An OBE for services to young people has been awarded to Nik Hartley, CEO of Restless Development

The Year of Young People. But why?

Nik Hartley (@nik_hartley), Restless Development’s CEO, looks back over a seminal year for Restless Development and answers what he was asked last week “…But why young people?”

Phew! There it is. Done.  

Young people stole the show across the madness of a United Nations fortnight in New York, as goals to bring down poverty once and for all were signed by the world, and the Secretary General noted the ‘torch bearing’ influence of young people;

Restless Development South Africa's Athini Nyatela standing with Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit
Restless Development South Africa’s Athini Nyatela standing with Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit

…the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone was ended, and if you haven’t seen the music video, well, you’ve missed out hearing just who the people of Sierra Leone feel led them there.

…Unicef and partners asked Restless Development to set up 300 temporary learning centres across the flattened Kathmandu Valley to demonstrate a community-led (not aid-led) recovery model in the aftermath of the earthquake and in the face of ongoing blockades. All led by young national volunteers.

…And back in London, while we were all still getting to know the names of the Cabinet after the election, the Secretary of State for International Development had made her first visit to a partner – our offices in Waterloo, to understand just how young people can be placed at the heart of their strategy.

Justine Greening Visit w-filter

.. And to top it off personally, I was handed a lovely medal by Prince William as my parents glowed in the audience.

Done. Nunc Dimitis. Job’s a good’n. We can pack up and head for the holidays.


Well, we’re restless and so for a start that ain’t going to happen.

And as if to prove that all is not done, in a meeting with a senior policy head at the UK’s aid department last week  I was asked:  “Why young people?” The insinuation was “why not older adults?” Why were mobilisers on the frontline of the Ebola prevention young? Why run centres across Nepal through young Nepalis?

There are three standard responses that our sector will tend to trot out at a moment like that, and they are not wrong:

  1. Demographics:  The easy answer is demographics. Half the world is under 30; in the countries where we work that number drops to half the country being under 15. Have a look at Restless Development’s concept of Peak Youth.   Over the next decade or so there will be more young people proportionally on the planet than there ever has been or will be again.   The median age in Zambia is 16.7 years old and in Uganda, 15.6, while in the UK it is 40.4.
  1. Most affected:  Less easy but as compelling is the need. Alongside those demographics young people are most affected by almost every development challenge – such as disease (AIDS is the leading cause of death amongst adolescents), and poverty (the majority of those under 30 year olds live in the poorest countries in the world).
  1. And the threat: Young people, left unemployed in vast numbers, disenfranchised from politics and decision-making, with rights unheard will become restless (heaven forbid), radicalised, migrate, and take up arms… Hmm.

All true (well perhaps the last one), but they are not the reason young people should be at the forefront of change; the torchbearers as Ban Ki Moon asked young people to be.

In 2016 we intend to make the deeper, more important, answer very clear.  Put August 12th 2016 in your diary.   Wherever you are in the world.   Restless Development will be convening youth and the youth sector across the world on International Youth Day to launch a youth-led civil society platform – as both an irresistible offer to the international development world, and a platform for movements to link to young people and young people to link to global campaigns.

Young people are not a ‘demographic reality’.   Young people are ready and willing to mobilise, to drop everything and head to the front line.   The media knows that but focuses on the threat – the battle lines, the crime, the disaffection. We will prove in 2016 that the frontline where young people will make the change happen is in building resilience, claiming rights, ultimately in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Watch this space.

A Happy New Year to you all.


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The Year of Young People. But why?

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min