Join Sobel on the video #YALICHAT Engaging Youth in the Democratic Process on Wednesday, February 25th at 1400 UTC.
As Dakar resident Sobel Ngom completed his high school final exams, he began to think that if more people knew how to vote, they could change their country’s future.
A visit to a family friend in a village shed further insight on that thought. The visit “changed my life,” Ngom says. The villagers he met “didn’t care about elections. They didn’t know the candidates. The democratic system was not a part of their lives.”
Later, as a communications major at SupDeCo University in Dakar, Ngom set his sights on teaching people all over Senegal how to vote. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2012, just as Senegal’s presidential election was approaching. He wanted people to make conscious, informed decisions about who their next political leader would be.
He recruited a couple of university friends to join him. With about $3,000 in contributions from friends and family, the three-member team developed a voter education campaign that combined social media, print, television and in-person outreach strategies designed to reach as many people as possible. Through word-of-mouth, within weeks the team had grown to 25 volunteers.
Ngom, a member of the YALI Network and 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow, described how his group in three months created greater awareness among the targeted audience about the voting process.
The team organized public presentations to help villagers understand the importance of voting. The presentations included a basic handout using simple language to describe the basics of democracy and voter registration.
The team worked one-on-one with older community members – most of whom had no official record of their birth or residency – to help them get proper documentation from their municipal governments allowing their registration as voters. Older people were “very supportive” of what the team was doing, Ngom says.
To reach youth, the team employed social media platforms like Facebook and You Tube, and events like concerts to encourage voter registration and democratic participation. It put an online version of the handout on its Facebook page called Voix Des Jeunes (Voices of Youth).
Ngom’s colleagues even created an online practice ballot to familiarize future voters with the process of casting a vote. Because their parents had never voted, youth, who are the majority of Internet users, did not have a family tradition of going to the polls.
“We chose not to say to people ‘guys, you have to vote,’” Ngom emphasizes. Instead, “we wanted to help them understand the process.” Team members stayed away from promoting or opposing any candidate.
Along the way, Ngom says he sought advice from an uncle and other family members. His father, a diplomat, and sister, a former United Nations development worker, helped him find out how to apply for additional funding.
Parallel to this voter education work, Ngom heads the social media department for a digital company. He also has started several projects including a summer school program for rural youth, aiming to reduce the gap in national exam results between rural and urban students. He recently started a leadership center called “Social Change Factory” to inform youth in French-speaking Africa of their civic, economic and social responsibilities.