Hosted by the National Democratic Institute, the “Voice of Change” project is a youth debate program to foster the development of the basic tenets of democracy within Libya’s youth.
Problems and Purpose:
Despite Libya’s attempts to hold elections and form governments, the country has had immense struggles “to unify around a stable form of democratic governance” . With ongoing violence and instability circulating the country, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) implements programs on many different levels in order to increase the overall level of security, stability, and prosperity in Libya. The NDI strives to “encourage civic participation and amplify underrepresented voices in Libya” . The Voice of Change program is the NDI’s initiative to train the youth in the basic tenets of democracy, create a grassroots movement for the spread of democratic ideals, and improve civic education .
Background History and Context:
In 2011, after 42 years, Libya experienced an uprising and successful overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic regime . Since then, the country has struggled to form a stable, democratic governance only creating widescale struggles and violence. This was exacerbated in 2019 when “Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army launched an offensive in Tripoli against the UN-backed Government of National Accord” . Currently, there are many activist networks representing diverse ideals and civil society organizations which are working to amplify their voices in advancing interests toward a more stable country. A program like this which emphasizes the importance of developing the basics of democracy within the younger generations has never been done before in Libya.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
The youth debates program “Voice of Change” is an initiative of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and is funded by USAID under the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening . The program also works in conjunction with the Institute for War & Peace Reporting which is a non-governmental organization giving voices to those who are on the frontlines of conflict and helps them to drive change peacefully . The high school debate program which is a side arm of Voice of Change is in partnership with the Dialogue and Debate Association .
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
NDI is in partnership with student debate clubs at four different universities in Tripoli, Zawiyah, Sabha, and Jufra . Currently, NDI’s partners on the Voice of Change program are Almusajala in Jufra, Shaghaf in Sabgha, the Debate Club of the University of Tripoli, and the Debater Club in Zawiya. The clubs are open to any student enrolled at the university. As of February 2020, the university debates reached 420 participants. In addition to the university debates, NDI has created a high school debate program, which is in partnership with the Dialogue and Debate Association (DDA). In its efforts to grow its reach, Voice of Change has also opened up participation to youth in the Libyan media via open applications .
Methods and Tools Used:
The method in use for the Voice of Change program is public debate which is “used as a means of realizing the goals of the participation policy” . Each student debate club held local competitions in their respective regions. The students worked before the competition to become trained in the area of debate. Once the competition was held, students were able to practice their skills on the topics that were previously decided. Topics have included security sector, public health, the environment, under-age marriage, privatizing electricity supplies, the role of civil society, women, education, elections and the role of the media . This gives an opportunity to “discuss priorities among youth, share successes and challenges faced by participants, and showcase the importance of debate to young people across the MENA region” .
What Went On: Process, Interaction and Participation:
A virtual debate tournament was held from June 20-25, 2020 with 60 participants. NDI provided a “training-of-trainers” to the key students in each club and coached them through a series of educational briefings . This tournament was originally planned to be a national tournament in Tripoli, but due to COVID-19, the tournament went toward a virtual platform. Prior, each region selected two representatives to compete for the national title. They were selected via a qualifying tournament. With the virtual platform, “clubs posted videos of the debates on their Facebook pages, allowing other club members and the public to watch and comment on the proceedings” . After a series of debates, the final debate was about whether a national referendum could unite Libya and solve the ongoing political crisis. The debates are decided on by a panel of five impartial judges, and for the final debate, the affirmative team won arguing that the referendum would be the only way to take away power from those who have proved to be unsuccessful in uniting the power and give it back to the people .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
The Voice of Change program is the NDI’s initiative to train the youth in the basic tenets of democracy, create a grassroots movement for the spread of democratic ideals, and improve civic education . The Voice of Change program is an ongoing initiative, but we can see that only in its first year, it is changing the lives of many and giving Libya a hope for its future. It is successful in teaching the youth the basic tenets of democracy, the movement is gaining traction in spreading democratic ideals, and it is most definitely improving civic education. The two semi-final debates and the final debate were live-streamed on the partners’ Facebook pages gaining 40,000 views in only one week . Witnesses to the program have noticed that it is giving a wave of enthusiasm for the youth which is rare in times of instability and violence . Since its conception, the program has trained over 420 students in the basics of debating while also teaching them critical thinking, teamwork, rhetoric, structuring arguments, and active listening . The students will take these skills with them throughout their lives and utilize in bettering their country. After the success of its first virtual tournament, NDI is actively considering expanding the program into new areas by inviting new partners to join this movement. The goal is simple: to provide opportunities for the youth of Libya to discuss the “future of their nation and equipping them with the skills to participate in that future themselves” .
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
Because this is a continuous program and it is relatively new, there is no published data on the impact of the program. We see from personal encounters that this program is making a large difference in the lives and the future of the youth of Libya. This program will teach them lessons and skills that they will carry with them as they make great strides in the future of Libya.
 IWPR's Voices for Change Project to Incubate the Development of the Libyan Media. fundsforNGOs. (2019, December 2). https://www2.fundsforngos.org/media/iwprs-voices-for-change-project-to-incubate-the-development-of-the-libyan-media/.
 Maisner, J. (2020, June 9). Libya. NDI. https://www.ndi.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/libya.
 Mmcpherson. (2020, July 8). NDI's Voice of Change Virtual Debate Tournament in Libya. NDI. https://www.ndi.org/our-stories/ndi-s-voice-change-virtual-debate-tournament-libya.
 National Democratic Institute. (2020, February 28). Youth Voice of Change in Libya. https://www.ndi.org/our-stories/youth-voice-change-libya.
 RFP: Libya - Voices for Change Project. Institute for War and Peace Reporting. (2020). https://iwpr.net/engage/rfp-libya-voices-for-change.
The first version of this case entry was written by Arianna Kiaei, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.