This year’s International Youth Day provided an opportunity to recognize how young people have endured the pandemic and to celebrate their actions for community recovery and resilience. It was also a call to the global community – including funders – to recognize the importance of the meaningful, universal, and equitable engagement of young people.
A pivotal first step is increasing the amount of flexible funding supporting the leadership and power of young people in local communities. The Development Alternative’s 2019 report on the state of youth civil society described youth civil society as fragile, with the norm being short-term, non-continuous funding for youth-led organisations. With the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sustainability of youth civil society is even more at risk.
We must break down barriers between youth and funders and together build a more equitable and accountable funding ecosystem. Toward that vision and in celebration of International Youth Day 2021, Global Fund for Children, CIVICUS, and Restless Development brought together more than 100 youth leaders, youth organisations, and funders from all over the world for a virtual event on August 9 to reimagine the future of funding for youth action.
Here is what we heard and what we ask you to reimagine with us:
Reframe grantmaking as partnerships
Youth want more out of grantmaking than just funding. They want true partnerships that recognize time, creativity, networks, tools, and friendships as valuable resources. They can thrive with deep and equitable relationships built on trust and authentic connection in which they can communicate their values and share their challenges openly and honestly. Youth leaders are eager to move beyond seed funding with sustainable funding partnerships built for the long-term.
Meet youth where they are
Some of the biggest barriers youth-led groups face are burdensome donor requirements. Funders must start by meeting youth where they are and work toward engaging them meaningfully in design and decision-making in both planning and grantmaking cycles.
Decolonise the grant application process
Co-creating and sharing power with youth is an opportunity to disrupt extractive grantmaking processes. Funders can decolonise application processes that exclude grassroots groups in marginalised communities with jargon, the English language, and expectations of technical skills that are unfairly prioritised by the Global North. Funders must recognize that their criteria can force youth groups to formalize and conform to donor expectations. Youth organizations should be able to develop in ways that stay true to their vision and values.
Connect to amplify the power of youth
Funders can build spaces and networks where youth organisations can share their know-how and generate connections to build long-term collaborative relationships. Youth attending the event were eager to connect with others from their region working on similar issues. Funders can help organise meetings and networking opportunities for youth-led organisations to build solidarity among movements.
Other critical questions came up at the event, including:
- When a funder cannot award funding to a youth-led organisation, what other resources or connections can they provide to be a partner to youth civil society?
- How can funders increasingly invest in art, culture, and storytelling as core social change strategies for youth movements?
- How can we amplify funding for healing to strengthen the resilience of youth movements?
- How can funders influence bilateral and multilateral agencies to leverage their resources for youth action?’
Will you join us not only to question and reimagine established practices, but also to act? How can we take steps toward more equitable resourcing for this generation of changemakers and the next?
Inspiring youth leaders, youth-led groups, and funders who are questioning grantmaking practices and demonstrating the power in new possibilities were part of the virtual event. They include the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action, Women Win, the Global Resilience Fund, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, and La Múcura Arte y Transformación Social.
You can explore tools and recommendations for re-envisioning funding partnerships that were developed by young people, such as CIVICUS’s Resourcing youth-led groups and movements playbook and Restless Development’s Working Better Together.
You can also find more resources at our growing Resources Map for Youth-Led Organizations and Donors and join a future Donor Dialogue with Restless Development’s Youth Collective.
We concluded the event with a poetry reading by a young spoken word artist and activist from Nigeria named Bukumi, who left us with this message: ‘They say it is a downer that we are young / But I say our power is our youth.’
Vanessa Stevens is the Program Manager for Advocacy and Movement Building at Global Fund for Children. Elisa Novoa is Youth Engagement Coordinator at CIVICUS, and on Twitter at @elisanovoa116. Freya Seath is Head of Strategy at Restless Development, and on Twitter at @RestlessDev and @FreyaSeath. And Sonya Friel is Program Development Intern at Global Fund for Children.