IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Youth and Civic Engagement


Through the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative, recent alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program administer community impact projects that bring the experiences of their exchange program home to their communities and promote innovative solutions to shared global challenges. Engaging the next generation in civic action and politics in order to equip the youth of today to become strong leaders tomorrow is critical to ensuring a better world.

On Thursday November 30, 2023, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual panel of IVLP Impact Awardees with projects that address strategies to equip youth with the tools and empowerment to participate in civic and community engagement to create meaningful impact within their communities. The panel was moderated by Sampath Ramanujam (India) and featured panelists Julián Rodríguez Sastoque (Colombia)Mari Tevosyan (Armenia) and Faryal Najeeb (Pakistan). The Awardees discussed their IVLP Impact Awards projects, how their IVLP exchange program experience influenced their ideas and work, and the ways they are leading by example and engaging youth in their communities in civic action and awareness.

“I think that even at a young age, those who have leadership qualities want to take initiatives aimed at improving their environment, community and country." - Mari Tevosyan

Some key points from the program were:

1. Shared IVLP Inspiration and Lessons

Each panelist shared about their unique IVLP exchange experience and the ways these connections and new ideas shaped and inspired their current work, specifically their IVLP Impact Award projects. Sampath participated in the IVLP Project Young Politicians: The Future of Indian Democracy organized by the U.S. Department of State and Cultural Vistas and reflected that his meeting with the Iowa Youth Congress was the spark that inspired his project. Faryal and Julián both participated in IVLP projects organized by Meridian. Faryal, who's IVLP was titled Young Leaders: NGOs and Civic Activism, shared that the experience "was a turnaround for me, because I got to meet Ellen, who is the Executive Director of Michigan Center for Civic Education. I got to listen to her during a session. Her insights, her resources, her projects, the language she used, really inspired me to...work on this project more after coming back to Pakistan.”

Julián was a participant in the IVLP Not Too Young to Run – Engaging Youth in the Political Process, and he spoke about being inspired by the civic engagement he saw in Colorado, "the citizen control over public decisions, over the politicians and the public policies are really important for the people...they understand the public administration. They understand the local and national laws and how they can be part of the discussion.” Mari's IVLP had the same title as Julián's (Not Too Young to Run – Engaging Youth in the Political Process) but her project was organized by the Mississippi Consortium for International Development. Mari shared: "while in the United States I met Miss Abby Finkenauer, she's US Special Envoy [for Global Youth Issues]...I was very impressed and excited to meet her. Her example...inspired me during the creation of my project.” Sampath the summarized the discussion well when he said simply, “IVLP is all about creating a valuable connection."

2. Challenges and Benefits of Engaging Youth in Civic Action

An audience member asked the panelists whether they have had difficulties engaging youth in national issues. While Julián acknowledged that it can be challenging to engage young people, he explained that he sees one of his project's goals as clearly communicating the need for youth to take the initiative to involve themselves in politics, since political decisions are being made that affect everyone's lives, so it's vital that the youth make their voices heard and represent their own interests. Faryal agreed, noting that in today's digital world, finding information is not an issue for youth, rather the challenge is to sift through the information to find what is relevant, and she sees her role as guiding youth on how to take action. She remarked that young people often "have that kind of energy and enthusiasm and everything, but when it is not channelized it is a waste." Sampath referred to this guiding role that Faryal and Julián alluded to as a "torchbearer," illuminating areas where young people can make their voices heard. He also reflected on the energy and enthusiasm that seems almost contagious when interacting with youth, how after meeting with a new group of young people he feels reenergized himself, as a result of their passion. Mari echoed this sentiment when she shared, “When I speak [to young people] I think that...I must help them to...do their projects, their initiatives. And I think that it's my mission. We have [a] very amazing young generation, and we must help them.”

3. Potential of Digital Tools

Faryal reflected that "This is an age of engaging visual content, and not only for entertainment, but also for education and advocacy as well, and with decreasing attention span and abundance of content to consume, there is a need to use digital tools to educate the masses even on the subjects like civic education and democracy.” This is why part of her project involves the production of videos aimed at educating youth about their rights guaranteed by the Pakistani Constitution. Julián agreed, saying, "I think today we have a very important tool, and it’s the social networks and the smartphones. Because we have a democracy in the digital conversations...the full access to information, more to date than ever in the history [means that young people] can understand why it's important to engage, be part of the national issue discussions, [and] political discussions." Mari talked about modeling this engagement for her participants, saying, "I try to be a mentor in my community, my region, and my country, and by my example. And with my programs, I try to contribute to the development of certain skills among future leaders.”

"We need to engage young people in the decision-making process. We need to bring them to the table and hear them out, because these are the people who will be running the country after a few years... I believe that there is a need of collaboration between the policymakers and the young citizens of any country.” - Faryal Najeeb


If you have any questions, please reach out to the IVLP Impact Awards Team at IVLPImpactAwards@meridian.org.

If interested in attending more IVLP Impact Award events click here.

Project summary

IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Youth and Civic Engagement | November 2023
Countries: India, Pakistan, Colombia, Armenia
Impact Areas: Youth Leadership Development, Civic Engagement
Program Areas: Global Leadership