I was first introduced to the term Positive Youth Development at Making Cents International, where I serve as a Youth Development Research Associate. In my previous experience as a Projects Manager at the British Council Sudan, I didn’t personally use the term ‘positive youth development’ but the projects I led aligned with this approach. Innovation: Art and Culture,one such project, engages young people in activities that utilized art and music to turn negative behaviours (such as discrimination and despair) into positive traits (such as diversity, identity, unity and a drive to achieve their goals). We provided them with a platform from which they could develop their talents and share their voice. The results were overwhelming: those who chose to participate managed to find a way to express their concerns in a positive and creative way. For example, in our “Laugh Out Loud” event, youth celebrated diversity by talking about “responsible humour” and campaigning against discriminative jokes, and working on drawings and paintings that reflected the meaning of diversity and unity. They were also involved in music performances, poetry, and comedy shows. They gained glowing feedback from the audiences, which motivated us to push them even further towards achieving their goals.
To follow up on this experience and build on my work here at Making Cents, I distributed a survey to colleagues so that I could better understand their definition of positive youth development and hear about their challenges, concerns, and difficulties. The 20 professionals that responded were from 11 different countries, and worked with youth in a variety of different fields such as education, training, health, gender, and human rights. A little more than half were females (55%), and most were between the ages of 25 and 30 years (65%). A majority had their Master’s degree (85%) and 3-5 years of work experience.
A summary of their answers to four main questions are shown below:
What do you consider to be the main three obstacles to increasing the integration of youth concerns into international development programs?
These youth development professionals said that government and policy makers do not regularly engage youth in designing and implementing youth programs, nor do they involve them in decision-making processes. In fact, many respondents said that governments fail to fully understand what meaningful youth participation would actually look like. This lack of engagement is seen as leading to an overall lack of trust on both sides (for youth and governments). In addition, respondents mentioned that various cultural issues such as gender discrimination, lack of education, socioeconomic challenges, and a lack of job opportunities also play a role in disconnecting youth from their country’s leadership.
What are the three most challenging obstacles you personally encounter when working with young people or engaging young people in project design and/or implementation?
The respondents commented on political constraints to youth development, and we found that social taboos were a factor in many countries. Many of the projects are not tailored to the needs of youths and instead a ‘one size fits all’ approach is used, which defeats the purpose as it does not bring to light or make use of different individuals’ interests and talents. Also, managing their expectations and ensuring their time commitment and interest while there is the basic problem of a lack of motivation and confidence among youth themselves, a lack of education and resources, and an inability to effectively use whatever resources are available, add to the problem. Participants also mentioned youth health, unemployment, and poverty as factors preventing youth engagement.
When designing or implementing a development program, what are the resources and knowledge you need to integrate young people, or to evaluate the value of introducing a youth component to your program?
The responses to this question generally fell into three categories:
- An understanding of the various cultures along with their strengths and limitations, considering how social status in itself lead to segmentation and unequal opportunities for a large percentage of youth.
- Taking steps to ensure all knowledge and processes were accessible and easy to follow, as well as making those same resources relevant to youth concerns.
- Outlining clearly defined standards and strategies on how to engage youth in each step – encouraging them to own the process from start to finish and act as a guiding capacity or facilitator.
In your academic and professional career, how often have you heard or used the term “positive youth development (PYD)”?
Many of my colleagues were not familiar with the term positive youth development (55%), but a few had at least heard of it and others said that they had actually applied the approach. Some respondents spoke to the need to coordinate and collaborate on youth development programs globally so that professional youth workers could exchange their experiences. Luckily now with the support of the United States Agency for International Development there is YouthPower, an online learning hub designed to share evidence and best practices in positive youth development. YouthPower “seeks to improve the capacity of youth-led and youth-serving institutions and engage young people, their families, communities, and governments so that youth can reach their full potential.”
Based on the Euromonitor International Market Research, half the global population is under the age of 30. The UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-2017 mentioned that more than 600 million young people live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, myself included. If we are really going to have an impact on future peace and development we must not only look to our youth, but engage them fully in finding solutions to the many issues we face. High unemployment, gender discrimination, crime, and violence are but a few of these problems. With a new focus that uses a positive youth development approach, I believe we can make a difference. It is important to focus our mindset to see youth as part of solution, not the problem, and remain optimistic toward developing positive youth programs.
This article Published on The Diplomatic Courier