Illustration by Daniela Nunes


Power of empowerment: how ALL young people are revitalising democracies

 by Sulkhan Chargeishvili 


This is not an article about my personal testimony, nor is it an attempt to translate scientific texts into youth-friendly language. This article is an attempt to present some reflections from my personal life and professional practice, hoping that the readers of Coyote magazine could join me in further discussing the points I make and possibly finding their own piece of interest. I write this article with “critical optimism”, looking at opportunities rather than problems because this can be a way to look at the same things a bit differently. So, let’s get started!

I am human, a father, and still a young person who grew up in Georgia, a country which I would qualify as a transitional democracy, where being democratic should not be taken for granted because my generation of thousands of millennials just needs to prove that it works. At the same time, since the beginning of my secondary school, I knew I wanted to help people and contribute to social change. After having taken part in countless youth work activities, I became empowered to believe in the power of empowerment. This made me dedicate my entire professional life to working with and for young people in different settings. Because of this, I had the privilege of working with hundreds of young people from different walks of life, out of which more than half would qualify for the words we often use to address them: “marginalised”, “at risk”, “disadvantaged” or “young people with fewer opportunities”. I don’t think they would necessarily always refer to themselves this way – perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. After more than 10 years of being involved in youth work working with all young people, I arrived at the point of facing a dilemma – am I really empowering anyone with my youth work?

Certainly, as many of my fellow youth workers would agree, there are always “inspiring stories” and “good practices” which we are rightly proud of. However, my dilemma of questioning the empowerment power was bigger. Looking at young people with disabilities with whom I was active in a youth club, with them having no access to public transport and no single politician being interested in campaigning for this, looking at the ethnic minority youth in rural Georgia, listening to them saying that they do not feel heard in Georgia or seeing young people who live and work on the streets and make their “living” by begging in the subway stations. After all this, I kept asking myself this question: “Am I really empowering anyone with my youth work?”

This dilemma of mine did not disappear as I continued my youth work journey. However, my perspective of looking at processes has certainly changed over time. I realised that there is no specific destination that we as youth workers want to bring young people to. The process of taking every single step is what really matters. By thinking more about the process, I came to realise that my work with young people was just a part of various parallel processes that inevitably affect the lives of these young people. When I tried to zoom out a bit, I clearly saw that I, my colleagues, my family and the young people I work with all share the same political systems and history with democracy and human rights, and now the same opportunity – to prove together that values of human rights and democracy can thrive in systems where the voices of the unheard are not particularly welcome!

Looking at my micro youth work practice globally helped me look at my dilemma from a different perspective. The question I asked – “Am I really empowering anyone with my youth work?” – has been changed to: “How can I use the power of empowerment to support all young people to have their voices heard?” By changing the question, I was no longer at the centre of attention. The young people were, and this made my vision of youth work much clearer, putting empathy on the process and on young people being an active part of these processes that directly affect them.

How can I (as a youth worker) use the power of empowerment to support all young people to have their voices heard?

My reflection on this question is underpinned by acknowledging that democracy and human rights are interconnected. There is no real democracy without allowing all people, including all young people, to have their say in a meaningful manner. In a perfect world with a perfect democracy, the young people with disabilities that I worked with who had no access to public transport would have a say on this, and subsequently democracy would result from addressing the problem by putting relevant policies in place. But in the realities where I worked this does not happen so easily because it is not a problem for a majority, yet all young people are revitalising democracy. The beginning for me was using a human rights-based approach in my youth work and this is how I became a youth worker who is also a human rights educator.

I saw my mission as a youth worker to empower all young people, knowing that they are not just “humans in need”, but rights holders towards whom duty bearers (local authorities responsible for public transport for example) are accountable and entrusted to respect and protect the rights of all young people and fulfil obligations. At the same time, all young people have the right to know, claim and realise their rights.

Now this is the first step that empowers all young people in youth work to know what the process should look like in perfect democracies. We know it is not always respected and human rights are still violated, even if all young people have them and even if duty bearers are still accountable. For example, there still might be inaccessible public transport, even if young people with disabilities know it’s their right to have access to transportation.

The second step is to empower young people by giving competencies for actions in which they are leaders not just supporters – How can they participate meaningfully in accessing their rights and in revitalising the democracies they live in? As youth workers we can support all young people in giving an example of meaningful participation which they can later multiply or demand from wider structures of democracy (public authorities, local councils, parliaments, etc.).

What Professor Laura Lundy developed in the context of child participation can also be used as a reference for youth workers enabling meaningful participation of young people.

We as youth workers might not be able to guarantee that every young person who is involved in our youth work will be successful in having space, voice, influence and audience for their voice to be heard in real life. But what we can try doing is to apply those principles at least in our activities, so that we can empower young people to claim their right by claiming their space for meaningful participation in often closed and not-so-welcoming spaces where others decide on issues that directly affect them. We can apply those principles with the hope that one day all young people can themselves become parliamentarians, policy makers and key actors in our democracies. Believing that ALL young people are revitalising democracy.

I started to write this article with “critical optimism”, which was reconfirmed after the massive demonstrations which took place in Georgia in March 2023 against the “foreign agent law”. This protest has been named a demonstration by Generation Z standing for democracy and human rights in Georgia and, yes, all young people in Georgia helped to revitalise de•mo•cracy – the ruling by people.


 Access to rights is one of the main themes of the Democracy Here | Democracy Now campaign.


Lundy L. (2007), “‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”, British Educational Research Journal Vol. 33, No. 6, pp. 927-42, available at:









 Issue 34

 Young people in the spotlight