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20 July 2020

Strengthening the capacity of youth for climate resilience and local economic development in West Africa

Young people from the village of Koankin, Burkina Faso learning about composting techniques. Photo: CWP Burkina. 

A look back at a 3-year initiative engaging with young people to make a difference for a brighter future!

It is commonly said that youth are the future of our world – and they are also its immediate present, particularly so in West Africa where 44% of the population is estimated to be under 24 years old. Since the early 2010s, Global Water Partnership (GWP) has mobilized to proactively engage with young people and empower them to become agents of change. GWP aims to support and catalyze change for the governance and the management of water resources towards sustainable and equitable development.

A 3-year initiative by GWP, the International Secretariat for Water (ISW), and Partners have shown that while decision-makers are interested in the role of young people, their practical support for youth participation remains low, mainly due to the lack of sufficient capacities and models for bringing youth-related initiatives to scale. Further work needs to focus on overcoming these barriers.

The West Africa region faces multiple significant challenges: rapid population growth, climate change, security issues, all amplified by high rates of unemployment and the current health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. These challenges are also an opportunity to innovate and support climate change resilient development, built with local populations, and a source of economic growth and jobs.

Young people in the region must be at the heart of these transformations. Our experience is that they are a force for innovation and action, but they also need to be supported in order to develop their potential. Young people, especially young women, are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and often lack access to adequate resources to become agents of change.

In November 2017, GWP West Africa (GWP-WA) and the International Secretariat for Water (ISW), together with national and local partners launched the #TonFuturTonClimat project (TFTC, YourFutureYourClimate) to strengthen the capacities of rural and semi-urban young people for climate change adaptation. The project is supported by the Government of Quebec and it focuses on the implementation of three local initiatives linked to water, agriculture and forestry led by young people, and the creation of connections between the actors involved.

The local projects developed under TFTC with the youth included activities for the restoration of ecosystems at the head of the Mékrou basin in Benin; the use of water and energy-saving technologies for agricultural production in Burkina Faso and the protection of water, the environment and soil through an integrated land management approach in Danyi Apéyémé, Togo.

As the first phase of the project is coming to an end, what have we delivered and learned?

The project helped to enhance the capacities of the young people and their associations to implement resilient agro-ecological practices, supporting economic development. TFTC also relied on a strong and positive commitment from the various players involved, including municipalities, customary and religious authorities, landowners, decentralized technical services (water, agriculture, livestock, environment) and, of course, beneficiary youth associations.

Women from the village of Yakabissi in Benin trained on how to build improved firewood stoves to improve energy consumption. Photo: CWP Benin.

A TFTC technical expert talks about improved agricultural practices and better yields. Photo: Eau Vive Togo.

Quotes from project beneficiaries:

SODRE Minata, women’s representative and Sidwaya’s association treasurer in Ramitenga (Burkina Faso) – “The project connects its women beneficiaries to meet to discuss and learn from each other. Before the project, even though we are from the same village, because of carrying out separately our individual productive occupation, we don’t have enough opportunity to connect and this is a source of motivation for women in addition to the fact that it helps us to improve our livelihood.”

MOUSSA Abassi: Mayor of the municipality of Kouandé (Benin) – “Since the launch of the initiative, the municipality council has been closely involved in all phases of the project, all the actors at the municipality council level have internalized the approaches and the good successes of the project. The impacts of the project are visible. Young people are in the center of the project implementation and they are also part of the beneficiaries. We noted this as an innovation while referring other initiatives that focused mainly on adults. We learned that it is important to invest in the education and engagement of the youngest to ensure their ownership and the sustainability of development actions. With TFTC, young people have been able to draw significant lessons that they will continue to share within their communities. In addition, while the improved cookstoves were disseminated only the community of the village of Yakabissi, it was noted the adoption and the use of this innovation in other villages and hamlets of the Mekrou head source. Various communication and information actions undertaken contributed to mobilize the communities and ensure their buy-in for all project activities that led to free the illegally occupied spaces and support their reforestation with the installation of cashew trees plantation”.

Whilst the project and the topic of youth engagement has elicited interest at the national and regional level, and sparked some discussions across the actors in different countries, a key step forward would be to use the models developed in the field for upscaling. The project showed decision-makers are interested in the role of young people, but this participation remains poorly supported in practice, due to the lack of sufficient capacities and models.

The second phase of TFTC, which we are currently developing, could focus precisely on that. GWP and ISW want to develop new local projects in the countries, and also support the involvement of youth associations and institutional players at the regional and national level. The local projects would be used as models to support discussions and reflections on how to enhance youth engagement.

Furthermore, youth engagement is not just a one-initiative endeavor. Beyond TFTC, GWP-WA is mobilizing different channels and pathways for enhancing youth engagement, from facilitating the participation of young people of the region to regional and global dialogues to supporting youth employment – with attention both to GWP-WA own internal practices as well as external action.

Putting its commitments into practice, GWP-WA thus invites a youth representative to attend its regional steering committee meetings and supports young graduates through internships and young professional schemes, also creating linkages with training institutions to allow students to have a chance to immerse into a work situation for which they are being trained for.  Looking beyond, GWP-WA ambitions to develop a regional program focusing on major youth concerns of job creation and youth access to business opportunities.

Reporting by Julienne Roux, Armand Houanye, Sidi Coulibaly, Felicite Vodounhessi (Global Water Partnership) and Laurie Fourneaux (International Secretariat for Water).