Dialogue 2014: Iran and its Youth
Spotlight on Past Programming
In March 2014, to mark the six-month point of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, the Munk School launched the third phase of the Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran: a series of four interactive conversations to connect global Iranian youth in dialogue with leading experts on a range of subjects.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, youth under the age of 35 represent approximately two-thirds of the population, and just over fifty per cent of the electorate. However, they lack political representation: according to Majlis Monitor, only eight out of 290 members of the Iranian Majlis are under the age of 35. Further, youth find it difficult to engage in the formal political process beyond elections. For example, conservative hardliners often fail to appeal to young Iranians – all of whom were born after 1979 Revolution – who largely seek more practical social and political freedoms. However, more moderate candidates that tend to address issues of importance to the youth population often face opposition within Iran’s complex political system, one which includes increasingly influential centres of power that are not controlled by the President. Further, community engagement with Global Dialogue participants suggests that the youth of Iranian society has traditionally felt discouraged from participating when older generations dominate the conversation. As such, Iranian youth are often overlooked as critical players in dialogue about the country’s future.
The objective of the Iran and its Youth Dialogues was derived from this gap in civic engagement for Iranian youth: to facilitate a digital, transnational conversation between young Iranians both inside Iran and in the global diaspora community on the issues that mattered most to them.
In order to determine what topics would resonate with Iranian youth, the Munk School designed and launched two short, Farsi-language polls to gauge interest (they received a combined 36,000 direct responses.) As a result, four top topics of interest were selected as panel themes, and were held in four global cities with large Iranian populations.
In Berlin, the topic of human rights and civil society was addressed by leading Iranian activists, who discussed the state of the human rights situation in Iran, including opportunities for civic and civil society engagement in the area. Questions on reforming the death penalty, on the state of democratic change, and on the impact of newly instituted rights for certain minority languages and communities figured prominently throughout the conversation.
In London, prominent media personalities and journalists discussed the state of media and journalism in Iran today, handling questions on the state of press freedom under President Rouhani, and his ability to reinstate media-related professional associations.
In Silicon Valley, panellists involved in technology, gaming, and media discussed the theme of entrepreneurship, offering advice for young Iranians exploring this field and seeking to establish their own start-ups, organizations, and initiatives. The entrepreneurs on the panel fielded questions on the role of education, upbringing, and social and economic capital on success, the impact of work and success on lifestyle and family, and the possibility of exporting innovation to the global market.
And in Toronto, the panel on communications technology focused on the state and impact of ICTs in Iran, and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for Iranian youth seeking to become involved in the field of technological innovation. Panellists addressed practical questions on securing one’s safety online, as well as more political and theoretical questions on the possibility of reforming Internet law in Iran and the effect of online restrictions on citizen journalism.
In order to reach Iranians both in the diaspora and in Iran, all four events were broadcast live on the Global Dialogue website as well as on YouTube and Balatarin (a popular Farsi link-sharing platform). Questions to panelists were fielded from social media platforms such as Google Moderator, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and in-person from audience members. Ultimately, the Iran and its Youth Dialogues reached nearly 285,000 unique users inside Iran.
- “National Population and Housing Census: 2011 (1390),” United Nations Population Fund. (2011)
- “Khajehpour, Bijan. “Iran’s Youth Key to Elections,” Al-Monitor. (31 May 2013)
- According to best estimates. The Majlis Monitor research team has been unable to find the age of twenty-six Majlis members.
- “Iranian Domestic Politics and Relations with the United States,” The Wilson Center. (15 January 2015)
- Bozorghemer, Najmeh. “Iran hardliners block Rouhani’s domestic reforms,” Financial Times. (13 November 2013)
- “Iran: Who holds the power?” BBC News.