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Nuevas Voces in Development

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February 17, 2004—“Why doesn’t the World Bank have projects that involve youth?” That query from a teenager during a visit to a Bank project in Peru prompted a new initiative to bring young voices into its work.

Nuevas Voces (New Voices) is a two-year old initiative of the Bank’s office in Peru that invites some dozen young people, already active in their communities, to spend time at the office to learn, research, advise and comment on the Bank.

Nuevas Voces at the entrance of the World Bank office in Lima
It’s a win-win situation. These young socially-conscious activists get hands-on experience in development, while the Bank receives youth perspective on its work, which ultimately helps to better design and implement projects. “I understand better the role the World Bank plays in countries like mine, as well as the role of the government and civil society. This is important for me, since I’m studying economics and I want to focus on development issues in my career,” says Natalia Toledo, one of those who had an opportunity to investigate the Bank’s work hands on.

According to Elizabeth Dasso, World Bank Senior Social Development and Civil Society Specialist in Peru, this initiative had a dramatic impact. Young people initially thought of the Bank as missionaries who travel and proselytize across Peru’s countryside. “They saw us as foreign white people, dressed up in suits, and distant from local people. What they found was that our staff is comprised of ‘real’ people committed to alleviating poverty,” says Dasso.

Visiting Peru at the end of 2002, World Bank President James Wolfensohn met with the young people and promised to support the initiative’s expansion. Programs are planned for Ecuador and Venezuela as well.

Nuevas Voces members at the Development Marketplace in 2003 at the Peruvian National Museum
To date, about 100 young people have been brought in as a strategic allies who provide insights and recommendations while acquiring new knowledge and tools to make their contribution more effective. Following a brief introduction to development, the Bank and its country programs, students get to work on a project of their choice. Currently, a group is writing a handbook on development and the Bank’s work in Peru, while another one had prepared a study on how to improve tertiary education curricula and policy.

Participants also visit existing Bank projects and give their views to task managers on project preparation, implementation or review. They learn how to prepare and submit projects for appropriate Bank competitions, namely the Country Innovation Days or Small Grants Program.

“I was amazed by the amount of information and knowledge the Bank manages. I knew it was one of the institutions that generates most research on development, but I really didn’t know its scope and breath, or how to use and approach it,” remembers Toledo.

Nuevas Voces participants in group discussion at a local non-governmental organization
Participants are culled from a large pool of candidates initially nominated by their youth groups, schools, church groups, or other community organizations. The criteria consist of the willingness to learn about development and create a project that their organization can later implement.

“The influence of this initiative on staff has been tremendous,” says Dasso.

“Since they’ve seen how insightful and dedicated these young people are, other managers are now inviting them to visit their projects, as well.”

The original program will be expanded to include indigenous and Afro-descendant youths, while another one will be set up in four provinces outside Lima and will focus on civic engagement. The project in Ecuador will focus on cultural perspectives, while the one in Venezuela will look into conflict resolution and mitigation.

This model for engaging young people is gaining ground around the Bank and similar programs are in the works in other regions, including Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Related Links:

Reaching Children and Youth in Middle East and North Africa
Assets Lying Idle in Eastern Europe & Central Asia
Young Timorese Take to the Airwaves
e-Discussion: Defining Roles for Youth and the Next Generation of Leaders
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