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Trust the youth

Jul 05,2018 - Last updated at Jul 05,2018

As expected, young Jordanians played a major role in driving the recent Fourth Circle protests. It is of paramount importance that we pick up the message of the youth today. A sense of hopelessness and detachment is still present amongst young Jordanians; their lack of interest in voluntary community work, low civic participation and the high unemployment rate are but some of the reasons that drive their frustration. The older generation lack full understanding of today’s youth concerns and challenges. I believe a wide cultural gap exists between the older generation, who have been leading Jordan’s public policy for so many years now, and the youthful generations of the 80’s and 90’s. 

The two generations are wired differently. The older generation is culturally embedded in what it knows and feels comfortable with. Geert Hofstede, a dutch social psychologist and the author of renowned studies on culture, defines culture as mental programming. He says that “the sources of one’s mental programmes lie within the social environments in which one grew up and collected one’s life experiences. The programming starts within the family, it continues within the neighbourhood, at school, in youth groups, at the workplace and in the living community”. 

Arguably, the older generation is mentally programmed in a different manner. I believe they are thinkers and doers of their own cultures, and these cultures are restrained in their own context. For example, Jordanian old political parties, their ideologies and ways of working with young people, are a result of what their founders have learnt and experienced in their past. Their time was a different one with different circumstances and experiences. In other words; their heroes who have served as their models of behaviour are not the same as those of the newer generations. This example applies to other contexts as well; such as school teachers and parenting style, etc. Many observers agree that the new generation, is more liberal.

Jordanian youth embraces change, constantly follows up on new technology and innovation, seeks entrepreneurship and believes in today’s complex and fast-changing circumstances. Moreover, it is vital that we pay attention to the leadership style of our young, ambitious Jordanians. They believe in the importance of transparency and democratic consensus building when making decisions, participatory group work, dialogue, inclusivity for all and equal democratic participation. These are essential pillars that well-informed young Jordanians recognise and embrace when working with people and leading groups and organisations in their communities. The new generation is optimistic, energetic and, indeed, possesses the appropriate tools, mindset and spirit to face today’s societal and economic challenges. This, I believe, very much differs from the older generation’s style of leadership and ways of working with people, groups and organisations.

Moreover, there is a new form of globalisation today that is crossing our borders. It goes far beyond Apple gadgets, Starbucks coffee, MacDonald’s and Chinese products. It is the new spirit of the youth, who are brilliantly participating and taking on national leadership positions in the west. Jordanian youth looks with admiration to young western leaders, who are currently serving as presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors. They are, indeed, popular in the eyes of young Jordanians and set for them a new model of behaviour in international youth political participation. Therefore, it is legitimate that we raise the question of why are we not doing enough to enable the youth to acquire leadership positions on the national level? Without any doubt, it is not that they are not well-equipped, rather it is the absence of the will to transfer leadership responsibilities, willingly and trustfully, to the youth. Today, there is a need to employ the appropriate tools to engage young Jordanians in taking decisions that directly affect their futures. Top-bottom solutions and suggestions need not be imposed upon the youth, this authoritarian management style is no longer useful in organisations, nor in local governance. Rather, it should be the other way around and more participatory, namely a bottom-up approach.

For example, the Ministry of Youth needs to work with and consult the youth, seek their opinions and perspectives to establish for itself a new vision and mission. This can be achieved by including the Jordanian youngsters in a participatory democratic dialogue and long-term strategic planning workshops. In other words, the Jordanian youth needs to be at the heart of leading ministries’ work and development by enabling them to envision and shape their ministries’ future. Young Jordanians have the answers and can, indeed, give the Ministry of Youth the value and the importance it deserves. The ministry cannot hold this burden alone.

Today more than ever before, we need to seek and implement true bottom-up development. Public bodies, such as the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs and decentralisation councils, in addition to NGOs, need to forge an open and direct dialogue with the youth. This is the only way to meet the young Jordanians’ high expectations and ambitions and to give them the respect and the attention they deserve. Hard work lies ahead.


The writer, [email protected], is founder of the International Association of Facilitators Jordan Chapter,, an initiative to promote a culture of participation towards driving positive change in organisations and communities in Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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