The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its YouthPower Learning project conducted a study based on the Positive Youth Development framework. The robust research revealed that young people essentially need four critical components to succeed and thrive.
In this exposé, I will attempt to break these broad concepts down, and line in on the individual pixels that make them relevant to youth development work, especially from the program design perspective. In addition to that, I will also attempt to show how the PYD can be relevant to the work individuals and organizations do in youth development.
The four components include the following:
4. Enabling Environment
In order to help with a clearer understanding, I will attempt to deconstruct and unpack the broad concepts into bite-sized chunks.
The idea is that in order for young people to fully maximize their potentials, there is a need for them to have access to the necessary resources, skills and competencies to achieve desired outcomes. The flipside of this is that lack of assets as mentioned above could significantly hinder the holistic development of young people, which will adversely affect their capacity to thrive. To achieve this, there has to be a conscious, intentional and deliberate effort on the part of youth program developers to guarantee access to the necessary resources, skills and competencies for young people in their program design efforts.
The fundamental idea behind agency is that young people perceive and have the ability to employ and deploy their assets and aspirations to make or influence their own decisions about their lives and set their own goals, as well as to act upon those decisions in order to achieve desired outcomes. In order to understand this, youth program designers must embrace the fact that young people can indeed make good decisions about the direction of their own lives. The challenge with this for most youth program designers is that they start with the idea that young people do not know what they want out of life and as such they (i.e. program designers) know what’s best for the young people. This fundamental flaw has triggered the failures of most hitherto well-designed youth intervention programs set out in “good faith”. Consequently, for youth programs to succeed, program designers must bear in mind that, “Nothing For Us Without Us” is not just a maxim, but a major mentality that determines the success or failure of any intervention plan targeted at youth.
Hinges on the fact that in order for young people to thrive, it is beneficial for them to get involved as sources of change for their own and for their communities’ positive development. This involvement tasks the creative sectors of young people’s brains, and triggers a sense of challenge(needed to get things done), and a sense of achievement and accomplishment afterwards. This has been found to be a crucial aspect of the developmental process of young people. It is therefore important that youth program designers factor in avenues through which young people can make meaningful contributions to whatever they are involved or engaged in per time. Doing this affords them a veritable avenue to channel their creative energy towards productive and beneficial engagements.
This draws from the fact that young people need to be surrounded by an environment that supports their assets, access to services & opportunities, and strengthens their ability to avoid risks and stay safe, secure and protected while living without fear of violence or retribution.
An Enabling Environment encourages and recognizes youth while promoting their social and emotional competencies to thrive.
Just so we don’t lose sight of the core, it is important to understand that the term “environment” when broadly interpreted includes – Social (relationship with peers and adults), Normative (attitudes, norms, beliefs), Structural (laws, policies, programs, services and systems), and Physical (safe, supportive spaces).
When these four components are brought together, they form a sound foundation upon which sustainable youth development programing can stand.
References: USAID, Making Cents International, ICRW.
Ikenna Anyadike is currently serving at Making Cents International as Youth Engagement and Knowledge Management Fellow for YouthLead.org, a sub-project of the USAID funded YouthPower Learning Project seconded to Making Cents International.