Time to make sure young people help to rewrite the rules of development

This post first appeared in the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation Blog.

It’s not always immediately obvious why young people should care about effective development co-operation. Even for those in development circles, it has been the inclusive and broad-based process of shaping the next Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) – the “what” of development – that has perhaps most captured the imagination.

But there’s a provocative argument going around. It goes something like this: over past months, the development community has been transfixed with and channelled its energy into shaping the SDGs, with each actor lobbying hard for specific causes like gender, disability, or inequality. But now that the shape of the Goals is starting to emerge in the latest results from the Open Working Group, it’s looking possible that history will judge the biggest changes to have come not in what the world wants by way of development, but on how it delivers it.

There are a number of concurrent processes including the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), the UN Development Co-operation Forum (UNDCF) and the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF). That’s a whole lot of letters – 16 to be precise. Still, things have been moving along swiftly beneath the impenetrable acronyms, albeit without the same visibility afforded to the post-2015 process. Ask most civil society groups about these processes and they might tell you the same thing: the most important, and as yet unanswered, question is how to make sure that development financing from the private sector is underpinned by strong accountability frameworks and human rights principles. Put this together with other radical shifts in the development co-operation landscape – not least the emergence of the BRICS’ New Development Bank last month – and there are plenty of reasons why young people should be focussing their energies as much on effective development co-operation as they are on the new global goals.

And youth are indeed getting vocal. In April this year, Restless Development, the youth-led development agency putting young people at the forefront of development, brought a delegation of seven young global leaders to the Global Partnership High Level Meeting in Mexico. There, they shared key messages and asks with decision-makers around youth participation, summarised in a blog we wrote at the time. When the Global Partnership Steering Committee Co-Chairs rotated in July, our same delegates called on the new Co-Chairs to understand youth as leaders (not just partners or beneficiaries), to give youth a leadership role in the governance of the Global Partnership, and to give them a structured role in monitoring the commitments made by governments through the Global Partnership. Most recently this last August 7 and 8, the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE, the leading civil society platform) hosted their first ever global youth meeting in Brussels to plot what structured youth engagement might look like.

The new Global Partnership Co-Chairs, perhaps more than anyone else, have an opportunity to recast the role of youth in writing the new rules of development.

So, collectively, what could we now do to make sure that young people become systematically involved in rewriting the rules of development?

First, Those charged with the governance of the GPEDC, UNDCF and ICESDF need to hardwire permanent youth participation into the way they work. This could involve creating a youth sub- or shadow committee, giving young people a central role in organising events and meetings, making funding available for youth delegates to take part in meetings, and communicating with a growing constituency of interested young people all year round and not just when major summits happen.

Second, the GPEDC, UNDCF and ICESDF need to co-ordinate on how they’re going to open up to and actively reach out to youth. Even the most interested young people are at risk of drowning in alphabet soup. They want to get to grips with the issues, the power relationships, and changing the world for the better rather than spending limited time understanding the peculiarities of bureaucracies and getting their foot in the door of three separate and overly complex intergovernmental processes.

Finally, between them, youth and civil society need to build a platform or mechanism fit for purpose and able to navigate and consolidate the diverse views of young people. Young people have multiple identities and ideologies, and they need spaces to work through these if they’re to form powerful shared positions where they do have common cause. In Mexico’s High-Level Meeting, different delegations from youth and civil society rarely strategised enough together. The CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness remains an option for convening these different actors under one platform, but the successful experience of the Major Group of Children and Youth reminds us that youth are actually often highly efficient at organising themselves when given the tiniest space and support.

The new Global Partnership Co-Chairs, perhaps more than anyone else, have an opportunity to recast the role of youth in writing the new rules of development. But civil society, youth and those running concurrent intergovernmental processes must all play their part.


Mark Nowottny joined Restless Development, the youth-led development agency putting young people at the heart of development, as their new Policy and Practice Director in April 2014. Previously, Mark was Head of Strategy at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the global civil society alliance based in Johannesburg. You can follow him on Twitter: @MarkNowottny @RestlessDev.

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