Participation, Power and Empowerment

We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the Future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity.

~ Benjamin Disraeli

Youth development work is often described as a process of increasing the participation of young people in national development and decision-making. This is assumed to entail youth empowerment. In Unit 1, we identified empowerment and participation as central Commonwealth values. In this unit, we explore these values in more detail. Like human rights and democracy, they are about higher order modes of interacting with young people.

The use of the concepts of ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’ in the youth development context implies giving young people more control over their personal development. Of the different styles of decision-making identified in Unit 3, consensual decision-making is the most challenging, but it comes closest to facilitating people’s participation and also to empowering them. We examine this process in the next section. But first, let’s look at the principles underpinning young people’s involvement in the decision-making process.