Catch them Young

Youth activist Hekani Jakhalu speaks to The Thumb Print on the relevance of an organisation like Youthnet for Nagaland

Please tell us about the genesis of YouthNet.

YouthNet was started by group of young professionals in 2006. Realising that there was a (i) negativity and frustration amongst the youths and also (ii) communication gap between the youths and the government , we thought it necessary that a space is created which would be positive and a platform for the voices of the Naga youth.

Why is it important to listen to the voices of the Naga Youth?

Like the rest of India, Nagaland has a very young population with more than half below the age of 35. Youths are important stakeholders in the state and so, any programmes and policies that are made need to understand and incorporate the aspirations of the young people. Unless their voices are heard there is definitely going to be a detachment and the State and the society would not grow holistically.

In what kind of areas do you work and what kind of difference have you been able to make?

More than being issue specific we are more target specific- i.e. our youths. When we initially started we dabbled in anything and everything that affected young people or interested young people. Our forte has also been the 'Right to Information' Campaign. We have been using RTI as a tool to empower young people to be active citizens. Today we can proudly say that Nagaland is one of the highest RTI awareness state.

Over the years through our experiences we realized that ultimately "bread and butter" is the most important thing for young people and this has led us to venture into livelihood and employment sector as well. Under this initiative we have the Nagaland Job Consultants (Human Resource and Job Placement Centre), Nagaland Career & Development Centre (Professional and Soft Skills Training) and YouthNet Opportunity Express (Nagaland's only Employment paper).

Please tell us about the survey on Naga Professionals.

Survey on Naga professional is a small study conducted in order to assess the status of people working outside the state. This was to understand the job trends, general working conditions, areas of interest, job growths, sustainability etc. This study was important for various stakeholders especially the government in policy formulation.

What kind of events do you organise?

Events are organized only if its part of our programme.

How do you encourage youths to be active and responsible citizens?

Since 2006 YouthNet's agenda is to empower youths and encourage and challenge them to be active and responsible citizens, as this is the basic of any change that we want to see. We have always used RTI as a tool to empower Mindset change is a process.

How have you been able to take the RTI campaign forward?

Yes, when we started in 2006, we were ambitious and thought we will change Nagaland in one or two years, but through this 6 years work realize, our system is chronic and change takes time. But we are happy that people are aware of RTI and that this is a powerful tool to check corruption. Our people are also very pro-active now and RTI is something that the government who are not performing dreads. We have conducted workshops and seminars for over 10,000 people, with church groups, student unions, NGOs, government departments and villages. Social auditing and public hearing has been conducted 7 times in towns and villages, and notable one being in Kohima with Arvind Kejriwal in 2010.

What is the YES Campaign?

Youth Employment Summit (YES) Campaign is a decade long global campaign launched in Egypt in 2002, which has 150 countries as members. This Campaign helps leaders to exchange and learn from each other and from experts, and implement programs and projects in their own country in their own local context. Under YES Campaign, YouthNet conducted an extensive and intensive youth consultation on employment in 2008 in all the 11 districts in the State. This consultation resulted in report "The Voices-Uncensored". This is referred to by the government for various policies and programmes.

What are the main problems of the youth in Nagaland?

Nagaland has been confined to the mindset of being 'politically disturbed' for a long time and this has in a way restricted the mindset of young people. The other issue is also 'the system' that constrains talents to be explored and hard work to be implemented. There is no dearth of opportunities but if the system is not in place for one to explore these opportunities it becomes meaningless. A small example to drive home the point- The youths know that collecting the best organic produce from the farmers from a far flung village and selling it in a town is an opportunity, but when the roads are bad and the transportation costs are hefty ,there is no chance of making any profit.

Have you been able to hone some youth icons who can inspire the new generation?

Many senior member of YouthNet are youth icons themselves. These people through their work and lives have been an inspiration to many youths in the state. And because of the positive changes that YouthNet is bringing about, today we have many young people and young professionals wanting to return home and join YouthNet , work and contribute to the growth and development of the State.

Do you also attempt to reach out to the youth online? Can cyberspace break the geographical barriers?

Yes, we have a community page on facebook called 'YouthNet Opportunity Express". We have about 17,000 plus members. YES, cyberspace is breaking not only geographical barriers but also mindsets. Young people can now voice out using this space.

Please tell us about your event Young Leaders Connect? What do you hope to achieve through this event? Is it an annual affair?

Young Leaders Connect (YLC) is an annual conclave that YouthNet conceptualized in 2011. The Chair of YLC is Bhaichung Bhutia, who incidentally is also the Executive Advisor of YouthNet.

The strength of Northeast is immense but its always projected as a pathetic region and people. It was time that we move away from this prejudiced image of discriminated minority. We wanted to get young leaders and achievers from the NE together and start working on our strength. We want to start repositioning the North-East. We hope this would help in paradigm shift. We need to move away from 'shouting and agitating that mainland India respect us' to "building ourselves up that the North-East is respected for our strength and our work.". We all know respect is earned and not demanded. We have 30 Speakers from the NE and young policy makers and industrialists from mainland lined up for the second edition of Young Leaders Connect in Kohima on the 20th of October.

How do the youth reach out to you with their issues? What are your future plans?

We take each day as it comes. Thought it's a formal organization, it is also driven by hundreds of young people whose needs and aspirations change everyday. We never planned where we will be today or no issues that we work on today were conceived five years back. We learn and grow and plan with time. God's been gracious and kind. Every step that we plan and take, he guides us.

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