Harnessing youth power through partnerships: A participatory approach for global impact
Across the globe, we are witnessing a disturbing increase in extremism, inequalities, isolation, and social division. The global landscape is becoming increasingly complex, with a rising number of humanitarian crises and a growing number of people in need of assistance. In particular, today's generation of young people are facing unparalleled challenges and are disproportionately affected by these worsening inequalities.
In this context, it is more important than ever for actors to design policies and programmes in a participatory manner, involving young people, communities, and partners to ensure that they can be effective, relevant, sustainable, and meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Unleashing the Power of 1.6 Billion Young People
With 1.6 billion young people worldwide, there exists untapped potential to harness the power of youth through participatory approaches, to address and positively contribute to some of the global challenges we face.
Initiatives like the partnership between the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of Qatar 2022 – Generation Amazing (GA) the Human & Social Legacy initiative of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, that works across IDP and disenfranchised communities in 75 countries in the Global North & Global South, positively impacting more than 1 million lives since 2010; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) - the world’s largest humanitarian network, supporting local Red Cross and Red Crescent action in more than 191 countries, bringing together more than 16 million volunteers for the good of humanity - demonstrate the potential and impact of participatory approaches and co-creation.
Multi-layered Participatory Approach in Action
This unique and innovative project unites young people and their communities through one of the most popular sports worldwide: football. The two organisations joined forces to address humanitarian issues such as discrimination, gender inequality, social exclusion, and violence by harnessing the critical and unifying power of Humanitarian Education and Sport for Development. The IFRC’s Youth as Agents of Behavioral Change (YABC) and GA’s Football for Development methodologies were combined, integrated, reassessed, and components purposively selected to co-create a hybrid curriculum. At the core of this curriculum is a critical pedagogy to empower young people and through them their local communities.
The project was piloted in four countries with different contexts and challenges: working with Red Cross Red Crescent NS and their local branches in Argentina, Iraq, Myanmar and Uganda. The project unfolds in three phases: Training of Youth Facilitators, Hybrid Curriculum, and community-based youth-led Micro-Projects, which were all further adapted into bespoke timetables and approaches according to the contextual needs in each community.
A multi-layered participatory approach was taken - at the global, national, and local levels. Partnerships were forged globally, with IFRC and GA collaborating with NS to contextualize the project and define its scope, engaging communities through a Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA), approach. For example:
At the Global, Regional and National levels, IFRC and GA collaborated with NS to tailor the project, define its scope, and establish a theory of change at the country level. NS played a crucial role, overseeing implementation, ensuring a localised approach, and institutionalising project ownership. This involved co-developing proposals and implementation plans based on community needs assessments, meetings and dialogues with community members, and engaging local branches to collaborate with stakeholders and identify where, when and how the project should be implemented.
At the Local level: NS branches worked with communities to foster genuine participatory community engagement throughout the entire project, for example, in Uganda, NS ensured the participation of Somali girls in the Hybrid Curriculum by engaging the United Somali Community Leadership and youth in dialogues and consultation on how they could participate in football while still wearing their cultural and religious dress. Community members, community leaders, volunteers and youth participants were involved in co-creation and in the development and implementation of the Micro-Projects. For example in Phalaung and Thetkalchin villages in Myanmar, children, parents, and elderly community members eagerly contributed to the refurbishment of the village library and fencing of the communal school.
At the participant level, volunteering and youth development were integral elements of the project. Youth volunteers from the communities, were trained as facilitators and engaged in the entire project cycle, fostering a robust model of youth engagement. The Micro-Project phase embraced a participatory approach through the provision of micro-grants, involving young people in all stages, from identifying community needs to designing, implementing and evaluating their projects, empowering them to drive positive change.
In line with the programme’s engagement strategy the joint project is rooted in a bottom-up, participatory approach. As noted by Easterly (2008), this involves a shift from top-down institutional views to a focus on grassroots, locally-driven change. The joint programmatic elements, constructed through comprehensive needs assessments, reflect this philosophy. This approach is crucial in avoiding the pitfalls of neo-colonialism in international aid, as critiqued by Wood (2021). By engaging directly with local stakeholders and valuing their insights, Generation Amazing and the IFRC combat the ineffective top-down methodologies that have historically dominated development efforts.
This approach to development is further illuminated with an emphasis on aligning activities with both the needs assessment and the capabilities of partner organizations. Lilyblad (2019) reinforces this by highlighting the transformative potential of NGOs when they catalyse change from the bottom-up, giving marginalised communities a voice. This methodology aligns with both parties and their commitment to fostering local engagement and ensuring that development efforts resonate with the specific cultural, social, and economic contexts of the communities they serve.
Amplifying Impact through Participation
The project's success can be attributed to a flexible, adaptable implementation model and a participatory approach that engages participants and partners in the design and implementation process. The tailored approach, driven by specific community needs, increased engagement resulting in a successful and impactful p intervention. By involving communities and partners in the design process they provide valuable insights into their needs and priorities, as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist in their communities, helping to build ownership and support, leading to more effective outcomes.
The positive impacts documented at individual, community, and organisational levels, underscores the value of youth-led and co-created community-based projects, and the hunger of youth leadership and engagement “right now”. As the project highlighted so many unique stories of youth leadership and strength, it solidifies the collective purpose to carry on the ambition to continue to invest participatory approaches through the critical and unifying role, transformative power of Humanitarian Education and sport in engaging young people as agents of change supporting and opening more doors for youth to write new narratives that change the world for the better - – not someday in the future – but right now.
By adopting a bottom up approach, as articulated by Conteh-Morgan (2005), both parties effectively addresses the socio-economic and cultural nuances within communities. This approach avoids imposing external norms and instead delves into the intersubjective beliefs shaping local institutions. In doing so, Generation Amazing Foundation and the IFRC not only combat inequalities but also respect and incorporate the unique perspectives and needs of each community.
In line with the insights from Makoba (2002), grassroots approaches aligns with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by directly targeting change at the stakeholder level, rather than solely focusing on capacity building from the top down. Lilyblad (2019) further supports this by noting the significant influence NGOs can wield through advocacy, agenda-setting, and knowledge generation, altering policies by viewing the world from a bottom-up perspective.
The 'Uniting Through the Power of Football' project exemplifies the efficacy of a bottom-up, participatory approach in international development. By integrating this methodology, both parties ensure that its initiatives are not only contextually relevant but also empowering for the communities involved. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and aligns with the contemporary view of development as a partnership rather than a donor-recipient dynamic. As a result, the project not only addresses immediate community needs but also lays the groundwork for sustainable, long-term development driven by the very people it aims to uplift. This paradigm shift in development strategy, underpinned by the principles of bottom up development and a deep respect for local contexts, marks a significant step forward in humanitarian efforts, paving the way for more inclusive and effective global development practices.
Conteh-Morgan, E. (2005). PEACEBUILDING AND HUMAN SECURITY: A CONSTRUCTIVIST PERSPECTIVE. International Journal of Peace Studies, 10(1), 69–86. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41852073
Easterly, W. (2008). Institutions: Top down or Bottom up? The American Economic Review, 98(2), 95–99. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29730002
Makoba, J. W. (2002). NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOS) AND THIRD WORLD DEVELOPMENT: AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT. Journal of Third World Studies, 19(1), 53–63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45194010
Mosse, D. (1993). AUTHORITY, GENDER AND KNOWLEDGE: THEORETICAL REFLECTIONS ON THE PRACTICE OF PARTICIPATORY RURAL APPRAISAL, 44.
Wood, T. (2021) Is aid neo-colonial? Devpolicyblog, Available at: https://devpolicy.org/aid-neocolonial-20210406-2/
About the authors
Dr Amjad Mohamed Saleem is the Manager of Volunteer, Youth and Education Development at IFRC.
Mr Nasser al Khori is the Executive Director at the Generation Amazing Foundation