State of the Civil Society – Rustler’s Valley Retreat, South Africa


Dana (YAB Europe) and Joao (former YAB Latin America and the Caribbean) joined 60 other young people from around the world for a three day meeting in the mountains of South Africa, to discuss the state of the Civil Society. Here is what came out of it:

We are 60 diverse young people from all continents of the world who met in Rustler’s Valley, South Africa from November 16 to 19, 2014 to discuss the state of civil society around the world and consider our role as young people within it. We do not claim to speak for all youth, or for the diverse views from within our own countries, but rather we seek to lend our voices to the on-going debate about the role of civil society in the social, political and economic transformation of the world. We also want to respond to and further develop the conversation begun by the Open Letter for Activists as young people engaged at grassroots, national and international levels.

Increasingly, the face of civil society around the world is a young one. Yet, we recognize much may be learned from other generations; their struggles, histories and lessons. Although we will face many of the challenges of the future, we believe that with intergenerational partnerships and a shared responsibility, we can transform civil society and therefore global society.

Current strategies to address restrictions on civil society space are failing. To create the necessary space at the national level, we should develop radical tactics to mobilize non traditional civil society groups, create platforms for international solidarity, and develop safe spaces where we can come together in a conducive environment to address these issues.

After much reflection, we collectively arrived at four primary topics of concern to those present: race, gender and sexual orientation; democratization of our own organisations and power structures; reform of relationships between civil society and donor organisations; and the divide between grassroots movements and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Eliminating discrimination: Race, gender and sexual orientation

As youth, we witness and experience the on-going reality of discrimination in civil society based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. We call on all sectors, especially media, governmental, non-governmental, and religious organizations, and the private sector to acknowledge and combat discriminatory practices. Civil society should lead the way by respecting diversity and completely eliminating all forms of discrimination from our own environments.

Democratization of CSOs and power structures

As youth, we acknowledge that current political, social and economic systems and organizational structures favour the few, not the many. We emphasize our duty to democratise:

  • Public dialogue through the use of inclusive and accessible language to broaden participation and break down the hierarchy among civil society and the communities we seek to serve.
  • Structures of power that prevent us from collaborating across issues and themes to establish civil society-wide avenues of influence and the elevation of our collective voice.
  • Access to intergovernmental and civil society processes for local and grassroots social movements.
  • Relationships between large civil society organizations and grassroots movements through the adoption of and respect for higher ethical standards.
  • Additionally, we should establish new methods of ensuring transparency, through the development of:
  • Conflict of interest indices;
  • Organization-wide gender parity measures;
  • Reporting on executive salaries and board fees;
  • Cooperation indices, and;
  • Mechanisms that ensure the full integration of all stakeholders into decision-making processes, including volunteers. As youth, the driving force of our work is our own vision, passion and values. To better serve those with whom we work, we must question the current relationships between donors and recipients. We pledge to:
  • Rethinking relationships between civil society and donor organisations
  • Acknowledge the need to be financially autonomous through self-sustainability.
  • Mobilize unions through membership fees as a way of engaging our own constituencies to ensure their ownership and responsibility in our work.
  • Create alternative and innovative solutions to generate funds for our work.
  • Encourage donors to explore avenues of promoting collaboration between and with civil society organizations.
  • As youth, we see the increasing danger in becoming more accountable to funding sources than the communities we purport to serve. We recognize the need to first hold ourselves to account, and then:
  • Increase accountability of the international community to its by commitments and constituents
  • Develop the advocacy skills of community members to more effectively claim their rightsThe increasing importance of grassroots actors, both formal and informal, is undeniable in today’s world. Gone are the days where NGOs may claim to represent the “voices” of communities. Our communities can and do speak for themselves and stand on their own work. They invert power structures through community-driven development and building people-power globally. We believe in the following tenants:
  • Relationship between Grassroots and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
  • Access. NGOs should work to access, identify and develop leaders and existing solutions within communities. Serving as enablers, we can support accessibility to and sharing of the core resources needed to foster greater impact.
  • Sustainability. NGOs should promote capacity-building and community ownership to both catalyse the emergence of new grassroots groups and ensure existing groups continue their work self-sufficiently and sustainably. Instead of providing ready-made solutions, the focus should be on connecting likeminded leaders in decentralized networks of information sharing.
  • Measuring success. NGOs should work with communities to develop new, community-supported, ways of measuring and interpreting success around the values of sustainable change and community ownership.
  • Reimagining the playing field. NGOs should work to reorient all funding systems to align with these tenants and the under acknowledged needs of grassroots organizations.We perceive the vision of our letter as an invitation to all—including young people and those in decision-making positions—to take immediate action to transform civil society. Let this letter stand not only as our message to civil society, but also as a broader commitment to move forward with confidence and purpose towards a just, sustainable and peaceful world.
  • As young people fighting for social justice, we make these criticisms and suggestions with the hope that they will contribute to a reimagining of the role, vision and methods of civil society. We recommit our lives to the struggle against inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and all injustices in whatever shape they assume.

First Global Forum on Youth Policies, Baku, Azerbaijan


At the end of October, close to 700 delegates gathered in Baku, Azerbaijan for a historically first global forum on youth policies. Dan (YAB North America), Dana (YAB Europe) and Raphael (YAB Observer) among them.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond and reaffirming its importance as an overarching global youth policy framework, and recalling the Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes, the First Global Forum on Youth Policies specifically aimed at elevating the youth policy debate, with the particular purpose of advancing youth policy development and its full and effective implementation at all levels. This global event was co-organized by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and the Council of Europe, with the support of and hosted by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Azerbaijan in the framework of Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.

Bringing together over 700 participants from 165 countries, with a strong participation of ministers responsible for youth, as well as experts, youth advocates, civil society representatives, United Nations agency representatives and international and regional organisations, to discuss youth policies through three different lenses (thematic, structural and region-specific), the Forum responded to the crucial importance of looking at youth policy work in a holistic and multi-stakeholder perspective.

The Forum provided an unprecedented platform for these diverse stakeholders to take stock of progress made in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth policies at various levels since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995: it distilled lessons learned and good practices and so identified remaining gaps and challenges, in particular within the context of the Post- 2015 Development Agenda. Throughout the three days of the Forum, the participants debated youth policy-related issues by looking at key thematic areas, guiding principles and common denominators as well as regional frameworks and priorities of youth policies.

The outcome of all these discussions helped shape a common understanding of key guiding principles for integrated and inclusive youth policy development that will serve as a milestone in  defining and exemplifying what is needed to advance youth policy development and implementation with and for youth.

You can read the Baku Commitments here.

Urban Thinkers Campus, Caserta Italy


The Urban Thinkers Campus organized as one of the preparatory meetings for upcoming HABITAT III conference, hosted representatives of nine constituency groups to discuss the City We Need principles that were agreed upon at the previous meeting in New York. Dana (YAB Europe) and Shamoy (Youth Fund beneficiary) teamed up to lead and facilitate the Children and Youth Constituency Group meetings.

The very intense three days brought up the following issues, trends and analysis in relation to the City We Need and HABITAT III:

    • Definition of youth and children – implications at national level
      • Definition is based on age (0-18 for children and 15-25 (or beyond) for youth), role in society and needs, all of which need to be taken into account when developing and implementing the New Urban Agenda and Habitat III. The definition of children and youth is linked to age. However, there is also a matter of maturity and the stage you are in life as well as context relativity.
    • Children and youth as one group towards HABITAT III
      • Current procedures have these two constituencies represented by the Major Group for Children and Youth in the official processes of Habitat III. We must also address age-specific needs and priorities and in accordance with their evolving capacities especially during implementation of the New Urban Agenda. While the main issue for children is education, for youth it’s employment and entrepreneurship. The challenge is how to highlight youth and their direct participation without forgetting children. Some issues are the same, some overlap but the main concern differs and we need to distinguish.
    • Language in which the principles are written
      • The principles are formulated in a vague and too broad way that we believe young people would have hard time to understand. If they don’t understand the point, we will lose them and that is not acceptable. The principles provide a passive role of urban inhabitants in the City We Need, especially for children and youth.
  • Meaningful participation of children and youth in the process
  • Current trends tend to treat youth participation as something socially expected, good to show off with, good to tick off a box. It is not enough to create space for youth to share and discuss their ideas together, without being unable to subsequently pass the message on to the UN and governments.
  • Principles
    • We need a resilient city (this is not included as a principle). This is critical especially when we look at the inclusion of children and youth in this process. The level of resilience of a city depends largely on the social and economic situation of youth and children, which are key components of city resilience.

And following recommendations…

  • Children and Youth as one group towards HABITAT III

We agree to have a constituency group for both, children and youth, to work together as strong allies in order to have stronger and louder voice. However, we have to make sure that interests of both groups are taken care of, in separate points if needed.

  • Language of the principles

The language we use is utmost important in order to put the message across not only to the governments and decision makers, but to all young people concerned. The language of the principles thus has to be PROACTIVE, CLEAR and has to outline the RESPONSIBILITIES for us as much as for the authorities. It is not enough to define what we want the city to do for us, but also what we can do to ensure an effective functioning of the city.

  • Meaningful participation

Children and youth need to be provided with an enabling environment to be included in national and regional processes leading towards Habitat III and actively engaged as a partner of local and national governments. They have to be treated as equal partners, not as pretty accessories. It is time to acknowledge that young people are capable of bringing meaningful contributions to the table.

  • Principles

Therefore, the City We Need needs to define responsibilities and expectations from the people who live in the city in order to create local and real ownership to urban development. It needs to recognize that urban realities are very different across the world, and for this reason, frame the principles through universally agreed frameworks that protect and bring forward the needs and rights of everyone regardless of age, and in particular those who do not necessarily find themselves socially, politically, physically and economically included. As such, the City We Need should be founded on principles of human rights.

We noted that local governance and participation can be articulated stronger in the principles. For children and youth, technology and innovation are important tools to be utilized for this purpose to ensure inclusive and broad outreach.

Including resilience as a principle for a New Urban Paradigm would address issues related to climate change and conflict as well as economic stability and prosperity.

  • Additional principlesThe city we need provides education and economic opportunities for all The city we need has open and accessible public spaces
  • The group proposed to include additional principles: