Increasing Youth Political Inclusion through Debate

Podcast Participants; Given Kapolyo, Rafka Noufal, Selina Dicusar.

To celebrate International Youth Day 2020 Rachel Mims, Senior Program Officer for Youth Political Participation at NDI, is joined by three young leaders from Zambia, Lebanon, and Moldova. They discuss competitive youth debate as an opportunity to build political skills, actively contribute to solving social problems, and create greater space for youth inclusion in public life.  For more information please go to

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Given Kapolyo: I don't believe in the saying young people are the future leaders. Because the truth is they tell us this for years and years and years, when I was 15 they told me you're a future leader, then I turned 20 and they said I'm a future leader, then they turned 25, and they said I'm a future leader, so then I'm now just waiting, I'm saying okay, when does the future come?

Now I think just this is time that we turn it around, and say young people should be the leaders of today, as well.

Rachel Mims: Today's young people deserve real opportunities to participate in political processes, and contribute to practical solutions that advance development. When given an opportunity to organize, voice their opinions, and play a meaningful role in political decision making, they consistently demonstrate their willingness and ability to foster positive lasting change. They also become more likely to demand and defend democracy, and gain a greater sense of belonging.

Recent global movements such as movements for climate justice and racial justice demonstrate that young people are demanding a shift in who has power, and in how that power is used, yet young people still find themselves marginalized from mainstream politics, and are limited in their ability to exercise the same influence over decision making processes. This is particularly true for young people who have experienced intersecting forms of marginalization and exclusion. At a time when global inequality is increasing, young people remain disproportionately impacted, and are expressing frustration with leaders and institutions that they perceive to be inaccessible, incapable, unresponsive, corrupt, and often repressive.

NDI works globally to support the political participation of young people through a variety of approaches that increase young people's agency, and create a more supportive environment. One approach involves helping young people develop competitive debating skills, including an issue analysis and framing, reasoning, public speaking, and active listening. NDI has supported [inaudible 00:02:05] programs in several countries, including longstanding programs in Jordan and Moldova, and more recent programs in Guatemala and Libya. We've seen the debate skills not only enhance political participation, but also contribute to holistic youth development. Debate builds practical skills that pave the way for young people to successfully engage in civil discourse and peaceful problem solving, both with their peers and with adult power holders.

I'm Rachel Mims, Senior Program Officer for Youth Political Participation at the National Democratic Institute, and today we are joined by three young leaders from Lebanon, Moldova, and Zambia, each working in different ways to apply their debate skills and actively contribute to solving social problems. As a result, they're creating greater space for youth inclusion in public life. First we'll hear from [Gibbon Carpolio 00:02:58]. Next up, Rachbenda Fou, and then Selena Decuzar. Welcome to Dem Works.

In Zambia, NDI partner with a chapter of the Center for Young Leaders of Africa, and Youth for Parliament, to gather young people from across political parties, media, and civil society organizations to debate solutions for increasing the number of young people in parliament. This debate program created an opportunity for youth from parties and civil society to change ideas, develop their public speaking and research skills, and to generate discussion around critical issues facing youth in Zambia.

We spoke with Given Kapolyo to learn more. Given, thank you for joining us today.

GK: Thank you so much for having me. It's a great pleasure to feature. First of all, I'm a young African female, my name is Given Kapolyo, I'm a young politician, I'm a student, I'm an activist, I'm an advocate, and a public speaker now. I can proudly call myself a public speaker, after I took part in the NDI public speaking that was called the Youth Debate Zambia.

I live in the northern part of Zambia. That's Kasama, northern province, Kasama, rural part of Zambia, so it was great that I was moved from the northern part of Zambia to the capital city, just to participate in the Youth Debate Zambia.

RM: Thank you, and thank you for telling us about all the different hats you wear. I hope to hear more about your activism, and other things that you're doing in politics.

Can you tell me more about your experience in the debate program? What was it like? What were some of the topics that you all discussed?

GKWe began with a training session. We covered the history of public speaking, we covered the tricks that we need for public speaking, how you draw the attention of a crowd, how you keep them engaged, and ordered. It was different young people from different parts of the country, and we were all brought together and were taught together, and then were given a topic. We were discussing how we can increase the number of young people in parliament, the number of youths in parliament, and it was a very profound experience, in the sense that we didn't just learn, then they'd give us a chance to actually show what we had learned from the training, and it was that interesting.

By the time we were leaving the training, there were people that were so confident to go back to their communities, and just speak change into their communities, into the crowds, and that was just how interesting, and just how meaningful it was to me and other participants that were there.

RM: I really love the point about public speaking, and this immediate sense of agency that young people feel, that they can go back and use their voice, and they have skills that they can start to put into use right away. Can you talk about the connection between some of the skills that you learned and your future political aspirations? I know that you're interested in running for public office.

GKOne of the things that we learned at the Youth Debate Zambia was that communication, public speaking and communication have a lot to do with politics, and with the youth standing out as a public figure, because it's they also mentioned how many great orators were [inaudible 00:06:34] were to get into public office because of how they spoke, how good they were at it, and the impacts that it just had in changing society.

For me as a young politician, first of all I must mention that the country that I'm from it's very difficult for a young female. First of all, it's very difficult for a female to make it into public office. It's even worse for a young female to make it. That, it also prepared me for how I could use my words to show people that not only will I be a voice for them, I could actually speak my heart out to them, tell them what my plans are, but then do it skillfully in a way that they buy into it, and are able to elect me, and even how because we dealt with topics on how you could make your speech relatable such that as you're telling your story somebody that is listening instantly feels like you're telling their story, and when they're able to relate with you it will be very easy for them to actually elect you as their leader, because they feel like you're a mirror of them, and then you can represent them better.

The training for me was actually a point that I think began a lot of things for me, because I knew I could speak, but then I didn't know I could use it to further my political ambition. When I went back home, in Kasana, I was able to speak to various groups. Just by me sharing my story with them, they were able to buy into the vision that I have for my ward, because I have aspirations of standing as a ward counselor next year, in our general elections, and it's been very helpful.

I've been able to know another important thing we learned is how you should be able to read your audience, so depending on who I'm talking to, I'm able to know which skills I should employ.

RM: Thank you. I know you can't see me, but I'm nodding vigorously over here, because you just shared, I think, so many important lessons with our listeners, just about how you can use these skills to further your political ambition, how things are different for young women, and how they face different barriers and challenges into getting into elected office, and how these skills help create an opening.

I want to talk about NDI's work in changing the face of politics, and it relates directly to what you mentioned about being a young woman in politics. NDI is launching a decade-long campaign to accelerate the pace of change on all aspects of women's empowerment, and that includes their participation in leadership and politics, and I wanted to hear from you what you think young people's role is in not only changing the face of politics, but ensuring that young women have a role to play, and can participate in politics.

GKWe need to become alive to the reality that our parents will not be here 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, it is us that will be here. Every time I'm speaking to young people about young people involvement in politics and leadership and decision making and getting involved in civic spaces, I'm always telling them if we don't get involved now, then we are simply selling our future off ... Not even selling it off, we're simply giving it off for free. Because whatever our ... Those that we leave leadership to today, whatever decisions they make, or whatever they choose to do with the resources that we have, whatever they choose to do with our nation, they will not be here to face the repercussions, we will be here.

Most of our parliament, the Zambian parliament has over 158 seats, and only 2 people are below the age of 35, only two people are youth, but if we do get young people involved, then we do get young people into parliament, we will know to say this decision that I'm making today, I'm only 27, so the decision that I'm making today, 30 years from now the chances that I still will be here to answer for it and to face the repercussions of if I make a bad decision will linger in my mind, for even as I make a decision I'm thinking I'm not thinking five years from now, I'm thinking 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years from now, because I'm assured I will still obviously be here. I feel the time is now that young people actually take over and provide solutions to many of these challenges, and many of the problems that our country, our continent, and even the world is facing today.

RM: So many of the points that you just talked about really point to the need for this culture shift, and a culture change within politics. I think a lot of what you are advocating for, particularly about greater youth inclusion, can help contribute to that shift, and politics being more inclusive and representative of young people.

I just really want to thank you for taking time to talk with us today, and to share your thoughts, and I really want to wish you all the best in your run for office. I think you would make an amazing political leader, and I'm really excited to see what your future holds, and where you'll go after your participation as a young person in politics.

GKThank you so much. I look forward to where I go to, so I keep working towards it. And this I'm guaranteed that I will get there. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure having this conversation with you. I look forward to further interactions.

RM: Us as well. Thank you again.

For more than 35 years, NDI has been honored to work with thousands of courageous and committed democratic activists around the world, to help countries develop the institutions, practices, and skills necessary for democracy's success. For more information, please visit our website, at

In Lebanon, NDI is collaborating with the television station MTV Lebanon, for its weekly program, It's About Time, which features political leaders responding to questions from the host and from young people who have been trained in policy analysis and debate skills by NDI. MTV Lebanon hopes that by expanding debate culture in the country and by proving that young people can debate, they will pave the way for hosting Lebanon's first debates between national political leaders before the next elections in 2022. The show has achieved broad viewership, and resulted in viral moments on social media, with some political leaders saying that they tune in specifically to watch the youth debate segment. I would like to introduce everyone to Rafka Noufal, a junior Lebanese lawyer, and active participant on the debate show. Rafka, thank you for joining us for the podcast today.

Rafka Noufal: Thank you for having me with you today.

RM: I'd like to start with you giving us a brief introduction about your work, and your background, and what brought you to the debate show.

RN: I'm a 24-years-old Lebanese junior lawyer. I studied law in the Holy Spirit University, a Catholic University in Lebanon, and I just graduated from my masters to a degree. I also have a certificate of completion of the [inaudible 00:14:06] university program on international criminal law and procedures, and am a very social person who's interested in politics and in all the topics that are rising inside our country. When I knew about the TV political show It's About Time, through my university, I was very excited and more willing to join this show because I saw it as a platform to raise our voice as the young people in Lebanon, and to give our opinion and our thoughts on all the political and social and economic topics that are arising inside our society.

I work as a lawyer now, [inaudible 00:14:42] bar association, and I work in an office that takes private law cases and more specifically criminal law cases. Throughout my work, I got familiar with the gaps and insecurities inside the Lebanese legal system.

RM: I see so much connection between your ability to do this work as a lawyer and having the opportunity to dig into these pressing political issues on the debate show. Can you tell me a little bit more about your experience on the show, and talk about some of what you gained, whether it's skills that you gained, or kind of how the show maybe changed your perspective about politics?

RN: In fact, the different trainings we did with NDI were very useful on many levels. First of all, it developed our skills in public speaking, which is very important in the life of politics, and to my work also of the lawyer. Also, these trainings triggered the reason and the logic inside every mind of the young people who participate in the show, and it let us discuss and have conversations people from all over the country, so this debate program let us know how to discuss, how to debate topics without hurting other people's feelings, or other people's opinions.

RM: Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the topics that you debated on the TV show, and maybe topics that came up that were a bit more controversial, or there was more, there were maybe more emotions, or opinions that people really wanted to share?

RN: First off, my last debate at the show was about the early elections in Lebanon. I was supporting that we should have an early election in Lebanon, to change the members of the parliament, because the government in Lebanon now, even the parliament, they are not doing enough work in order to take us, or to help Lebanon go through this economic situation, this economic crisis we're going through right now in Lebanon. I was supporting the fact that we should be doing an early election, to change the leaders, to change the member of the parliament. We need young people to get inside the parliament. We need new, free minds, that are not attached to the past, they are not divided by sectarianism. We need a civil country, not a country that is divided by sectarianism.

RM: Can you talk a little bit more about your thoughts on the protest, and what you see as a way forward not only for young people in Lebanon, but the entire so many people across the country have been engaged in the protests, kind of what do you see as a vision, or a way forward?

RN: I would like to start by giving, talking about the problem between this disconnection, between young people nowadays in Lebanon, and the political parties, before talking about the protests. In fact, political parties in Lebanon are still attached to the past, and they divide young people by sectarianism. You should follow this party because you are from the sect that this party supports, or also I think that political parties inside Lebanon lack any vision for the future beyond their personal interests, and the most important point is that they deny the youth right to participate in decision making process, because they are political parties that are doomed with ... How to say it? Political inheritance, and the cultural hierarchy that says that elders know better than young people, but in fact when that's not the case when it's faced with reality, because every generation faces new challenges, different from the challenges that the other generation faced, so all of this adding to the corruption that grows like a tumor inside [inaudible 00:18:54] infecting all the aspects after [inaudible 00:18:58] for about like the environment, infrastructure, and economic crisis led to the birth of this protest and this revolution that emerged inside the streets of Lebanon.

RN: I think that young people, and I'm one of them, we saw this revolution as a window of hope to change the current corrupted situation in the country, and maybe to take part of the decision making process, to give our opinion, our thoughts.

RM: Do you see some of the topics that have come up in debates, and young people's desire to protest and take part in the revolution, do you see that as a meaningful pathway to change?

RN: I think so. I think young people believe in these social movements because these social movements are based on the free minds, and are detached from sectarianism, and from inequality between the Lebanese people, and maybe these social movements can create in the future political parties that can govern Lebanon and help it to develop like other countries in the world.

RM: This year, under the banner of of Changing the Face of Politics, NDI is launching a decade-long campaign to accelerate the pace of change on all aspects of women's empowerment, and that includes their participation in leadership and politics. I wanted to ask you what you see as young people's role in changing the face of politics, and ensuring that young women specifically can participate and have a meaningful role in politics, and particularly in the context of Lebanon, this new politics that you all are attempting to usher in.

RN: I think that [inaudible 00:20:44] young people are making a step to bridge this gap between politics and youth people, because they are taking on important issues, such as climate change, mass immigration, and even women empowerment, however, I think that we still have a bit of problem inside the third-world countries, but as for women empowerment, I think Lebanon and and outside in other countries young people believe in gender equality between man and woman, and they don't consider gender as an indication for holding a political position.

In fact, we support us young people that competence, performances and efficiency are the only conditions for judging a person in a position of power, and not being a woman or a man. Thus, if we take charge in Lebanon, I think you will see more women engaged in the politics. For example, right now in Lebanon we are demanding the vote of the law for women's quota in all Lebanese election as a step to engage more women in the political life of the country.

RM: Do you think that this culture of youth debate, and young people sharing their voices on these important political topics, do you think that this trend will continue, in that it's important that young people continue to use debate to speak out about politics?

RN: The debating concept is important because first, it lets you build constructive arguments in a persuasive way, and you don't only talk just to talk, you have to talk with a logic and reason. Young people can express their opinion with public speaking skills, and to accept the opinion of other people without deciding them, or offending them, as I mentioned before.

RM: I really want to thank you for taking time out to share more with us about your political experience, and to talk about the political trends that we're witnessing in Lebanon. I think that a lot of what you shared can be really relevant for young people, and for others that are participating in politics, to really understand how this development skills and development of knowledge around debate can be useful for a political career.

RN: I would like also to thank NDI for all the training they did with us, and it was really a lifetime experience with them, and with It's About Time show.

RM: Great. Thank you.

RN: Thank you so much.

RM: NDI has worked with thousands of young people on the art of competitive policy debate, and has ongoing debate programs in three regions. To learn more about NDI youth debate programs, or access program resources, visit the Youth Leading Debate Initiative, on

In Moldova, NDI is facilitating the seventh iteration of the Challenger Program, which aims to help create the next generation of political leaders, policymakers, and civil servants. Challenger equips young people with the knowledge and skills to develop realistic public policies that respond to the needs and priorities of the people in Moldova. The youth debates take place in the second phase of the program, the policy debate school. During the program, the participants acquire research and analytical skills, and they also take part in developing a youth manifesto, which addresses important national problems faced by young people in the country.

I would now like to introduce you to Silena, who is a member of the Challenger Program, and is going to join us to talk a little bit about her experience. Hey, Silena, thanks for joining us today.

Selina Dicusar: Hello. Thank you for having me.

RM: I'd like to just start with you giving us a brief introduction about yourself, and telling us about your experience in the program.

SD: Okay. My name is Selena Dicusar. I am 20-years-old. I was born in the Republic of Moldova. Currently, I'm studying  Moldova, at the  international relations.

SD: I am a member of the Communication PR Department of the Erasmus Student Network Chisinau, but elections are currently underway, and I will run for Vice President. I am also participant of Challenger, and a double winner of the Best Speaker Award.

RM: Selena, thank you for that introduction. Can you tell me about your experience in the Challenger Program, why did you decide to join in the first place, and what do you think you gained from your participation in the program?

SD: It's certainly the most complex intense and in depth project that I've ever been involved in. I've had a unique experience participating in a project which changed my attitude towards politics, and taught me new skills. Firstly, I learned to value my knowledge in terms of languages and to apply them correctly in research. Secondly, I have learned to think critically, and always question any information I receive or process. And last but not least, I learned how to develop solutions.

About opportunities, yes, what I gained in Challenger helped me to properly recommend myself to the mayor of my native village, and prove that my ideas will help improve the situation in the village.

RM: Thank you. I think you brought up some really excellent points, particularly about this need to challenge information that we receive from different sources, and to really kind of understand what's being proposed for our different communities. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the debate skills? You mentioned that they connect to your political participation outside the program. What about the debate component helps prepare you for political engagement outside the program?

SD: First of all, the debate helped me understand how to make a manifesto, because we are writing manifestos in the program, and I think this is one of the most important skills that I have learned, and that have certainly helped me to engage more in politics out of the program.

RM: Great. Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about I know that you do quite a bit of work on the local level, and that you've been doing some work with the local mayor, so I want to talk about this trend that we're seeing, which is a bit of a disconnect between young people and formal political institutions, and we're really seeing young people kind of disengage from formal politics. I'm wondering based on your work in the community and on the local level what you think about this trend in young people moving away from formal politics, and also if you think that working on a local level is part of a solution or a viable pathway for young people to participate in politics.

SD: First of all, it is mandatory that parties and politicians stop underestimating youth. They shouldn't only change their attitudes, but also encourage young people to join parties, giving them the opportunity to work on the issues that interest them, and unfortunately one of the biggest issues between young people, political institutions, and parties in Moldova that they don't hear each other. Young people are often not appreciated fairly, they are not heard, and these of course discourages them from further action.

Local political participation is certainly a viable path that many Moldovans are unaware of, specifically my case about three or four young people and one curator from another city work on projects in our city [inaudible 00:28:24], those are the critical shortage of young people work is proceeding slowly. Most likely this is due to the fact that such work requires time and dedication. Is almost not rewarded financially, and among our youth experience is not in the first place for all. The situation is improving, the new generation is more politically active.

RM: Thank you, Selena, and I think a lot of the points that you made about how parties need to change their strategy about the way that they engage young people is really important, and also this need to work at multiple levels, that we're working at the lower level, but we're also creating opportunities at the national level, too, and I think your work experience speaks to that as well.

I want to talk a bit about young women's participation. This year, under the banner of changing the face of politics, NDI is launching a decade-long campaign to accelerate the pace of change on all aspects of women's empowerment, and this includes women's participation in politics. I want to ask you what you feel like young people's role is in ensuring that the face of politics changes, and that young women have more opportunities to participate.

SD: First of all, it seems to me that the new generation which is now growing up is more aware of the problems that humanity faces. This is a generation that can embrace changes slowly, and their role in ensuring that participation of women in politics is first of all to learning how to accept the leadership of a woman, and question the abilities of women and men working in the same area on the wages of equal criteria, and to better involve young women in politics we must first of all educate them because an educated woman is a strong woman who can defend her interests.

RM: Thank you. I think you know the point about it being a generational change, I think that's echoed in the other, the conversations with other young people, as well, is it seems like this generation is more willing to ensure that participation is inclusive, and then that includes young women as part of the conversation.

I really want to thank you for joining us today, and for sharing some insights about your participation in the program, and how you see your participation in Challenger really helping create political space for young people. Is there anything you want to add, in closing?

SD: I would like very much to thank the people coming here that created this program. It's a big challenge for Moldova to teach a generation of people that is aware of politics, that can change the political situation in the country, and the political culture, as well. I think if we get to teach more people how politics works, probably there will be a positive change in my country.

RM: Again, I just want to thank you for joining us, and answering the questions. I really wish you the best of luck in everything that you pursue, moving forward.

SD: Thank you very much.

RM: Thank you to our listeners. To learn more about NDI, or to listen to other Dem Works podcasts, please visit us at