From Rhetoric to Action: Towards an Enabling Environment for Child and Youth Development in the Sustainable Development Goals

Cristina Bacalso, Alex Farrow, Andreas Karsten, and Dragan Milhajlovic
Youth Policy Labs
Publication Date: 
Jan, 2016

We may be approaching a tipping point for young people and their role in development. In 2015, young people were at the forefront of some of the biggest development stories of the year ― whether fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, responding to earthquakes in Nepal, or protesting on the front lines for democracy. Hundreds of thousands fled conflict in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere, highlighting the need to find long-term solutions for displaced young people. Away from the headlines ― but perhaps even more importantly ― youth continue to navigate and resolve conflict, create livelihoods, and drive every imaginable kind of change. There is arguably no richer part of the fabric of everyday community and civic life than the agency of young people.

The ink is barely dry on the new Sustainable Development Goals, signed and launched in September 2015, and effective January 2016. Together, these Goals represent an unprecedented promise to the next generation of children and young people about what their world will look like in 2030. Young people, in response, have fought their corner to prove they can and will influence, implement and monitor these Goals.

At the same time, though, we are witnessing a worrying global trend as civil society space appears increasingly restricted. Across our networks and movements, we hear and see time and again the systemic barriers and obstacles that inhibit child and youth development.

This is why we launched the Case for Space. The Case for Space is a research and advocacy initiative to better understand and strengthen the environment within which child and youth development operates. As a sector, we are rightly concerned with the capacity and agency of young people and their organisations. But the sheer ambition and potential of the new Sustainable Development Goals means that the time is right to ask hard questions not only about ourselves, but also about the space within which we operate. There is incredible potential for the thousands of child and youth activists, entrepreneurs, movements and development organisations that are making change happen around the world to lead the global development agenda for the next fifteen years. But this will only happen if the right conditions are in place ― for example, access to sustainable funding, connections and networks, civil and political freedoms, strong legal frameworks, and freedom from abuse and harassment.

We are proud to have launched the Case for Space initiative as the UK Department for International Development’s youth consortium (Restless Development, War Child UK, and Youth Business International) and are delighted to have commissioned Youth Policy Labs to author this piece of youth-led research, investigating the conditions, structures and enabling environment for child and youth development. The results of this research are presented within this report, entitled “From Rhetoric to Action” and authored by Youth Policy Labs. With contributions from 18 young researchers from around the world, “From Rhetoric to Action” is an important and timely contribution.

We are determined to see an environment that enables child and youth development, and we urge you to join us in the coming months in make this case for space together. Only then will children, young people, and the organisations and movements they work with be able to help deliver the promise of the new Sustainable Development Goals.

Read the full report.

Workforce Development