A visit from the Kuwait Youth Assembly  

Aileen Walker is a former Director of Public Engagement at House of Commons. She has been involved in a wealth of GPG projects with a focus on parliamentary and youth engagement. Amongst other publications, she wrote our 13th Guide to Parliaments on Youth Participation. In this blog, she comments on the recent visit to the UK Parliament from the Kuwait Youth Assembly, organised by GPG, to which she contributed.

While working on a project that aims towards improving integrity, transparency and standards of ethical conduct in Kuwait, GPG was asked to facilitate a study visit to the UK for the Kuwait Youth Assembly.  

The Youth Assembly in Kuwait was set up in 2021 and has 37 appointed members (roughly equal proportion female/male) between the ages of 23 and 38, with representation from different sectors of Kuwaiti culture and society. It reports to the Minister of Youth Affairs and has a term of four years. The Assembly is described as advisory, with a remit to analyse the needs and potential of youth in Kuwait and encourage youth participation in society. It can run consultations and programmes with young people and make proposals to decision-makers and politicians. There are eight committees in the Assembly, covering Entrepreneurship, Internal relations, Education, Platform (website), Sport, Sustainability, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and People with Disabilities. There is a rigorous selection process for appointment to the Youth Assembly and the membership comprises high-achieving individuals. The delegates fulfil the role on a voluntary basis alongside their day jobs. 

The study visit to London took place in March 2023 and was enthusiastically appreciated by the six delegates who participated. At the initial briefing on the evening of their arrival, the delegates expressed their hopes for the visit – information exchange, ideas, interesting youth projects, potential for future collaboration, and to be surprised! 

The first full day was based at the Houses of Parliament hosted by Parliament’s Education Service. The delegates were impressed by the purpose-built Education Centre with its interactive learning spaces and resources, including a 360° projection video on the evolution of democracy in the UK over 800 years. They had the opportunity to put questions to the Education Centre manager, then accompanied a school group on a tour of the Palace of Westminster and viewed proceedings in the House of Commons from the public gallery (which happened to be discussing the annual financial proposals, the Budget).  

The following morning was spent in the House of Lords, where they had a lively discussion with GPG Associate Lord Purvis of Tweed covering a range of topics including Lord Purvis’s role as an appointed member of the House of Lords and his previous experience as a Member of the Scottish Parliament; the respective functions and powers of the two Houses in the UK Parliament; the many roles of an MP; voting in parliament and the role of political party managers; the demographic characteristics of parliamentarians; and gender-sensitive parliaments. 

I then led a discussion, based on my previous experience as Director of Public Engagement at the UK Parliament, about developing a parliamentary citizen engagement strategy. The session covered identifying priority audiences; the importance of working with schools and teachers; youth engagement and youth parliaments; establishing regional community outreach partnership activity; building long-term strategic relationships with civil society groups; and awareness raising initiatives such as Parliament Week.  

Late afternoon brought a visit to Lewisham in south London to visit the Lewisham Young Mayor and his team. The Young Mayor programme is well-established in the local government area of Lewisham where it has been running for 19 years. It is an excellent example of engaging young people politically in their community. The borough council’s election team runs the Young Mayor elections. Polling stations are set up in schools and other places in the borough. To stand in the election, candidates must be 13-17 years old, need to have 50 young people supporting them, and produce a manifesto. All young people between 11 and 17 years old in the borough can vote. There was a turnout of 58% at the last election. To show that Lewisham’s commitment to the concept of young mayors is meaningful, the young mayor is allocated a £25K budget each year to spend on projects or services to benefit the local community. The Kuwait Youth Assembly delegates were impressed with the young mayor initiative and expressed interest in collaboration potential. Equalities work and peer training were specifically mentioned as interesting ideas.  

The final day of the visit took place at the offices of the UK national youth agency, the British Youth Council (BYC). The Head of Advocacy and Communications, Rhammel Afflick, explained that the role of the BYC was all about empowerment – it doesn’t speak on behalf of young people, but provides skills and opportunities so young people can speak for themselves. Rhammel described the Youth Voice programmes run by the BYC (including the UK Youth Parliament and the Make Your Mark Ballot, and the Youth Select Committee), and spoke about its other activities – campaigning, training and consultation services, international activity, and its affiliate membership organisation scheme. Discussion and questions ranged across: (dis)trust in politics, the value of partnerships, the age of politicians (older people holding onto power), mentor programmes, and the Mighty Networks collaboration platform. 

We picked up and summarised in the final debriefing session some of the themes that had emerged during the study visit that seemed most interesting and potentially valuable in the Kuwaiti context. The key message was about aiming to empower youth through skills and opportunities, supporting young people to have a voice and get their voice heard. And there was a key risk: engagement with young people has to be meaningful, or it can backfire.  

As accomplished individuals, members of the Kuwait Youth Assembly themselves are not short of ideas for youth initiatives. Looking to the future, I suggested they think strategically about what sort of legacy they wanted to leave behind at the end of their term. To bring strategic coherence to the Assembly’s work and articulate their role as convenors/ facilitators/ enablers between their kingdom’s youth and the decision makers, they could usefully focus on setting up one or two flagship projects that would survive beyond their three-year term, and, in effect, be their legacy. Something that would have a lasting impact and be a testament to their tenure, in a way that individual ad hoc activities would not. As members of the first Kuwait Youth Assembly, they have the unique chance to establish an ambitious foundation and set the direction for future Youth Assemblies. Looking at international best practice examples and considering their own context, they are best placed to decide what this might be. The UK experience offers several potential ideas:  

  • Establish a Youth Assembly membership/affiliation scheme for youth groups (as the British Youth Council has done), thereby creating an effective youth network for communication, campaigning, and skills development. 
  • Establish a nationwide Youth Assembly youth consultation like the “Make Your Mark” ballot to establish which policy issues young people are most concerned about (with some meaningful follow-up). 
  • Establish a Young Mayor Scheme or equivalent, where young people stand for election by their peers and are given a meaningful voice in their communities. 
  • Establish an annual awareness raising National Assembly Day (like the UK’s Parliament Week) and work in partnership with youth sector organisations to coordinate community activity around democratic participation. 

Further information on youth engagement is in GPG Guide to Parliaments Paper 13 on Youth Participation