In a time where societal challenges continually arise, young people engage in public debate to represent the interests of their generation. To gain insight into their experiences, motivations, and methods, Public Matters speaks with several young lobbyists. In this part of the interview series “Young and Lobbyist: A New Generation of Influencers,” our colleagues Valérie Mendes de León and Jesse van der Genugten speak with Kimberley Snijders, Chair of the National Youth Council (NJR) and the youth platform of the Social and Economic Council (SER).
The NJR consists of nearly 40 member organizations that work on various themes such as equal opportunities and future prospects. As an overarching connector, NJR advocates for the interests of all Dutch young people. Kimberley Snijders (22) has been active as Chair for almost a year. Kimberley took her first steps within NJR as a volunteer at the National Youth Debate, where young people voice their opinions in the House of Representatives and engage in debates with ministers or state secretaries. The opportunity to make an impact on societal issues, together with other young people, appealed to her, leading her to join the NJR board.
One year as Chair
Through contact with member organizations and organizing projects and elements, Kimberley gathers a wide range of perspectives. Additionally, as a person in her early twenties, Kimberley herself daily experiences issues that she can draw upon in her role. “I’m quickly labeled as a professional youngster” she states, “but I also struggle to find housing and worry about climate change.”
Young people often attract goodwill, which is a significant reason why organizations and governments frequently ask Kimberley to participate in discussions. “The influence I can exert at the table unfortunately depends on the person I’m talking to,” she asserts. “If someone truly sees the importance of hearing the youth voice, I can make a real impact and even set the tone at the table. However, if I’m sitting with people who don’t really understand why a young person is present, a lot of my energy goes into just getting a foot in the door.”
Meaningfully involving young people
Although enthusiasm for hearing the youth voice seems to be increasing, according to Kimberley, there is still a lack of knowledge about how to genuinely involve young people. “Often, attempts are made to have the same type of discussion with young people as with older individuals. This makes the discussions inaccessible for young people, making it difficult to talk about their own experiences.”
To create an environment where young people can truly participate, Kimberley offers a few tips: “Ensure that there is enough space at the table, so young people don’t have to ‘fight‘ for one spot. It’s also important to reach out to youth organizations that can support in finding young people with the right experiences and knowledge. Furthermore, the conversation should not only focus on including young people at policymaker tables but also on including policymakers at youth tables.” According to Kimberley, it is crucial for policymakers and organizations to literally immerse themselves in the world of young people. “Not every young person is thrilled to come to The Hague and sit at a policy table.”
Walking through doors
Kimberley will remain as Chair of the NJR for another year. Together with her organization, she will continue to focus on themes such as education, climate, (youth) care, well-being, and digitalization.
“We now have access. The next step is to ensure that we are united enough to participate in substantive discussions and bring the right people to the table. The doors shouldn’t just be opened; we must actually walk through them.”