Youth, Peace and Programming for Change: Critical Reflection between the University, the Headquarters and the Field

By Sukanya Podder, Saji Prelis and Joseph Jimmy Sankaituah - 31 August 2021
Youth, Peace and Programming for Change: Critical reflection between the University, the Headquarters and the Field

Post conflict peacebuilding activities generate the hope for fresh opportunities, access to services, and sustainable livelihoods among youth even when the state is indebted to donors and remains mired in corruption and incapacity. The disappointment that follows reminds us of what historian Jay Winter (2006) describes as ‘minor utopias’. Such an utopia is often how young people experience peacebuilding. The disappointment to deliver on the part of the state and international organisations is partly due to the nature of design, funding and rationale for youth and peace projects. How can we shift the narrative from disappointment to critical empowerment? Based on our academic, policy and practical work with children and young people, we argue that such a shift requires a transition from instrumental programming, as projected in the theory of change underlying a specific project effort, to thinking about long-term and cumulative effects of different projects. Meaningful youth engagement in post-conflict societies demands a long-term commitment to youth-led and adult supported processes that emphasise youth inclusion and not simply donor facilitated participation in short-term projects. Without establishing a two-way communication between youth needs and formal institutions, without repairing citizen-state relations, the gains of short-term technocratic peacebuilding will not be transformative or long-lasting.

Policy Recommendations

  • National youth coordinating structures should be created by an Act of Parliament It would enable them to operate as a civil society organisation without political interference.
  • International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) should move away from direct implementation of donor funded projects to building new ways of working through national and local youth led organisations to ensure long-term impact, scalability and sustainability
  • Donors should restructure grant making processes, and adopt a more participatory process to ensure access for young people working in the informal sphere, without registered organisations.
  • By shifting peacebuilding efforts from youth involved to youth led initiatives that are mentored by adults, a more sustainable and intergenerationally collaborative programming path can be devised.
  • Finally, the UNSCR2250 should be defined more clearly along the lines of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so that states can charter an implementation plan for the next ten years with clear indicators.


Photo by Bhola shanker Katariya from Pexels