To engage Cambodia’s youth in socioeconomic rights, ‘Youth Ambassadors’ lead the wayJune 21, 2023
In Cambodia, reaching youth can be a challenge, but this is exactly what the Pact-led WE Act project needed to do. Funded by USAID, WE Act works to support and empower young women entrepreneurs and youth so they can succeed in business, contribute to their communities and engage constructively in accessing their socioeconomic rights.
“We wanted to reach youth in new ways,” says Sabine Joukes, Pact’s Cambodia country director. “We were already working with the traditional youth networks, but we were very cognizant that many youth aren’t reached this way.”
Fast forward two years, and 500 youth streamed into a packed auditorium in Phnom Penh for a unique, meaningful discussion on how marginalized young people – youth with disabilities, indigenous youth, members of the LGBTQ community – can access their socioeconomic rights. The event was planned and carried out entirely by youth themselves. Participants shared impassioned stories about the challenges in their lives, from difficulty accessing education and health care to struggles finding work. They talked about how they overcame barriers and shared messages of inspiration and motivation.
“It was incredible to see so many youth come together to support each other,” Joukes says.
It was made possible by WE Act Youth Ambassadors. Launched in late 2020, the program brought on university interns to implement their own mini projects to engage other youth in civic participation, specifically in understanding and advocating for their socioeconomic rights. In designing the Youth Ambassadors program, WE Act looked to Pact’s engaged communities approach, which focuses on communities leading and owning their own development.
“What made Youth Ambassadors so impactful is that these youth developed their own activities, managed their own budgets and were totally in charge of their initiatives,” Joukes says. “Apart from guidance to ensure the objectives of WE Act were always center stage, they had autonomy over what they created, how they created it and how they engaged other youth.”
Between 2020 and this year, WE Act selected 13 Youth Ambassadors who worked in three cohorts through internships that lasted between six and nine months. Youth Ambassadors received training, mentorship and capacity development support from Pact to prepare them to make the most impact possible.
The Youth Ambassadors increased the capacity of nearly 1,700 young people to understand and advocate for their socioeconomic rights.
From there, they developed their ideas for engaging youth and turned them into reality: youth debate and video competitions, digital media campaigns, youth dialogues, problem-solving sessions, and the WE Light Up Talk event that drew so many. In one event, youth competed to present solutions to challenges faced by young women entrepreneurs. In another, youth received training on socioeconomic rights and then created entertaining, relevant videos to help their peers understand how to exercise these rights in their daily lives. A popular Youth Ambassadors Facebook page published strategic content to help young people build entrepreneurship skills, volunteerism and civic participation.
The Youth Ambassadors encouraged youth action and inclusion and engaged with many stakeholders, from local leaders to government officials. The ambassadors grew as individuals and facilitated change among their peers. In all, the Youth Ambassadors increased the capacity of nearly 1,700 youth to understand and advocate for their socioeconomic rights.
“By empowering youth to express difficult concepts such as socioeconomic rights in fun, meaningful ways, the ambassadors were able to engage a whole new group of young citizens in subjects that otherwise would not have been of much interest to them,” says Pact’s Rithysochen Thon, a youth engagement officer with WE Act. “They created a following that is now aware of their socioeconomic rights and spreading important messages to others. They enabled WE Act to effectively reach this key, growing group of citizens.”
Most importantly, the Youth Ambassadors will live on beyond WE Act. The ambassadors are now an independent group and recently secured independent funding to continue their important work.