Empowering Youth: Maximizing Dividends
by Kiyanna Staff
August 26, 2015

“Policies are for the future, it is neither for today nor yesterday”

– Dr. Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister Policy Planning and Economic Development

The recent elections showed the power of young people to bring about social change. What is your assessment of this?

Young people in this country felt they were marginalized for a long time. They didn’t have much of a role to play in determining who should be in a position to determine young people’s future. After the 1979-1981 era where youth revolted and learnt a fatal lesson, they felt they shouldn’t be part of the decision making process. They felt unimportant.

This became quite evident in the voting numbers. In 2009 elections, I did an analysis in my electorate; Kotte, on the youth voter turnout. We found only 40% of young people between the age 18-25 casted their vote. This was far less than the national average.

However, with the recent presidential election, a huge change happened with social media and Facebook playing an important role. It created a huge surge in the interest of young people to decide who their decision maker should be.

The easy access to social media via mobile phones helped young people to be engaged in expressing their opinions and accessing information. Use of reload cards in small denominations, made access to the internet cheaper via mobile phones. If you see the use of internet by device, the vast majority use their mobile phones to access the internet, therefore technology played an important role among youth to bring about change during the last presidential election.

Dr. Harsha De Silva

“The energy of youth can be harnessed positively only if policy makers can make youth feel they’re an important part in policy-making”

One may say that today’s generation of youth are ever so dynamic that their views and ideas are forever changing. What is your plan to transcend the energy and dynamism of the youth population?

Youth by definition are not conforming. This is because; youth today are able to access the internet and technology to form their own opinions at a younger age. Especially, with television and the ICT revolution spreading the message across the world that you’re not too young to form an opinion, young people today form dynamic views and ideas.

This energy of youth can be harnessed positively only if policy makers can make youth feel they’re an important part in policy making. But if youth continue to feel they’re marginalized and feel old people are making decisions for the young people, then I think it can become a very strong negative force that the governments may find very difficult to deal with. Therefore, youth should be made to feel important to determine their own futures.

As a policy maker what is the role that you expect young people to play if the country is to reap their full potential?

Take me for example; I am helping the prime minister to develop this country’s policies. Policies are for the future, it is neither for today nor yesterday, therefore I have put together a group of professionally respected young people to think about issues in the national policies. They are not at the top of their careers yet, but they are in the top of their own fields. They are all young, and that’s the consideration. I have got them to bring out the youth perspective of Sri Lanka’s policies such as health care, education, elderly and national debt. I sit with them once a week to discuss their opinions about national issues. Therefore, many policy changes we propose to make within the next 5 years will have a strong influence of these young people.

What is the one thing that Sri Lanka should do in terms of investing on its large population of young people in taking the country to its next level of development?

They must be given the opportunity.


Kiyanna Staff