Valuing young people as city advisors

14 June 2022

“Let’s listen to our young people, their hopes, dreams and fears. And let’s all pledge not to fail them. They are our future. Let’s listen to them,” said Espoo’s Mayor, Jukka Mäkelä, at the Eurocities Annual Conference, the culmination of months of work within the Future Mentors programme.

“This spring, I had the privilege of being mentored by four young people. Having a dialogue with them has been different from my daily work. It has been an interesting and meaningful journey. I would recommend this mentoring to all my colleagues,” he added.

Breaking down ideas

As part of the European Year of Youth, 26 European cities have run Future Mentors programmes during the spring, where young people mentored their respective local leaders. Their months of work have culminated at the Eurocities Annual Conference, where they met with other young delegates and discussed how their respective cities could better involve the youth in their decision-making process.

Under a bright Finnish sun, 22 Future Mentors from 22 European cities had to narrow down their 30 or so ideas to come up with five recommendations. “We are proud to present you not five but six key recommendations,” announced Ludwig Sonntag, Future Mentor of Chemnitz, surrounded by his peers on the Eurocities stage.

“It’s not that we decided to go against the grain as young people,” added Ishaa Asim, Future Mentor of Manchester. “We are very passionate about the work we’ve been doing in our cities, and we had some opinionated discussions, so we compromised.”

Five Six recommendations to involve young people in cities

1. Young people must be meaningfully engaged in decisions that affect them in a non-tokenistic way.

For example, Espoo has an active Youth Council where 40 young people convene monthly to discuss and improve the city. Thanks to the Council’s initiative, people under the age of 20 can now access free contraception.

The Future Mentors underlined the importance of giving power to these initiatives. “There are Youth Parliaments and Youth Councils that do not have enough power to be able to carry out the activities that we require,” warned Asim.

2. Cities must give feedback after any consultation with young people.

A positive example is the City of Ghent, where a policy states that if young people are ever consulted on a topic, they must be told the outcome of the decision.

“We are often told to give advice, but we’re never told if it’s taken on board. You’ve just done it as a tick box exercise,” said Asim. “We deserve to know if our feedback has been used. And if you haven’t, we would just like to know why.”

3. City leaders, officials and mayors should have regular contact with young people with meetings at least twice a year to keep an open line of communication.

For example, the Future Mentors hope to be able to follow up on the work done within the programme and translate it into practical action points. The mentors of Hannover anticipated so by suggesting a meeting with the mayor Belit Onay in their last session.

4. Any engagement with young people should be inclusive and accessible.

This means making every part of these projects accessible, for example, to people with disabilities or more affordable to people from a working-class background.

“As delegates, we are aware of the privilege we have. We need to ensure everyone is always represented,” added Asim. For example, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament works up to 20 hours per week. “More than a part-time job. And you don’t get paid. So, it is a certain type of person who becomes a delegate,” illustrated Asim.

5. Have an allocated budget for youth-centred organisations to be developed across European cities.

“We want to make sure that young people are given adequate funds, and they should be able to choose the projects they want to allocate the funds towards,” said Asim.

6. Create a Eurocities Youth Department.

Such a department could bring the youth perspective and lead and make sure future initiatives and discussions are also youth relevant. A sentiment shared by Mayor Mäkelä, “We wish that youth participation becomes an integral part of the Eurocities network.” The mayor added that Espoo would share what they learned from running the Future Mentors programme with the network and hopes to inspire other cities to continue working in this direction.

In the meantime, cities flew back home with the Future Mentors’ recommendations tucked in their luggage. Only time will tell if local representatives listened.


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer