What is Youth Led Development?

[Summary: two short video interviews about Youth Led Development]

This weekend I had the pleasure of facilitating at the Department for International Development/Civil Society Organisations Youth Working Group 'Advocacy Action Planning Residential' alongside a fantastic team of young facilitators and supported by Daniel Smith from BYC.

One of the key themes running through the residential promoting wider funding of, support for, and research into the impact of, Youth Led Development. Too often in international development, young people are perceived as a 'problem to be solved' rather than a 'resource to be developed' and as leaders of change. Much as Positive Youth Development (PYD) models seek to convince policy makers to see young people as an asset rather than a problem in domestic youth policy making, the idea of Youth Led Development (YLD)* seeks to convince planners and funders of international development initiatives and schemes to draw upon the lived experience, enthusiasm and energy of young people to contribute to creating positive change in some of the most challenging settings in the world.

[*Ok – the language does confuse things a little – so for clarity: In PYD we're talking about the developmental journey of an individual, in YLD we're talking about development as in 'developing country']

Of course, to really get to the bottom of what Youth Led Development is all about it's best to ask people who are in the know – so I got out the video camera and took the opportunity to speak to Anna from Y-Care International and Deborah from Voluntary Service Overseas.

And if you prefer to read rather than watch – this definition written around the 2005 World Youth Congress captures some of the story:

What is Youth-led Development (YLD)? Simply, YLD is community projects devised and implemented by young people under the age of 25. They are generally grass-roots, small in size, and carried out mostly, but not exclusively, by youth volunteers. And why do we think YLD so essential to achieving the MDGs? Because nature dictates that youth have energy to spare and the eagerness to use it. Worldwide, young people are already dedicated to addressing their communities’ needs. And, because we young people are so keen to learn, we are happy to take our wages in experience rather than cash salaries. Thus, YLD offers the most cost effective development action. YLD also massively benefits the youth who do it. They learn invaluable project management, fund-raising and leadership skills, hugely boosting their employability. Being part of a successful project builds a young person’s confidence and raises their self-esteem to stratospheric levels.

And to close this post – a quote that my colleague Sarah Schulman uses as her e-mail signature:

“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” Robert Kennedy.

3 thoughts on “What is Youth Led Development?”

  1. I’m all for youth led stuff (we wouldn’t exist if not!) – however I always caution that its crucial not to overlook the importance of adult involvement.

    In the UK & Ireland our experience is that adults are both the key and the barrier to young peoples involvement. Supporting young people to want to make change is often the easy part – helping them get good adult support is often much more difficult.

    In terms of developing countries I can only speak in terms of Tanzania & Malawi where we’ve done some work. But based on our experiences of these, the idea of youth-led is perhaps more complex than it is in the UK. Over here theres a lot of investment in supporting young people both in & out of education – they have access to a whole range of resources and many funding streams – they also have a basic education (no matter how ‘excluded’ they are).

    In the communities we’ve worked with theres no infrastructure in any way comparable with that. Theres also a more traditional relationship between children and adults (respect your elders etc.) – which in all honesty I’m not sure is an altogether bad thing. Although of course in terms of the organisations in the videos they’re really talking about ‘young adults’ (which is why I still think there needs to be a distinction between young people & young adults: http://www.breakfastsociety.com/2007/10/when-is-a-young-person-not-a-young-person/ ).

    This is not to say theres no room for youth leadership – definitely there is and we saw that working very effectively in Malawi with the various children (aged 10 – 12) taking on responsibilities for all sorts of things, and in time if all goes well I’m sure some of them will have a very good influence in how that project runs. But what this project does have is a committed adult – an adult who has been keen to learn & take on ideas and perhaps it has helped that in the things we’ve done with them they have been led by our own young people, and perhaps this has had an influence in how they now involve the children (I’d like to think so anyway!)

    Something I very much agree with is providing opportunities for people from developing countries to come over to the UK – in fact I’m working on exactly that right now for next year. A school I spoke with in Tanzania who were involved with an exchange scheme with a school from Birmingham said that they hadn’t really had much benefit from the UK teachers traveling out there – but they felt they’d gained a huge amount by coming over here and seeing how the UK ‘system’ worked. I really hate the argument that its somehow unfair to introduce people from developing nations to things they don’t have access to and so we shouldn’t do that sort of thing – its a very arrogant and patronising attitude (in my opinion).

    Of course the ‘type’ of person thats likely to be able to travel to the UK will be comparably ‘well off’ – which personally I think is not an issue (if countries are to develop we need to invest in the people who can make real change not just support the most poor) – but it is important that these people do then go and work for the benefit of those who most need them back in their own countries.

  2. Hey Mas

    You may want to check out the resource by Peace Child et. al. on Co-Management as an overarching mechanism for supporting youth-led development.


    (David Wollcombe, founder of Peace Child is a key champion of the Youth Led Development idea – and convened with Youth Working Group that the above interviews are from)

    I agree with you on the need to distinguish young person and young adult.

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