The Kampala Principles for Youth-led Development

co-authored Jon-Andreas Solberg with Douglas Ragan

In 2007 representatives from the UN-Habitat´s One Stop Youth Resource Centres originating from four capital cities in East Africa gathered together in Kampala, Uganda. They came together with the goal of determining what were the core working principles of the One Stops which would assure that youth had the best experience possible, in a way which was sustainable over the long term and which recognized youth as leaders today.

Fast-forward 8 years later, and the One Stops have become a model of youth development. The principles that those representatives agreed to – now called the Kampala Principles on Youth-led Development – are now in use not only by the One Stops but by youth programmes globally. They have become the basis for ongoing research undertaken by UN-Habitat through the Global Youth-led Development research series which explores youth-led agencies, how they function, their impact and how they can be best supported. And lastly, the principles and the concept of youth-led development has begun to influence policy at the local, national and global level.

The 5 principles of youth-led development are:

  1.        Youth define their own development goals and objectives;
  2.        Youth have a safe and generative physical space;
  3.        Adult and peer-to-peer mentorship;
  4.        Youth act as role models for other youth;
  5.        Youth are integrated into local and national development programmes and policies.

Principle 1: Youth define their own development goals and objectives

Critical to empowering youth is their ability to define their own development goals, both individually and at a collective level through youth civil society, as well as being engaged in governance. The initial basis of Principle 1 is Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that states that Children have a right to have their say in decisions that affect them. Principle 1 goes farther, in that it recognizes that youth have not only a right but they have inter alia thecapacity to have their say in decisions. This speaks to the inherent and more advanced capacity of youth versus children to make decisions on their own without necessarily partnering or being led by adults. Youth are assets in their communities, and should be recognized as such and be given full opportunities to take part of all decisions affecting their lives.

 

 Principle 2: Youth have access to a safe physical space.

Research has shown that there is less and less physical space for youth in their communities, especially in urban areas. There is less pubic space for youth for recreation, interpersonal relationships, or for generating income. In the latter case the most poignant example was that of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, due to being unable to get a permit and space to sell his wares on the streets of Tunis. His actions went on to spark the Arab Spring.

Access to space is even more limited for young women, who face greater barriers due to cultural norms and safety issues. This is a challenge both in rural and urban areas but research done by UN-Habitat indicates that access to safe public space for young women might be even a greater challenge in urban areas. Much is now being learned about how youth use physical space as well as how to create it through the new advent of new mobile and geospatial technologies, such is being used by youth-led groups such as Spatial Collective in Nairobi, Kenya, andHarassmap in Cairo, Egypt.

Principle 3: Adult and peer-to-peer mentorship

Though the Kampala Principles refer to “youth-led”, this does not mean that adults do not have a role to play. Adult mentors who respect the capacities and leadership of youth, can play a strong role in advancing the personal development of youth and the role they are playing in their communities. UN-Habitat’s Youth Mentorship programme demonstrates this, where groups such as Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency International (CEDA) in Kampala, Uganda are being mentored. CEDA is being mentored by Alexia Parks, an author, journalist and women’s advocate, and through her mentorship has been able to train hundreds of young women leaders.

Peer-to-peer support is another form of mentorship that is especially important in the developing world where there are demographically more youth and less adults. Peer mentorship allows youth the opportunity to learn first hand from others who have recently experienced challenges they may have come up against. Both forms of mentorship build and extend networks which is critical to any endeavour a young person undertakes. We see this clearly in the UN-Habitat Urban Youth Fund where all project coordinators from the youth groups we are partnering with are brought together for intensive training and project development. The network and peer support these youth are giving each other are invaluable input to their role as leaders in their youth groups and their communities.

 Principle 4: Youth act as role models for other youth

Studies have shown that youth are often portrayed negatively within the media. Youth, especially young men, are often seen as violent, whereas young women can be portrayed as passive and incapable. One way to combat this is to have youth act as role models for other youth. Similar in vein to peer-to-peer mentorship, youth often look to others who are similar to them for inspiration and guidance. Through programmes such as the Youth Fund, youth demonstrate that they have assets and are truly leaders of today, not only tomorrow, and need to be profiled as such.

 Principle 5: Youth integrated into local and national development programs and policies

For youth to be sustainably engaged they must be engaged in policies and programmes which relate to their lives at the local and national level from the design and planning phase to implementation. Youth engage first and foremost with issues which are closest to them – their family, their friends and their community. Thus, the engagement of youth in local programmes and policies is a critical first step to them becoming positive contributors to their society.

Data from the Urban Youth Fund clearly shows that youth-led groups have a complex and multi-focus approach to development. They neither have a single focus in their projects nor do they only focus on the situation only from a youth perspective. To the contrary, most youth-led groups acknowledge that they are part of larger society and their desire is to change society for the better for everyone. At the national and international level, youth need to be recognized as having knowledge and expertise that is valuable. This is especially the case in the developing world in which youth make up a large percentage of the population.

An important aspect of youth development in general is the recognition of youth as experts in the areas they are working in and not only experts on being youth. Some of the youth UN-Habitat are partnering with are international experts in their field, be it using technology for mapping informal settlements, or the construction of environmentally friendly housing materials.

The bottom line is, youth, as every other stakeholder in society, should be recognized as key development partners and asset and rights-holders, just as anyone else, young and old, women and men.Youth are capable of being engaged positively in their own and their communities development. The Kampala Principles for Youth-led Development provide guidance on how adults and the governments they represent can support this.

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