USAID/Timor-Leste’s Youth-Led Listening Approach
Timor-Leste is one of the youngest countries in the world, with 70 percent of the population under age 30, and 50 percent under age 18. Despite opportunities to directly engage youth as co-creators and leaders to address their own development challenges, donor-funded activities generally only consult with formal NGOs in the capital city of Dili and those who have previously been selected for leadership opportunities. Many youth voices go unheard. While USAID/Timor-Leste recognizes the importance of youth in its programming, USAID’s activities continue to be carried out by traditional (international) implementing partners. However, the Local Works program provides the opportunity and technical support needed to design differently through listening directly to unheard voices, and learning from local partners directly. With support of Mission leadership, a core team of empowered local staff leads Local Works. This team recognized that it wasn’t enough to just listen to youth - the listening process itself had to be led by youth. Collaborating, learning, and adapting in direct partnership with youth was critical to strengthen relationships among USAID and unheard youth; enhance learning for the Mission and local actors; and ensure future Local Works activities are designed to be responsive and adaptive to community priorities. After piloting listening approaches and adapting approaches for COVID-19, the team partnered with a local NGO, university faculty and students, and community leaders that had never worked with USAID. The partners conducted a listening tour through respectful, open-ended conversations with over 1,250 youth across Timor-Leste, operating fully in the local language and with local dynamics in mind. Passionate, but inexperienced youth were paired with more experienced individuals to receive mentorship and serve as local interlocutors. Youth priorities that emerged through listening will directly inform future Local Works programming. Further, lessons learned from the listening effort and the team’s creative engagement of local partners will inform how the Mission approaches localization across its portfolio.
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