About This Initiative

With financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), NDI developed Youth Leading Debate, a dialogue and debate program that provides young women and men with an opportunity to develop political skills and a public platform to demonstrate their capacity and value to community members and decision-makers. Young people seeking to gain expertise and practical skills for political activism struggle against barriers that prevent them from developing the willingness, confidence, and ability to take action, and the belief that their actions matter and can have a meaningful impact. Barriers to participation, such as societal norms or exclusive policies, also prevent young people from influencing politics or taking political action that can shape the country.

NDI piloted the program in 2017 in Guatemala due to young people’s expressed need to better comprehend the policy process so that they can better insert themselves in public policy deliberations and propose constructive and realistic policy solutions. At the start of the program, NDI developed a dialogue and debates methodology drawing on lessons learned from NDI youth debate programs, including Ana Usharek in Jordan and Challenger in Moldova, with technical support from the Washington Urban Debate League, a youth debate program based in Washington, DC schools and a member of the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues. The program methodology also incorporated a positive youth development approach and lessons learned from NDI’s Youth Guide and theory of change.

NDI has a history of supporting youth debates and candidate debates and has worked in partnership with debate groups to organize more than 300 debates at all levels of government in more than 35 countries. While candidate debate differs from competitive debate, this program teaches young people about the principles underlying organized political debates and how they benefit democratic culture by enhancing the level of public awareness on political positions and policy issues, reinforcing civil discourse and tolerance for divergent opinions, and centering political decisions on issues rather than personality, religion or ethnic loyalties.

This resource provides guidance for structuring and supporting a youth debate program as a method of working with politically active young people and helping them understand and influence political reform. The resource is divided into four main sections: