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Youth Are Society’s Changemakers

Bulganchimeg Bayasgalant, a Mongolian participant in the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) 2019 Generation Democracy Global Summit, argues that young changemakers must collaborate across geographic and ideological lines to address the many challenges facing today’s youth. 

There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world — the largest youth population ever. These young people face challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and limited space for political and civic participation. Fortunately, youth are society’s changemakers and are ready to address these challenges.

I am one of those changemakers. As a former Chairperson for the youth wing of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, as well as an alumni of the USAID-funded Leaders Advancing Democracy (LEAD) program who has worked with youth rights nonprofit organizations and with the government of my country, Mongolia, I am passionate about driving change. Today, I am proud to work with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Mongolia to advance sustainable development in the country. 

Changemaking requires serious commitment, tireless effort and synergetic collaboration. That’s why I am one of the members of IRI’s Generation Democracy, a global coalition of nearly 600 youth organizations with members from 70 countries. In June, I was thrilled to participate in the annual Generation Democracy Global Summit, held in Washington, D.C., this year. The summit gave me an opportunity to engage with 41 other young changemakers from 38 countries, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. The experience renewed my efforts to effect change in Mongolia.

All of the talented, young changemakers had interesting stories to share, and although we struggled to get everyone’s names right, we shared personal testimonies and learned valuable lessons from one another. In particular, the testimony of Iryna from Ukraine resonated with me. Mongolia, a country that was under strong Soviet influence during the Cold War, and Ukraine, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union, shared similar experiences, including high poverty rates, inefficient state agencies and low youth political engagement as they transitioned to democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hearing Iryna’s reflections reminded me of why it is so important to continue to preserve good governance in Mongolia, which is an oasis of democracy in the region.

Young people face complex challenges in today’s rapidly changing and interconnected world, and we experience both optimism and a fear of uncertainty. We were united in our observations and recognition of existing problems and our passionate desire to solve them. On the last day of the summit, my presentation about Mongolia’s electoral politics was embraced with laughter and kind support.

On our visit to Capitol Hill, we engaged with leaders from different political parties and government agencies. Representatives Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Lois Frankel (D-FL) discussed forging partnerships across party lines and shared their experience of collaborating on women’s issues. We also heard from inspiring speakers. Nadia Firozvi of Democracy Fund, a bipartisan nonprofit organization, spoke about her work to strengthen the U.S. political system to support a more just and inclusive society. Maria Brindlmayer of Making Cents International, a D.C.-based international development firm, provided us with valuable advice on how to pitch ideas to current and potential partners.

Actionable plans developed through the summits’ skills trainings helped me strategize on how to achieve my goals. I realized that to effect change, I must better understand the root causes of the problems my community faces, be knowledgeable about various actors and influencers, and be informed on a range of regional and international issues. I need to continue to sharpen my leadership, negotiation and communications skills in order to better navigate diverse societies and pursue shared interests. I also need to forge a vision that unites and builds strategic partnerships with a range of public and private partners to advance democratic reform.

Partnering with those you already agree with is easy. Solving new challenges requires you to be able to listen to those who you disagree with and find common ground despite the differences. Polarization and division must be avoided and overcome because no matter how much we wish it were true, real problems don’t go away by clicking “unfollow” on social media. My generation must be the generation that unites despite our differences.