Since 2015, the global community has increasingly acknowledged the importance of youth leadership for the pursuit of sustainable peace. In an under-resourced and hyper-competitive landscape, promising youth-led programs are missing out.
Today, more individuals identify as part of the youth generation than at any other time in history. Globally, a quarter of them have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted by some form of violence and instability. Recent images from conflicts around the world, including in Myanmar, Ukraine, and Afghanistan, are a reminder that youth are central actors in resistance and peace efforts. As such, valuing youth’s leadership in peacebuilding, as well as their priorities and approaches for its realisation, are necessary conditions for lasting peace.
Growing recognition among member states that youth occupy important leadership roles in peace processes has transformed global conversations about how peace and security is sought. This acknowledgement, however, remains largely conceptual due to a reluctance to formally invest long-term in youth’s capacity to contribute to peace. Sustainably resourcing youth-led initiatives provides opportunities for youth to define their own priorities. Yet, the fulfilment of accessible and dedicated funding for youth-led peace practices remains a central challenge for international and local communities. While youth are actively leading peacebuilding efforts, the scale and longevity of their work remains constrained by chronic underfunding, piecemeal resource capacity, and inflated grant processes.
An absence of quality and quantity funding is prevalent across the peacebuilding landscape, but these conditions are amplified for youth peacebuilders. Currently, the majority of youth-led initiatives operate almost entirely on a volunteer basis. Endemic volunteerism presents a challenge for youth-led peace work as it limits organisational longevity, preventing the development of embedded knowledge among youth peacebuilders and creating conditions where projects are unsustainable. Relying on the political will, sense of duty, and passion of youth to maintain their peacebuilding practices ignores their contributions to broader peace efforts and devalues their identity as political stakeholders. Establishing trust with youth involves practically investing in their agency and capacity to lead for peace now, not just in the future.
Limited financing capacity also creates unnecessary competition across the donor landscape due to the emerging tension between funding sought and resources available. The impacts of this imbalance between supply and demand are often further exacerbated by access issues — where reduced civic space, duplication bias, and a predisposition to finance practices which address perceived “youth issues” exclude some youth-led initiatives from grant eligibility. Until donors commit to implementing flexible, coordinated strategies capable of mitigating this increased competition, marginalised youth will continue to be prevented from accessing resources for their peacebuilding practices. Genuine commitment to responsive peace, which is broadly inclusive of all youth, requires more accessible funding practices capable of reducing youth-led organisations’ reliance on volunteerism. Inclusive funding for youth peace work must look beyond the most visible and transcend notions of the “ideal” youth to reach those who are isolated and working in spaces not traditionally associated with formal peace processes.
When youth-led organisations are resourced, they often rely on modest funding to facilitate project and operational requirements. Mapping reveals that approximately 50 percent of youth-led organisations run on an annual budget of only AU$5000. While some diversity exists in the amount of funding donors are capable of providing (between $200-$150,000), the average grant for youth-led initiatives is approximately $3,000. This piecemeal approach to resourcing presents a challenge for the solidification of practices, which ensure that peace is embedded and meaningful for youth. Recent initiatives such the Youth Solidarity Fund demonstrate that seed funding plays an important role in facilitating single-issue practices, and thus should not be abandoned entirely. Yet, donors must work together with youth to ensure that a network of funding models exist to support the diverse types of peace practices youth are leading. Fostering cooperation across organisations mitigates the siloed nature of current funding models and the culture of competition and exclusion they enable.
Where youth-led peacebuilding is concerned, expectation misalignment and time pressures compound challenges produced by an absence of funding. Youth-led organisations are often expected to carry out large, multilayered projects over protracted time periods, with grant cycles typically lasting 6-12 months. Youth-led organisations must be supported by donors and established civil society networks to overcome the burdens associated with short-term grant cycles. The international community has an obligation to create a stable funding environment, with diverse financing models built on genuine partnerships and coordination where youth are decision-makers. Financing frameworks that take seriously youth’s political agency will empower them to lead and make decisions at all stages of the financing grant cycle.
Priority must be given to inclusive funding practices which minimise bureaucracy and embed capacity building strategies into grant application processes. Horizontal, multi-year financing models premised on shared values and priorities between donors and youth peacebuilders can also build trust between actors. These flexible financing models, which reduce the knowledge and administration burden on youth peacebuilders, are necessary to shift the power disparity that often informs the relationship between donor and recipient. When youth are empowered to lead and make decisions, and when donors cede space for youth to co-create funding models, resourcing is more responsive and thus more effective for delivering sustainable peace.
Participatory grantmaking has emerged as a legitimate panacea to the rigidity of traditional technocratic models. This approach, which centres local youth as decision-makers in the grant distribution and design process, overcomes the exclusionary nature of technocratic models by taking seriously youth’s political agency. By prioritising simple and unspecific funding instruments and emphasising relationship building between donors and recipients, participatory grantmaking enables youth to systemically plan their peacebuilding initiatives. Recent examples of participatory grantmaking, including the Tar Kura initiative in Sierra Leone and the Global Resilience Fund, demonstrate the importance of partnerships, cooperation, and capacity building led by youth for the realisation of responsive financing.
Advocacy for youth-inclusive peace practices must be affirmed by a genuine commitment to reimagining the donor landscape beyond the current technocratic models. Reforms are needed to create enabling environments where resourcing for peace is done in partnership with local youth. Furthermore, youth-inclusive peace cannot be accomplished without a commitment by donors to resource distribution that balances short- and long-term funding approaches.
Dr Caitlin Mollica is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Newcastle Business School. Her current research applies a human rights lens to the examination of donor funding for the realisation of substantive youth inclusive peace practices. She is the author of Agency and Ownership in Reconciliation: Young People and the Practice of Transitional Justice (under contract 2022). Twitter: @CaitlinMollica
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