The Challenge and the Promise of Youth-led Development is the ﬁrst report in the Global
Youth-Led Development series, and it provides an analysis of both formal and informal youth-led initiatives. Based on a multi-year, web-based survey that gathered information about more
than 600 youth-led initiatives, the report gives unique insight to how grassroots youth-led
projects emerge, what kinds of social or developmental issues they address, and what they
need to be successful. The report suggests some lessons learned about potential strategies for
supporting youth-led community development, along with recommendations for continued
learning about the best ways to harness the power of youth-led initiatives in making a
positive difference in their communities.
Below is a summary of key findings.Access the full survey here.
Youth-led development (YLD) is a term first made popular by Peacechild International to reflect a faith in the power of young people to contribute constructively to the good of society. YLD places youth at the centre of their own and their communities’ development, moving youth from passive receptors of development, to agents of positive change.
The Five Principles of Youth Led Development.
1. Youth define their own development goals and objectives;
2. Youth have a social and physical space to participate in development and to be regularly consulted;
3. Adult mentorship and peer-to-peer mentorship are encouraged;
4. Youth act as role models to help other youth engage in development; and
5. Youth are integrated into all local and national development programs and frameworks.
UN-Habitat, as one of the UN agencies at the center of youth voice and empowerment, has developed funding, program and research initiatives that aim to support the authentic engagement of young people in youth-led development (YLD), using the above principles as a guide for practice.
Some youth responses:
“In an era where most employers want to see relevant working experience as part of their recruitment policy, volunteerism can be a stepping-stone towards meeting some of these
demands. The youths involved in youth-led initiatives learn invaluable project management, fund-raising and leadership skills, build self-esteem and self-conﬁdence, all of which hugely boost their future employment chances.” (Ghana)
“Those who can bring about freedom where it is absent and
justice where it is denied are chieﬂy young people. Freedom
and justice is a patient and often-difﬁcult struggle that requires the strength, sacriﬁce, rigor and fortitude of young people to be attained.” (Nigeria)
“The generation of youth in Azerbaijan are the main hope for
a transition from a post-Soviet mindset to a country skilled
in world economics and open business practices. We need to
become involved, engaged, and employed in order to rise to
the needs of our country.” (Azerbaijan)
“The youth are a renewable and sustainable resource, [and] if
mobilized, can really change the world.” (Haiti)
“The youth need to learn to take responsibility and initiative
at a young age. This will better prepare them for their future
pursuits, and help set them on the right path. It also provides trainings and builds a skilled generation that is ready to
take on whatever challenges may face them. This is especially
important in terms of environmental work, seeing as climate
change along with other rising problems continue to build
momentum, and we need to work collectively to combat these
changes, and ensure a sustainable future.” (Norway)
The nearly 600 youth-led development initiatives shared by participants in this survey revealed some interesting patterns and trends, and at the same time, raised additional questions that can only be answered with more dialogue and exploration. There are certainly some lessons that
can be taken away, along with recommendations for continued learning about the best ways to harness the power of youth-led initiatives and to more effectively support their work on behalf of communities.
Lesson #1: Complexity is good.
Based on the youth-led development initiatives represented in this research project, certain issues
appear throughout the world to be common issues of concern among youth: livelihood, youth civic engagement, the environment, and HIV/AIDS.
The need for jobs for the ever-increasing youth population was by far the greatest concern, and how youth approached the issue of preparation for employment and ultimately securing a job often showed creativity and innovation.
It was not uncommon to see groups working to address an issue that, clearly, they were passionate
about, or that had personally affected their lives, while building in an entrepreneurial component
that would create opportunities for income.
What was not clear was the genesis: did young people get involved in social issues, and then try to
create the work opportunity? Or did they try to create a work opportunity and then tie it to an issue of concern? Whichever direction, the evidence showed that these youth were not afraid of complexity; it was not uncommon to see multiple goals, or to see initiatives with both an issue focus (for example, environmental protection) and an implementation focus (for example, income-generating schemes).
Lesson #2: (Some) Support is Necessary.
Youth-led initiatives do not operate in a vacuum, nor do they operate without at least some kinds of
outside supports. For the initiatives that participated in this survey, the need for financial support was a common theme. Some described initiatives in the very early stages, suggesting that “nancial support was needed to fully launch; others had been in operation for longer, but talked about the need for funding to expand their scope and scale.
One of the important ways that participants want to be supported—by both adults and by more experienced peers—is through training and ongoing learning. A space in which to run project activities, and people to help implement those activities, are two other important supports in the operation of these youth-led development initiatives.
Lesson #3: Youth-Led Initiatives Make Strategic Sense
Responses clearly showed was that the reasons for supporting youth-led initiatives are both
varied and convincing. The benefits of youth-led initiatives are multi-faceted (from skills building to addressing real needs, to building democracy and social justice). Further, the beneficiaries of youth-led development initiatives are also varied. Clearly, young people benefit, particularly from the real-world skills building, leadership development and preparation for work that they saw themselves receiving as a result of their participation.
However, it was equally clear that survey participants recognized the benefits of youth-led initiatives
for others, both for specific segments of the population (according to the initiative’s focus) and for the community in general (as they observe the ripple effects of their work). In fact, many suggested that the community’s needs were so great that solving them would only be possible by the inclusion of the community’s largest demographic, the youth themselves.
Rather than the idea that “youth can help” (that is, youth can contribute to what adults are accomplishing), participants suggested that the community cannot do it without youth (that is, adults cannot be successful without the involvement of young people).
Youth-led initiatives also make strategic sense because of what youth are uniquely capable of bringing to the table, from energy and idealism, to specific knowledge and experience that adults lack, to abundant passion for the work, and for their communities.
Much of the research on youth—in both “developed” and “developing” countries focuses on the
developmental needs of young people (that is, the process of supporting young people in developing into capable, contributing adults), rather than on focusing on the resources and assets that youth bring into a community development context.
“Youth” is often seen as an issue to be addressed, rather than an asset to be included in the process of creating solutions for the issues facing communities. Language such as “youth bulge” or “youth at risk” focus on the deficits of young people. By contrast, the youth who shared their stories of engagement and initiatives through this survey clearly show “youth at promise,” actively engaged citizens, making a positive difference in their communities.
What do you consider key challenges and promises to youth-led development? Share with us in the comments section below.