Makhabat Murzakanova, UNDP Ciivic Education specialist: "We simply began to test different ways of involving young people. And we managed to involve active youth representatives from all seven regions of Kyrgyzstan and from Ekaterinburg, Russia through the "Youth Laboratory". Photo: personal archive

Having started reading this article, you might expect to know the answer to the question “how to motivate voters, especially youth to take part in elections?”. I will say right away that there is no definite answer, however, in this blog I will share the success story of our team. Within the framework of the UNDP Kyrgyzstan Election Support Program, together with the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda of the Kyrgyz Republic (or the CEC in short), we simply began to test different ways of involving young people. And we managed to involve active youth representatives from all seven regions of Kyrgyzstan and from Ekaterinburg, Russia through the "Youth Laboratory". This name was not chosen by chance; after all, in laboratories all ideas and hypotheses are tested until they get a certain result. Our "Youth Laboratory" is built on a similar system; we test all sorts of ideas in different formats: video, animation, newsletter, local mobilization, online flash mobs, and anything that can bring results soon. Before developing products, laboratory participants undergo express training on design thinking, the main essence of which is the generation of all kinds of ideas and their creative implementation. At the same time, we adhere to the principles of ethics and morality as non-discrimination, inclusiveness. Otherwise, there are no restrictions.

The banner of the call on Youth Lab. Screenshot: Makhabat Murzakanova / UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Why is it important to involve youth in the electoral process? Our goal is to support the CEC conduct fair and inclusive elections. This means motivating all citizens to take part in elections both in the country and abroad. For greater impact, the group of voters is divided into subgroups and separate events are held with each group: women, migrants, persons with disabilities and youth. Such a segregated approach is more effective. For example, young people are very active, but they need to be guided, so we conduct an interactive method of work with them. Women need to be motivated, so we are looking for role models in working with them, who tell based on their own example why women's participation is important and how to participate. Migrants have more organizational questions - what documents to submit in order to get registered into a voter list, what to do if foreign missions of the Kyrgyz Republic are closed during a pandemic, in which locations polling stations will be organized and others. For them, together with the CEC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, representatives of the embassies and consulates, we hold explanatory online meetings, prepared short videos on pressing issues and organized hotlines and calls from Russia and Kazakhstan are free. And persons with disabilities are involved as operators of these hotlines, which will give them the opportunity to contribute to the elections.

Mrs Nurzhan Shaildabekova, the Chairwoman of the Central Elections Committee is meeting with the youth. Screenshot: Makhabat Murzakanova / UNDP Kyrgyzstan

In 2017, in the presidential elections, the number of voters over 18 years old was about 3 million, of which one third lived abroad. Therefore, it is also very important for the program to work with representatives of the diasporas through the available online platforms.

A country driven by youth

In Kyrgyzstan, about 1 million out of 3 million voters are young people between the ages of 18 and 30. Of the 1 million, about 440,000 or 41.5% turned up for the elections in 2017. As a result, "How to motivate young people to go to elections?" became the main question of the "Youth Laboratory".

We launched a competition for collecting ideas on social media and attracted the attention of young people through an interesting video, were able to engage influencers with millions of followers, and achieved wide coverage of informing citizens. UNDP Facebook and Instagram pages received over 1 million views in one week.

Then we selected 30 active young people and gave them the opportunity to work with mentors and activists such as Azat Ruziev? Meerim Osmonova, Ulan Usoiun and Zhetigen Takenov. Mentors are expected to help young people develop their ideas and concepts and transfer them into reality.

Call for Youth Lab circulated through popular Instagram influencers. Screenshot: Makhabat Murzakanova / UNDP Kyrgyzstan

“I will use the acquired knowledge in the future to promote my media product. I learned from Meerim Osmonova how and through which platforms to promote my media product, learned a lot of interesting things from Azat Ruziev, for example, in what format a video should be in order to hook audience, as well as about video editing software programmes. In addition, graphic design was something new for me, but I becmae curious about it and understand that learning it would require more time and effort, ”- participant of the Youth Laboratory.

To be honest, after receiving such a feedback, you feel being useful for your country. I understand now what contribution I can make to strengthening the elections institution in Kyrgyzstan and that my contribution is important, as well as the contribution of young people involved in the Youth Laboratory, my colleagues, partners, diasporas and, in general, active voters in our country. I am convinced that the informed participation of every citizen in the electoral process is one of the strongest mechanisms for building a fair, inclusive, and democratic society.

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