At the end of last year, a record 1.2 million Colombian youth voted to elect 10,824 of their peers to serve on the country’s first-ever Municipal Youth Councils. The councils, formed by governmental decree, are one of the outputs of last year’s pact—a national campaign launched in response to nationwide social protests led in large part by young people. More than 80 percent of elected youth ran on independent platforms, representing a new wave of social and political ideology in both rural and urban areas of the country.

Prior to the elections, the Youth Resilience Activity (YRA), funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA in Colombia, had built working relationships with dozens of youth interested in running for the councils through micro pilot projects and other local activities focused on building healthy networks, strengthening leadership and communications capacity, and expanding economic opportunities. In fact, 30 of those youth connected to YRA were elected to their local councils, in nine out of YRA’s 10 priority regions. Using this new platform, youth council members will be in charge of designing, driving, and overseeing local-level social initiatives for the benefit of their peers and communities.

A youth-led pedagogical workshop on effective political participation in the Villa Mercedes micro zone of Soacha

In the lead-up to the council elections, YRA held 13 pedagogical trainings with nearly 400 youth from 11 departments to ensure informed, effective youth participation. From this participant group, YRA then selected and trained 29 youth representatives to replicate another 143 trainings in YRA municipalities, reaching 3,117 additional youth with important tools and information to cast their votes.

Building momentum in the days before the elections, YRA hosted the first-ever International Youth Forum in Bogotá with 160 in-person guests, 80 percent of whom were youth representatives from YRA’s target regions. Another 500 youth tuned in virtually to the event’s keynote speeches by USAID and ACDI/VOCA as well as panels with youth leaders and six roundtable discussions on environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and, of course, democracy and citizenship.

“Participating in the [forum] was fundamental to share the problems of our territory and also to present the proposals that we, as youth, have for them. Having the opportunity to […] participate as moderator of the environmental panel allows me to inspire other young people to continue strengthening new leadership. Now, we want to co-create the first youth communications collective of Corinto, Cauca, supported by the Youth Resilience Activity.”

— Liceth Alejandra Cuetia Arcila, 19, a Nasa indigenous community activist from the town of Corinto in Colombia’s Cauca Department

The forum provided an invaluable opportunity for youth to develop knowledge and networks and served as the perfect platform to promote a critical message: “Your voice matters — get out and vote!” This message and a clear image of the power of youth leadership reached nearly 2.4 million Colombians through more than 100 media stories published by national outlets.

Youth from ACDI/VOCA’s Adaptive Social Innovation Laboratory (LISA) at the International Youth Forum in Bogotá

Leveraging their new knowledge, networks, and political power, YRA youth are starting the new year by carving out a permanent space on the national agenda and in their local communities, ready to take the helm of the country’s development.

Learn more about the Youth Resilience Activity.

Learn more about our work in Colombia.