Ringing in change

The recent amendment in the 1980 TU regulation on Organization and Educational Administration regarding the age of candidacy on Free Student Union (FSU) election has initiated a fresh discussion on the age of youth politicians. The Supreme Court (SC) order has further provided legitimacy to the amendment made by TU. At the aftermath of the amendment, the 2015 FSU elections will see only candidates aged below 28 competing for the elections. The recent amendments have been widely acclaimed by students, academia, society, and some student unions.

The age bar levied thus will end the deeply rooted culture of old leaders competing in FSU elections. The average fresher at a college is 18, while the leaders of FSUs are generally a couple decades older than these freshers. The huge age gap not only creates frustration among students, but to some extent contributes to the failure of the leaders to address students’ issues properly. The age bar will hopefully end the culture of student leaders looking for political shortcuts through FSUs. 

It is not only the FSU that requires an age bar. Age bar is also much needed in the youth social sector. The count of umbrella organizations of non-political Youth organizations has reached three. The Association of Youth organization of Nepal (AYON) has listed more than 90 registered member youth organizations in its website, while the website of Youth NGO Federation Nepal claims that it has united more than 2,000 youth-led organizations of Nepal. Apart from that, several other unaffiliated youth-led organizations and youth clubs exist in Nepal. The promising number of youth led organizations becomes a matter of concern when it comes to the age of the leaders of these organizations.

Over the last couple of years, youth-led organizations have criticized the leaders of political youth organizations, calling them undemocratic and age-insensitive. To some extent, the blame for the situation goes to the country’s National Youth Policy, which is almost nonfunctional. The national youth policy defines 16-40 as the age of youth. This naïvely paves the way for the presence of older leadership at political as well as social youth organizations. The guiding document itself is not free from controversy, and lacks serious workout towards its implementation.

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Youth-led social organizations should also practice intra-organizational democracy, and create enough space and mechanism for the younger generation to lead. There are youth organizations which are led by individuals rather than by a team of young people. The faces of the leaderships have not changed for several years. Rather than creating space and opportunity for young people, several youth-led organizations have been heavily dominated by a handful of older people.

Until and unless the leadership is handed over from a handful people to fresh talents, youth-led social organizations will not be able to make remarkable or sustainable impacts on society, and do not hold the moral authority to condemn political parties. The change should start from within. Furthermore, youth-led social organizations are heavily dependent on donor agencies, and leadership tends not to change due to heavy budgeted projects and long project durations. 

A change in the leadership at youth-led NGOs is required for them to be able to raise burning social issues related to youth. Issues faced by a 25-year-old female can be better raised by a 25-year-old female than a 35-year-old male. Besides, the issues that were relevant ten years ago may not be of concern now, and this change in priorities can only be mainstreamed when youth organizations are led by fresh leaders.

There are models of youth-led social organizations like Rotary Club and Leo Club where the leadership transfers every year, providing leadership practice to several young people. However, the trend is not carried over in other youth-led NGOs of Nepal. Asking all the youth led NGOs to follow the same model will again be impractical, considering the nature of activities that they carry out. However, youth led NGOs can certainly practice a model where the leadership changes every 2-3 years.

Both bottom-up and top-to-bottom approaches must be adopted to address the issue of leadership stagnancy in youth-led social organizations. These organizations need to adopt a clear democratic process in practice rather than in paper to promote leadership transformation. To aid that, the national youth policy must be updated to meet the changed expectations of young people, and the age bar for a person to be considered “youth” must be reduced to 30. 

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