among the youth in the Philippines today, what issues would you like our leaders to address?

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