Starting an organization as a young person with passion and drive is one of the most difficult yet rewarding experiences.
When I started Africa Rise Foundation, which empowers young people to obtain quality education and livelihood skills, exercise their human rights, and make healthy choices, I faced a lot of obstacles – some of which I am still facing. These included a lack of access to seed funding; my country, Zimbabwe, not being on the list of countries where most donors fund young people’s organizations; a lack of trust from funders; no consistent funding; documentation requirements such as audited financials; and years of existence requirements.
My story is not unique, but rather a general experience shared by most youth founders and youth-led groups. My hope for philanthropy is to see a change in how youth-led groups are perceived, which is often as having a lack of experience and skills, as lacking what it takes, as being too grassroots. This excludes a lot of youth-led organizations.
My hope is to see more funders investing in youth-led organizations regardless of size as most are grassroots organizations and they’re there with beneficiaries in the communities day in and day out. They deserve trust and support to make an impact. Young people know what they want and what they’re doing, and they need support and resources. I hope for a world where funders remove a lot of red tape for youth-led organizations and try by all means to be flexible. In some countries, some donor requirements, such as registration, put these young leaders at risk of prosecution by authorities and, in some cases, registration puts the lives of activists in danger. Some may risk their lives and dignity while trying to meet the demands of donors.
My hope is to see more funders investing in youth-led organizations regardless of size… They deserve trust and support to make an impact.
I believe the purpose of funders is for their funds to have an impact on the intended beneficiaries, and there is no better way to do this than by trusting youth-led groups. I dream of a world where funders learn best practices from one another and learn from others who have already started with participatory grantmaking and putting more trust in young people. Global Fund for Children (GFC), for example, is shifting power to young people through its Youth Leadership Council (YLC), on which I serve as Vice Chair. One of the YLC members sits on GFC’s Global Board of Directors, hence giving young people a voice at the highest decision-making level in the organization.
GFC also supports formal and informal organizations and offers flexible funding. A lack of access to flexible funding is one of the impediments to the growth of youth-led organizations. In most cases when a funder decides to trust a youth-led organization, they give only program- or project-related funding, not allowance for salaries and sustainability initiatives. As a result, these organizations have to continuously rely on volunteers, which impacts growth as volunteers can’t be full-time because they need to also earn a living somewhere and only give their free time to organizational work. Giving young people more power ensures more impact, especially for initiatives targeting young people, which are best carried forward by fellow young people. Anything for the youth without the youth is against the youth.
Solomon Tawanda Ndondo is the Founder and Executive Director of the Africa Rise Foundation in Zimbabwe and the Vice Chair of Global Fund for Children’s Youth Leadership Council. Follow him on Twitter @NdondoSolomon.