The world needs youth power more than ever

Restless Development has a unique role to play. I’d go as far to say that we are more relevant today than ever before. Which is why I feel honoured, excited, and apprehensive (given what’s at stake) as I take up the interim Co-CEO role at Restless Development, alongside Kate Muhwezi.

With half the world under 30, and another 10 billion people due to be born this century – there are more young people than ever before.  And yet the decisions being made that determine our future are not being made by young people. 

Missed targets

The world today is rife with growing injustices, and young people are all too often faring the worst.  Rising inequality, poverty, global heating and polarisation have all been further exacerbated by the pandemic.  The countries with the smallest economies, and lowest access to vaccines are also typically those with the largest youth populations.  

One of the only Global Goal targets set for 2020, target 8.6 to reduce youth unemployment, was missed, instead youth unemployment has risen in the five years since the target was set.  In addition, the pandemic has turned the education crisis into a learning catastrophe as young people have been excluded.

The international development sector is not fit for purpose.  It lacks funding, popular support, and has a history of perpetuating the power imbalances that need addressing, especially structural racism and the white saviour complex. 

Find youth power and you will find change

But change is happening.  And power imbalances are being addressed, and nearly always with young people at the fore.  

Look no further than Fridays for Future, Black Lives Matter, EndSARS and others for examples of where young people have led initiatives that have brought about a sea-change in perception and policies, and on a global scale.  And in all contexts, young people have, against the odds, set-up and led their own initiatives – to hold decision makers to account, to adapt to climate change, and end discrimination.  There is no shortage of incredibly inspiring stories told by young people on We Are Restless.

And that’s why Restless Development is more relevant than ever. As we stand with young people until change, on their terms, happens.

1.We exist to ensure and enable young people to lead change on the injustices that concern them the most.  We develop youth-leadership models – always different depending on context but always ensuring that young people are valued, have agency, opportunities, confidence, networks and skills as a result. 

2.We strengthen youth civil society to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.  We aim to strengthen and support locally set up and locally-led youth groups, networks, and organisations, helping them work together, access funding, opportunities and share skills and knowledge.

3.We disrupt. We are not comfortable with the traditional development sector, and hierarchical power-dynamics.  So instead, we aim to put power in the hands of young people, forging new ways such as the ‘Development Alternative’. We aim to be transparent about how and why we make decisions. And we aim to influence the sector, decision makers, and funders as we go.  It’s why Kate Muhwezi is now one of the global innovators on “Re-imagining International Non-Governmental Organisations”.

We don’t only catalyse youth-led change, we connect – young leaders to decision makers and funders in governments and global agencies, via our Hubs in India, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, UK, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the youth collective that now spans more than 180 countries.

How do we do it? 

The world is changing at a pace that few can keep up with.  Restless by name, Restless by nature – constant change is what we do.  But in the process we keep our eyes on the things that matter the most.  In the last year three things have stood out:

1.We lead with compassion. This last year we’ve lost loved ones, had covid and other illnesses, given birth, home-schooled our children.  We’ve been isolated, sometimes far from our loved ones and grappled with mental health issues.  But our global teams have provided support, flexibility and encouragement when it’s needed the most.  We are prioritising well-being – our happiness and health is essential to our individual and collective power.  

2.Young leaders are our heroes. This year young people have been excluded from education, training, opportunities and investment.  With our support incredible young people have designed and created new opportunities to connect, lead, and drive change – no matter where they are in the world.  From the global Youth Power Solidary Calls, Youth Against Misinformation to the Youth Power Hacks. These have resulted in vibrant, powerful, ideas and actions that are working towards a better world. 

3.We restore power. We are feminist and inclusive in our approach – we have a culture of collaboration, not competition.  In the last year we’ve helped shape the sector on women’s leadership through WILD; and set up the Feminist Action Lab.  We are tackling racism, we’ve changed our leadership teams to be majority people of colour, calling out on all white panels and providing platforms for young people of colour.  Whilst recognising how much more we need to do.    

What Restless Development has to offer the world right now is incredible, as are our people.  That’s why I’m delighted to have the opportunity to co-lead the agency in coming months – a critical time for us as we update our global strategy.  We will be building on the best of what we do, in response to an ever changing world. But never veering from the power of young people.  

Feature Image by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash


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The world needs youth power more than ever

by Alex Kent Reading time: 4 min