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IRI Partner Spotlight: Inspiring Youth to Vote in Ecuador’s 2021 Elections

On April 11, Ecuadorians will take to the polls for the second round of presidential elections that – like so many others over the past year – face a unique set of pandemic-related challenges. In this blog, Nueva Democracia (New Democracy) Director Jaime Mendoza highlights the commitment of young voters to overcoming COVID-19 complications and ensuring free and fair elections. A civil society organization (CSO) focused on the protection of political freedoms in Ecuador, Nueva Democracia partnered with the International Republican Institute (IRI) during the 2021 electoral period to conduct youth voter education and outreach.

In any election, strong voter turnout depends on a nation’s commitment to being engaged and staying informed. But with in-person civic and political events now impossible, citizens have limited opportunities to interact with candidates and understand the values they represent. Ecuador is no exception. To balance public health guidelines with get-out-the-vote efforts, voter activists in Ecuador have had to get creative before the April elections.

Leading Ecuador’s fight for free and fair elections amidst a pandemic, young people such as myself have organized two virtual initiatives that promote responsible and informed voting. In both initiatives, the needs of young people were the driving force behind the activities we developed. In the activities, we connected young voters with political experts and academics to learn about the electoral process. These experts also provided youth with access to digital tools that allowed them to conduct their own voter outreach and engagement events. With our support, young people gained access to important partners like IRI, Ecuador-based ESQUEL foundation and others. Thanks to the efforts of youth across Ecuador, we have implemented two high-impact initiatives this election period of which we are particularly proud:

Youth, Democracy and Elections in 2021

Organized by six youth-led pro-democracy organizations, this initiative brought together young people from across Ecuador to learn about key electoral issues from experts in the field. The training covered topics such as how political parties work, mechanisms for citizen participation, political campaign finance and managing campaign promotion on social media. To develop this initiative, we asked for IRI’s support to adapt the training sessions to a virtual platform, so we could safely engage both the experts and young people participating. Ultimately, this national initiative engaged young people from all parts of the country.

Rising Voices

Another youth-led initiative is the CSO-consortium Rising Voices or Alzando las Voces, a network of young democratic leaders who joined forces to establish a voter education initiative. Since its development, Rising Voices has achieved remarkable success, forging partnerships with schools across Ecuador and motivating eligible student voters to make informed decisions at the polls through a series of forums and talks.

Rising Voices has three goals: (1) to understand the barriers young voters face, (2) to train youth on how to engage politically, and (3) to reach as many young people as possible. To achieve these goals, the initiative leverages both research and a strong communications strategy to get youth throughout Ecuador to the polls. For example, Rising Voices has a podcast program where we talk about politics in a youth-accessible format; an educational campaign with training courses for high schools, and a national network that continues to grow as more young people join.

Both these initiatives have successfully advanced voter education and mobilization in Ecuador, and have a promising future after the country’s elections as well. Recognizing that political participation encompasses more than just voting, these youth networks are committed to continuing their trainings to encourage sustained youth political engagement. To reach our goals, IRI and our local partner organizations have been important allies for motivating youth political participation. With their support, these initiatives have been featured on national television, radio programs, and are shaping the future leaders of Ecuador. Thanks to this kind of engagement, the young people of Ecuador are doing their part to build a bright future for the country we love.