World Bank Group Summit: Should Youth support Open Government?

Maria Habanikova

Does Open Government lead to Better Governance? I find out. 

Attending the World Bank Group Youth Summit has been an eye-opening experience, providing insights on open government and open data.

Having met Richard Pietro after his cross-Canada Open Government Tour 2014 and attended the Open Government Grand Bazaar at the Ottawa City Hall motivated me to apply to attend the second annual World Bank Group Youth Summit on “The Need for Open & Responsive Governments” in Washington D.C. Less than three weeks later, I found myself setting out on my very own – albeit much shorter – trip to the US capital city to connect with peers from around the world and explore different ways in which global youth – having at their disposal mediums not available even a decade ago – can get involved in their governments’ decision making process, enhance transparency, and assure accountability in the governance contexts they interact with daily, be it locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally.

11 hour Plenary Session with 300+ Youth Representatives? No Problem. 

Thanks to the generosity and support of the main sponsor, the World Bank Group (Governance) and collaborators including the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Asian Development Bank, Restless Development (Youth-Led Development Agency), Plan International (a children’s development organization), and Transparency International 300 youth representatives, students, and young professionals gathered in the International Finance Corporation Auditorium on Pennsylvania Avenue at 9am on Tuesday, October 7th to begin an exhilarating 11-hour day of plenary sessions, workshops, discussions, and networking opportunities.

The atmosphere in the WBG Building was nothing short of extraordinary. As an extrovert, there is hardly anything more energizing than an auditorium filled with eager, involved, and impressive young professionals who aspire to be better every day and make a difference in their communities, cities, and countries.

Greeted by Nicholas Bian, Youth Summit’s Chair, we were encouraged to reflect on key issues affecting us ranging from corruption, lack of transparency, and distrust in governments, and to consider our capacity to strengthen the mechanisms of accountability. Research shows that youth supports open government and is interested in pursuing action-oriented solutions. The Summit – blending policy dialogue, tool-focused workshops and collaboration – provided us with a unique opportunity to do just that.

In a nutshell, before I get into the concept of governance and a couple of ideas from the summit that have resonated with me the most, the day consisted of a ministerial discussion with Erion Veliaj, Minister for Social Welfare and Youth, Albania and two plenary sessions, Promoting and enabling youth, youth ideas, and youth movements in ensuring open and responsive governments and The Role of Youth in Inclusive Governance. Additionally, the afternoon presented the participants with an opportunity to pick two of eight available governance-themed workshops run and sponsored by a variety of partnering organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Carter Center, Plan International and others.

#OpenGovNow: Innovations on gathering citizen feedback

It was extremely difficult to choose and I would have appreciated a chance to attend all of the workshops but in the end, I selected #OpenGovNow: Innovations on gathering citizen feedback, hosted by the World Bank Group Governance Practice and Youth Engagement and E-Governance Tools, hosted by the International Republican Institute & Generation Democracy.  The highlight of the Youth Summit were the closing remarks by the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim who encouraged us to confront the socio-economic challenges of the world today, hold governments accountable, make people uncomfortable, and remember that when it comes to governance, we matter today more than ever before.

Every speaker I had the honor of listening to and participant I had a chance to interact with made a lasting impression on me; there were, however, a handful of those whose ideas are still swirling around in my head trying to settle into that part of my brain that can process them, convey the message to others and perhaps even convert them into sustainable actions.

Mr. Veliaj from Albania introduced the idea of a subcontracted government, which – in the context of youth engagement – means a government that encourages its youth (and citizenry in general) to be guardians of their own taxes. In Albania, applying this in practice has reduced fraud by 20% because young people have been reporting any fraudulent behavior they encountered.

Because Veliaj’s Centre Left – Solidarity Party realized that young people worry about the future, the party’s goal became to get Albanian youth involved in something they believe in and in what they actually want to invest their energy and time. In other words, a subcontracted government invites people to do things in their own communities and to report back on their contributions as well as inappropriate behavior. Actions speak louder than words so governments need to lead by example instead of giving orders; when they are at the frontlines of action, people will be more motivated to get involved as well.

Albanian Success? 

I was quite fascinated by the success story Albania has showcased in the recent years; moreover, Mr. Veliaj got me thinking about governance in a new way. He claimed, “governance is politics”. At first, I disagreed because as a public policy student and governance consultant, I present governance in a very different way. I tend to interpret governance as the ‘relationship between those who govern and those who are governed’ or ‘governance is definitely not government.’

However, Mr. Veliaj linked governance to the way political parties behave and engage with their voters. Demonstrations and tangible promises of good governance, he stated, are in parties’ best interest because their existence in their respective parliaments – wherever in the world those may be – depends on the inclination of citizens to vote in their favor. Therefore, open government becomes a self-serving prophecy.

Wait a minute, where are the Government workers?

If we accept what Mr. Veliaj said about governance and what I claim governance not to be, it will either be very surprising or on the other hand, quite logical that the vast majority of presenters (with the exception of Mr. Veliaj) and youth participants at WBG that day did not come from the political sphere, public sector or government. In my first workshop of about 50 participants, there was not a single government employee. It can be surprising because while governance may not be the same as government, the two undoubtedly go hand in hand and are two sides of the same coin; logical because good governance is also a concept tied closely to the idea of citizen engagement and civil society input.

Regardless of whether you belong to ‘I am surprised’ or ‘It makes perfect sense’ category, the following remains certain: the need for open government and good governance is bigger today than ever before and even though governance is definitely not government, we definitely require more government in governance discussions.