Above: On 20 May 2022, Young Cities held its first ever Youth Policy and Engagement Forum in Skopje, North Macedonia, as part of its continuous efforts to build bridges between government institutions and young activists in the municipalities of Čair and Skopje.
1 June 2022
Workshop | 20 May 2022
Skopje, North Macedonia
On 20 May 2022, Young Cities held its first ever Youth Policy and Engagement Forum in Skopje, North Macedonia, as part of its continuous efforts to build bridges between government institutions and young activists in the municipalities of Čair and Skopje.
The aim of the Forum was to open policy-driven dialogue between civically-engaged young people and their representatives in both national and local government, addressing core youth-policy priorities identified by youth themselves. Over 60 attendees participated in the event, including Young Cities Ambassadors, central and local government officials, civil society leaders, and representatives from embassies.
The week before the Forum, 17 Young Cities (YC) Ambassadors had been introduced to policy-making fundamentals across a full-day capacity-building workshop and were guided through a process of identifying youth priorities and recommendations for local and national-level institutions. The workshop resulted in, which was circulated with government representatives in advance of the Forum.
The Youth Policy and Engagement Forum itself began with two roundtables: closed moderated discussions between YC Ambassadors and local governmental representatives from Skopje and Čair municipalities in the first roundtable, and national government representatives from the Secretariat for European Affairs; Ministry of Education and Science; Ministry of Culture; Agency for Youth and Sports; and National Committee for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in the second roundtable. Discussion at the two roundtables focussed on the White Paper, giving the YC Ambassadors the opportunity to voice their perspectives on key challenges facing their communities, and allowing representatives from both tiers of North Macedonian government to put forward their perspectives, priorities and proposed solutions.
Following the roundtables, three public panels opened the discussion to the wider community, with representatives from local civil society, activists, journalists and embassies also in attendance. The first public panel was on “Ways in which Local Institutions and Youth Can Develop Collaborative Approaches”, moderated by SCN Senior Manager for Central Asia and Balkans, Simeon Dukic and featured the Mayor of the Municipality of Cair, Visar Ganiu, Mayor of the Municipality of Kumanovo, Maksim Dimitrievski, and Young Cities Ambassadors Edina Elezi from Takat and Leutrim Bilalli from We Can. The second panel, titled “How to Fund Youth” focused on central government support and resourcing for youth activists where the Deputy Director of the Agency for Youth and Sport, Amir Bilalli was in conversation with YC Ambassadors Art Spahiu from Use it and Vlora Demiri from Breakfree. The third panel on “The Role of Youth Political Party Wings in Creating Inclusive and Relevant Youth Policy at the Local Level” was held in partnership with the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Advance Leadership in Politics Initiative (ALPI) and was moderated by IRI Program Manager Xhevahire Pruthi Zajazi. The discussion was held between ALPI members, Filip Ivanovski, Evenija Janakieska, Aleksandar Trajanovski and YC Ambassadors Elena Bozhinoska from Skala and Bedri Osmani from Unity on the topic of youth engagement from a social activist and youth political party prism.
The Forum was the first SCN activity of this sort in the Western Balkans with a mission to build more resilient communities by fostering meaningful opportunities for cross-sector dialogue and young people’s active inclusion in policy making.
Below are key takeaways from the discussions, which were conducted under the Chatham House Rule, as well as a series of next steps that SCN and Young Cities will undertake. The views expressed in this document are based on discussions from the Forum only, and do not necessarily represent the SCN or institutions taking part in the Youth Policy and Engagement Forum.
Key Takeaways from the Roundtable:
1. Young Cities Ambassadors advocated for the establishment of Youth Councils in the City of Skopje, and Municipalities of Čair and Gostivar.
According to the Law on Youth Participation in North Macedonia, local self-government units are obligated to form Youth Councils. Only 14% of Municipalities have completed this process on a national level. This was discussed at the roundtables and the youth underscored the need for local government to implement the law in full, according to their mandate and as a top priority for youth in these communities.
2. A capacity building program for the Youth Council of the City of Skopje would ensure a more comprehensive understanding of policy-making processes.
Youth Councils are legitimate representative bodies for youth representation in municipal governance. However, policy-making processes in the country are complex and warrant extensive understanding of government processes, which youth do not always possess. It is vital to create a systematized capacity building program to ensure adequate representation and participation of Youth Council members in policy and governance.
3. Young Cities Ambassadors from Gostivar highlighted the need to create a Green Strategy in the Municipality of Gostivar.
Youth in Gostivar identified the need for a Green Strategy which would entail addressing public transportation in the town, revitalizing public spaces for young peoples’ use, and tackling key challenges related to the health, security and wellbeing of youth.
4. Young creatives would benefit from the establishment of a Youth Council embedded within the Ministry of Culture.
Creative potential of young artists could be better cultivated through more adequate and more sustainable financial support from the Ministry of Culture. Public funding opportunities should be more targeted at young people from the creative and performative arts, and Ministerial policies which provide support or other resources need to better meet young artists’ needs by involving them in policy discussion earlier. The formation of a Youth Council in the Ministry of Culture would be a vital step in improving the institution’s ability to engage with youth and in ensuring public funds are more available to young artists.
5. The Ministry of Education and Science was encouraged to prepare an Action Plan for combatting bullying and peer-to-peer violence.
The prevalence of bullying and peer-to-peer violence in public schools is a major challenge in North Macedonia which needs to be addressed urgently, according to the youth. The Ministry should cooperate with municipalities to roll-out concrete steps to educate and equip young people across the country with the necessary tools, skills and resources to respond to this challenge.
Key Takeaways from the Panels:
1. Effective youth engagement cannot be a checkbox exercise; it needs to be strategic and continuous, and requires substantial resources, time and energy.
While mayors, as well as Representatives from the municipalities of Čair and Kumanovo, showed a good understanding of the role that youth can and should play in policymaking, they need to be strategic and put more effort in ensuring that all youth are given the opportunity to raise their voice, be heard and effectively included in solving pressing societal issues. However, attendees felt that local government could look to challenge any ‘checkbox’ exercises when fulfilling youth engagement obligations, and further consider the role of youth and how their policies and programmes can meaningfully empower them. For example, setting up a Youth Council or establishing more Youth Centres are promising first steps but steps which should tangibly contribute to a longer term strategy for youth inclusion and empowerment.
2. Strengthening trust between youth and municipal authorities is crucial for the development of successful collaborative approaches to local policy making.
Youth panellists voiced that a lack of trust in local authorities has continuously been a key obstacle for meaningful and genuine youth civic engagement in their communities. In this regard, panellists discussed strategies and confidence-building measures that can make municipalities more transparent and accessible to youth from various backgrounds. One of the key aspects discussed in this regard is to change the practice and/or perception that municipalities engage only with young people who belong to certain political blocs.
3. Young Cities Ambassadors requested the implementation of more effective youth-oriented funding mechanisms by state institutions.
Young Cities Ambassadors underscored the need for greater state funding by the Agency of Youth and Sport for youth initiatives while highlighting the agency’s disproportionate budget allocation between sports and youth. Deputy Director Bilalli supported the need to address the issue while contextualising how budget constraints and institutional deadlocks have been major barriers to improving the situation in recent years.
4. More youth spaces are needed to engender a sense of community ownership among young people and to increase civic engagement opportunities.
Youth spaces, established and subsidised by the state, are necessary for youth to be able to feel a sense of civic purpose and ownership of their communities - allowing for the development of more youth-led initiatives and cultural activities.
5. The youth wings of political parties should be engaged more proactively in the efforts of the broader social activist community when tackling youth priorities.
Membership of political parties is popular among young people in North Macedonia. The youth wings of those parties are also instrumental in advancing youth priorities as a matter of party policy. Young Cities Ambassadors called for more cohesive and bottom-up efforts between political party youth activists and traditional social activist communities to promote more harmonious political agendas and encourage decision-makers to design policies that more adequately meet the diversity of youth needs.
1. SCN will continue to support municipal governments in implementing priorities and recommendations within their respective jurisdictions.
2. Young Cities, as the youth pillar of SCN, will continue to prioritise creating opportunities for youth activism to feed into policy by supporting the finalisation of the ‘Youth Perspectives on Policies and Priorities in North Macedonia’ White Paper, and facilitating closer and more meaningful partnerships between youth and local and national actors.
3. SCN will more actively serve as a coordination mechanism for municipalities and central government bodies to more effectively address youth priorities in local communities.