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"With your own two hands": A practical action approach to youth empowerment and gender mainstreaming

Youth Empowerment and the Energy Transition

With increasingly more young people taking the global stage (Lal et al 2019) in eloquently advocating climate action from governments – the next generation seems to have gained a new-found respect. This is great news, but youth involvement in sustainability and climate change does not need to be limited to advocacy, social media mobilization and awareness raising. Nor should it be understood as something to take place in some distant future. With one in two people younger than 30 years worldwide (UN Population fund 2019), it is only logical that young people take a leading role in addressing today’s challenges - not in the future, now.

This generation is frustrated and angry - rightly so - at the way the environmental crisis has been handled by those in power. Thus, what we need is to find ways to channel that frustration and transform it into positive, creative and productive energy, providing ways for meaningful engagement. That’s where empowerment comes in.

So how do we empower (young) people?

By turning control over to people and by giving them tools, so they can develop the skills needed to have a positive impact in the world.

The Youth Energy Academy (YEA) developed by the Sustainable Youth Energy Network (SEYN) tries to provide an answer to this challenge by giving young people tools for action and by letting them try things out without fear of failure. Our experience in the last few years has showed that empowerment comes from being involved in the change process, in actually co-creating that process and doing it with joy.

Group of participants building a solar sound system

Providing Tools for Action

Using tools like design thinking, problem tree analysis and the social business canvas, participants discussed and refined problems, explored solutions and possible business models for their project ideas. They visited and heard first-hand from a rural community energy project in Thailand and learned from case studies in the region.

Through a “Do-it-Together” (DiT) and learning by doing approach, participants with various backgrounds (from engineering, public policy, or liberal arts) designed and built an array of energy systems (a solar box oven, two parabolic cookers, a solar dryer, a solar sound system/charging station, 15 power banks and a solar water pump), using reclaimed materials whenever possible in 7 days and just under 30 hours of hands-on work. Most knew nothing about energy and had never used a power tool in their lives.

Our team of trainers encouraged participants to self-organize, to explore different methods and being creative in designing their projects and overcoming the mistakes made. In the end, by understanding how energy and electricity work and by building energy systems with their own hands, participants left the Academy with the”can-do” attitude and the inspiration needed to take a leading role in their communities.

What participants say...
“I highly appreciate the fact that the Academy incorporated both lectures and hands-on workshops which made it very useful for participants. I love the enthusiastic and supportive organizing team who inspired me a lot. After this program, I became more confident and committed on taking true actions to apply what I learn to real life.” - Participant from Vietnam
“I am really thankful to the trainers. They have been very effective and very patient in teaching us. Apart from the actual wood work and technical stuff, they also taught us the true purpose and meaning of doing these projects.” Participant from Nepal

Energy is more than Kwh – Actively reducing the gender gap