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Youth Local Councils: Training young Palestinians to practice democracy and good governance

Lana Abu-Hijleh
McNulty Prize
West Bank, Palestine

Concerned that Palestine’s youth, who make up 52% of the population, were losing a sense of ownership in government, international development expert Lana Abu-Hijleh founded the Youth Local Councils (YLCs). Voluntary electoral bodies made of Palestinian youth aged 15-22, the YLCs are elected by peers and mirror the positions and structure of local municipal councils. This has given thousands of young people a stake in the future and a working knowledge of democratic governance. The YLC model has now been replicated in Honduras and Ukraine.

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Youth Local Councils are exporting a model of civic engagement that is critically needed around the world. Here, young people are choosing involvement over disengagement.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright

lanaspeaking.jpg#asset:1136Trained as a civil engineer, Lana has worked in development for 25+ years. Since 2003, she has been the Country Director for Global Communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and previously was the Deputy Resident Representative for Palestine at the UN Development Program. Lana saw promise in what is now known as Youth Local Councils (YLCs). Incubated within Global Communities, the YLC program harnesses Lana’s and the organization’s expertise and support structures. The program aims to develop youth into accountable leaders who believe in and have experience of democracy, who are inclusive, who resist factionalism, and who believe in their own agency.

Lana has been Country Director for Global Communities in Palestine since 2003.

Founded by Lana, YLCs were piloted in 2008 in 4 communities under a USAID-funded program. Now YLCs are present in 40+ West Bank communities.

In 2012, the first YLC alum, Yaqoub Marouf, was elected to a formal municipal council.

In 2016, the YLCs were replicated in Honduras. They are currently being designed in Ukraine.

In May 2017, more YLC alumni were elected to official municipal councils and as deputy mayors.

25,000 Youth
Participate in General Assemblies across the West Bank
YLCs established in the West Bank, half of which were started independently
Members said YLCs improve understanding of democracy

With over 300 hours of training in project management, public speaking, negotiating and budgeting, and the opportunity to shadow elected officials, YLCs work with mayors, council members and other stakeholders to solve community problems. They hear constituent concerns and plan and execute real projects with budgets; for example, building parks and outdoor spaces, sustainability campaigns, making buildings and towns handicap-accessible, or mediating disputes among local factions.

The YLCs do not represent political parties; indeed, they are explicitly non-partisan and often work to defuse partisan tension. They are elected by direct democracy to represent the interests of the youth in their communities.

Youth learn and become invested in the democratic system and their communities, and get direct experience not only running for and holding elections, but actively working for change in the community, and seeing governance in practice.

We have positively influenced thousands of young people who now know they are relevant. They are respected, they have gained skills, they can be whatever they want to be.

Lana Abu-Hijleh

In addition to the communities that have started YLCs with the help of Lana and Global Communities, there are now toolkits that communities can use off the shelf to build their own YLCs without outside funding.

The YLCs have spread across the West Bank and are being replicated around the world to build competency and faith in democracy in Honduras and Ukraine. With a disproportionate amount of the world’s population under the age of 30, this could not come at a better time.

YLC members have traveled to France, Germany and Denmark to share the model, and in Washington, D.C., members visited the White House and members of Congress. As the first cohorts of YLC alum become old enough to stand for official elections, several have been elected as municipal council members, and some have taken roles like Deputy Mayor. Others are taking up positions in nonprofits, universities and international organizations like ActionAid.

Beyond the tens of thousands of youth who are part of the movement, the YLCs are impacting entire communities. These youth are part of families, towns and cities across the West Bank, and they are breaking stereotypes about youth, women, people with disabilities, and their ability to lead, engage and be part of the community development process.

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