Youth In Conversation with the Minister of International Development

During International Development Week (IDW) in February, members of the CanWaCH Youth Working Group (YWG) met with the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development, for a youth roundtable. The discussion focussed on youth engagement, advancing and protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) globally, and the important leadership role Canada plays in advancing a feminist international agenda through its investments in international aid.

Here is a snapshot of key takeaways and reflections from the discussion: 

Collaboration Paves the Path: 

The problems that we are collectively confronting around the world are growing increasingly complex and multidimensional. Efforts to pave the path forward require concerted efforts from civil society, knowledge institutions, governments, the private sector, cultural groups, and individuals who care about the future we are leaving behind to subsequent generations. Without inclusive collaboration approaches or ongoing support for local organizations on the ground, the global community will fail to make meaningful progress on issues such as SRHR. As part of this, it is imperative that Canada embraces a leadership role in both advocating for and funding international cooperation efforts to address persistent gaps. 

Same Approach, Same Result: 

Whilst Canada has long been engaged in international development work, Canadians, in general, remain rather unaware of Canada’s global contributions. Increasing communications and showcasing Canada’s work could help bolster support for Canada’s international development work. 

We encouraged the Minister and other decision-makers to approach this challenge with new and innovative ideas rather than traditional strategies for public engagement. One idea could involve the development of an interactive digital map that tells the stories of development work by highlighting the initiatives and efforts that Canadian organizations and institutions are supporting in other parts of the world. Using innovative tools like this could go a long way in engaging and informing Canadians about international development. 

Youth Working Group Member Andrea Rodríguez Ayala in conversation with the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development

Youth Engagement is Key: 

Youth engagement is crucial, however, it is not always easy to achieve. Many young people, especially those from marginalized communities, face barriers to accessing opportunities for engagement, such as a lack of resources, language barriers, and limited access to decision-making spaces. Furthermore, there is a risk that youth engagement can be tokenistic, leading to disillusionment and disengagement. 

Youth Working Group Members Clèche Kokolo and Christina Nguyen in conversation with the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development

To truly promote meaningful youth engagement, it is essential to create inclusive spaces where young people from diverse backgrounds can feel empowered to share their perspectives and have a real impact on decision-making processes. This means recognizing and valuing the contributions of young people and ensuring that their voices are heard and taken seriously. It also requires providing the necessary resources and support to ensure that young people have the skills and knowledge they need to fully participate. 

Youth are one of the groups that are, and will be, most impacted by ongoing global problems, and it is, therefore, essential to entrust youth with decision-making capabilities and give them the space to realize their roles as chief architects of the future.

Our conversation with Minister Sajjan exemplified the kind of inclusive and empowering spaces that are needed to promote positive change in the world. The experience of sharing innovative and forward-thinking ideas to move the needle forward on sexual and reproductive health rights, youth engagement, and Canadian leadership in the world was both inspiring and invigorating. We all left the room ready to dream big and do big!

Members of the CanWaCH Youth Working Group with the Minister of International Development – Left to Right: Christina Nguyen, Andrea Rodríguez Ayala, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Sophia Mirzayee, Clèche Kokolo & Hudson Biko Mwalagho

Sophia Mirzayee is a second-generation Afghan Canadian who is passionate about social justice, global citizenship education, and youth engagement. She is an Education and Youth Engagement Officer at Aga Khan Foundation Canada. Click here to connect with Sophia on LinkedIn.

Clèche Kokolo is Vice President of External Affairs for the University of Manitoba’s Women’s Centre. There, she works to advance gender equality on campus while collaborating with other organizations and associations to achieve this goal. Click here to connect with Clèche on LinkedIn.

Andrea Rodríguez Ayala is a Policy and Advocacy Officer at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Click here to connect with Andrea on LinkedIn.

Christina Nguyen is dedicated to empowering women, children and youth around the world. She is currently working at World Vision Canada as Program Officer with the Research & Evidence Building Unit. Click here to connect with Christina on LinkedIn.

Biko Mwalagho is currently a senior communications officer at the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health. Click here to connect with Biko on LinkedIn. 


April 13, 2023


CanWaCH Youth Working Group