Article / Youth
Published: 30.09.2021

Key Insights

  • Thailand Policy Lab is in the process of designing and developing policy for youth.
  • Have you ever wondered what the youth responded when they were asked about their ability to influence policy making? Their answers were a mixed bag of highly interesting feedback.
  • Youth around the world have started to take over the national and international political stage to decide for the future of their countries and the planet, for example, Australia and Finland. How can they actively take part in policy-making? The Thailand Policy Lab has the answer.

We tend to see policy as something distant, unrelated to our lives but if you look around, policy is actually about the distribution of limited resources, and everything around us is connected to it; the streets we walk on, our homes, our food. Policies shape our lives, they are important to all regardless of age, the youth is definitely included.

Why do we need to listen to youth?

Imagine you were born in Thailand during the 90s: you grew up with an economic crisis that directly or indirectly affected your livelihood. Your family went bankrupt, your parents were unemployed; you lived under their stress and yours. 

This youth, at the age of around 20, has been taking in the uproars and crises of the country relentlessly, not to mention the minimal welfare the youth has received throughout their life, is it accessible? Do they get access to compulsory education? What are life’s  problems that affect the entire generation? If we believe youth is the future, then we absolutely need to listen to them; as long as we do not have a space to listen profoundly, we may never know their needs and answers to social crises.

Why is it important for a developing country to give power to children and youth to express themselves? The answer is simple. A sense of ownership allows one to see the importance of themselves, and realize the importance of the subject. When the youth feel that they can co-design their own homeland, we will feel ample pride and the true dignity of the country. Taking them out of the policy equation only makes them feel helpless and insignificant.

The creation of a  policy lab is an initiative used by several countries to get through the conventional type of policy-making, and to create ample space for the participation from all stakeholders to innovate policies that yield the highest benefits. UNDP Thailand and the Office of the National Economics and Social Development Council (NESDC) have worked together to establish the Thailand Policy Lab as a policy lab that listens to the voices and needs of the youth regarding Thailand’s future.

Listening to Youth Through Thailand Policy Lab

A process of policy lab is like a science school project: It analyzes existing problems, searches for solutions by testing and learning again and again until one achieves the best model. Throughout this process, everyone can participate, exchange their views with stakeholders to disrupt the old, conventional policy frameworks that only seem to yield the same results.

The Thailand Policy Lab has just conducted a youth survey to learn more about the specific issues that the youth are concerned about. The survey was designed upon 17 sustainable development goals, and later was framed into 9 problem issues; namely, teenage pregnancy, road safety, access to healthcare, access to quality education, substance and alcohol abuse, air pollution and climate change, mental health, poverty and employment and gender equality and diversity.

Up to 500 youth members have answered the survey, the result shows that 3 specific problems and challenges faced by Thai youth that are most relevant to Thai youth, and should be solved urgently, are access to quality education, mental health and poverty and employment respectively. 

(Click to see the result of the public survey for policy for youth by youth)

When asked about participation in policy-making, this was one of the most fascinating responses we found, “We should start from the freedom of thought and expression. The youth should be able to advocate and demand things without being excluded by the government. There should be youth representatives in the parliament, and we should be listened to, without bias because often our opinions deviate from tradition. The youth are those who will live on and develop this country for decades to come. They should be able to decide and determine their own future.”

The current borderless world has expanded the Thai youth’s imaginative horizon; in this day and age they feel they can explore everything that happens in other countries. For them, a desirable society is not one that just copies the samples from other societies, but rather it is a society that  learns and adapts for one’s own context. The heart of the matter is to not leave anyone behind; policies should be accessible to everyone, without any conditions and hindrances to freedom. The point is that this can happen only when everyone participates in the policy-making processes.

The next step for the Thailand Policy Lab is to invite members of the younger generation to an in-depth roundtable discussion, including other stakeholders such as their families,  schools, or CEOs looking for the younger generation to work at their enterprises. The lab also plans for a ‘youth hackathon’ for them to brainstorm innovative policy ideas that can make tangible changes to the country.

Policies for youth, the future of now and decades to come

Let’s take a look at policies for youth from across the globe, starting from Australia. Australia is a country with vigorous youth political dynamics. In the 2019 election, voter turnout of people aged 18-24 was as high as 88.8%, the highest in history. Still, a politician claimed that the voices of the youth cause problems since they do not have enough experience to elect a good representative. But this is what happens in a democracy, disagreements happen and it is a vital part of the democratic process that we learn together.  

It was not a coincidence or fortune that Australian youth voter turnout was at an all-time high. It happened because of a national policy enforced thirty years ago for children to learn about politics and governance. In the 90s, the government enforced a curriculum to create ‘active and informed citizens’ so that when the children grew up, they would cast their vote and use their voices for the utmost benefit of the country, or at least to instill self-confidence in them as democratic citizens, to take part in politics and policymaking.

Let’s move to Finland, a country with the best education system in the world. The ideal system is built upon education policies that are attentive to the youth and exist for them. In the 1980s when Finland started to revolutionize their education system, the gargantuan change was based on the mission that “education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality.” Their education policies stipulate that all students receive free meals, have access to health care, psychological counseling, as well as individualised guidance. There is no standardized test in Finland except for when you graduate high school (and the test is voluntary.) Such education policies are for the youth, they aim to make the student happy, to create a happy childhood and for one to find their own path in life.

Looking at policies related to the current situation, many countries have implemented policies to support youth during the Covid pandemic. A report from OECD has found that people aged 15-29 are particularly affected by the labour market due to the pandemic; as a result, many OECD countries have implemented some policies to assist them. OECD’s What have countries done to support young people in the COVID-19 crisis? has shown that some countries have introduced emergency income support for young people, especially those experiencing financial hardship or job loss, including students who lost their part-time jobs, some countries have also introduced summer job programs. Half of OECD countries have increased financing for youth mental health services, for them to access the much-needed service during this hard time.

Everything Is Changing, Everything

The Covid pandemic has wiped away some of the old skills and beliefs; even though the youth are adaptable to change, they have also been affected both physically and mentally by the pandemic. Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found thatGen-Y and Gen-Z faced various types of stress during the pandemic, experienced troubled finances, had complications with work, and were actively preparing to get back to pre-pandemic life. Still, they all said that they would try to be their better selves after the crisis.

6 out of 10 survey takers said that they have more sympathy for others and they are more ready to help other people, and even during the pandemic, they were trying to learn new skills, studying online and planning their future. The most captivating answer was that they feel like all of the world lives in the same society that has to find solutions together,and that the pandemic, climate change, and all related issues are common problems that all countries are responsible for.

Youth awareness is the awareness of global citizens who believe that everyone is integral to social change. They believe policies are about everyone, and about them.


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