By Myriam Kodeih
Amid the worst socio-economic crisis that Lebanon has been through in its modern history, most of the Lebanese youth are jumping at any given opportunity to leave the country and find stability in places where the future is clearer. The youth being Lebanon’s greatest wealth, empowering them with a more thorough citizen-centered understanding of contemporary issues related to public governance and betting on them to reform our country would be the best way-out of this mass exodus. This is not far from reality as it is exactly what the Youth4Governance program (Y4G) is all about. Launched in 2021 by Siren, in collaboration with the Central Inspection and the Saint Joseph University of Beirut via its alumni, the program has proven to the youth that they are indeed the State.
Whereas Lebanese public administrations were once a model to be followed in the Arab region, they are now left being more of a burden to the citizens than an effective facilitator of services. The aim of the Youth4Governance program hence is to regroup young and motivated individuals from different backgrounds and sectors including technology, communication, law, and social sciences, to work as consultants to help in reforming the public institutions. Being freshly or soon-to-be out of their academic journeys in the 9 different Lebanese public and private universities that they represent, the Y4G participants are capable of coming up with innovative and unprecedented solutions for the public sector. 193 applications were received for the second edition of the program proving it is ever-growing as the number of applicants has doubled compared to 2021. Thus, the 2022 Youth4Governance program currently includes over 40+ interns fractionated between June and September. The first cohort of interns started their journey in June, while the second batch would begin in mid-July to cover together the necessary field-work needed for the various undergoing studies. In their first week, cohort 1 had the opportunity to meet with the President of the Central Inspection Georges Attieh twice as a first introduction to this oversight body serving the executive authority. This discussion was shortly followed by a visit the CI’s bureau in Hamra to discover the practicality of the day-to-day work. In its two editions, this program has helped digitalize services, produce relevant public policies and reports, as well as give access to information to the society for better transparency and accountability. In fact, the Central Inspection’s IMPACT platform has been a pioneer in Lebanese e-governance by allowing citizens to access public services digitally and thus lowering the chances of resorting to the infamous interpersonal “wasta”. One of the most recent services it has set into place is the Covax platform launched with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to fill out the Covid-19 Vaccine pre-registration form.
Siren’s scope of work is as diverse as the Lebanese society is. That being said, some of the current ongoing Youth4Governance projects include:
To reduce the overwhelming bearings of the current crisis on the most vulnerable families in Lebanon, Siren Associates has put into place a web-based portal where Lebanese citizens can register and apply for social assistance more commonly known as “daem”. The beneficiaries of this aid are chosen following an independent and automated mechanism under the supervision and monitoring of the Central Inspection (CI) and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) to insure a fraud-free decision. This targeted direct cash-transfer program appears to be the optimal short-term solution preceding the implementation of an all-inclusive mid-term macroeconomic reform: an adequate national social safety net based on the analysis of the poverty index in Lebanon.
Impact’s rural development project:
The psychological and physical distance between government officials and citizens in a centralized state is the core problem of such systems. Often enough, the central government ends up taking measures that ignore the needs of the local community and, consequently, lacks credibility and efficiency. With the collaboration of the Ministry of Displaced, a ten-section rural development module has been developed and filled out by municipalities in Lebanon mapping their socio-economic conditions according to health, education, infrastructure, agriculture and industrial indicators. The participants in the Y4G program are thus currently elaborating a strategy-plan for the municipalities while taking into consideration the legal and political outline set with the Kazas, districts, and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM).
The spread of disinformation like rumors and hate-speech has caused a democratic deficit in the Arab region. Hence, stemming the creation, distribution, and acceptance of this information is critical to maintaining cohesive societies with a shared resilience and promotion of peace. Having conducted a market analysis in relation to social media monitoring tools in the Arabic language, the overall objective of this initiative is to increase the use of locally-driven online news both by the public and policy makers through an automated fact-checking platform for the Arab region.
Beyond the opportunity of gaining analytical thinking skills and expertise in the public sector, this internship helps forming engaged citizens who are committed to state reforms and are capable of constructively questioning the status quo in support of a more accountable, transparent and responsible political and economic governance in Lebanon. My journey as a policy and research intern in the Youth4Governance program might have only started but I can already tell that there are unknown champions working from within the State to curb the corrupt practices that have long been normalized. Beyond the beam of hope it revitalizes in every Lebanese citizen, this program gave me and my peers the chance to work on the long-awaited change we wish to see in our beloved country.