The Kampala Principles for Youth-led Development: Transforming Youth Lives Now!

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28 June 2024, Nairobi. – In 2007, representatives from UN-Habitat’s One Stop Youth Resource Centres, originating from four capital cities in East Africa, gathered in Kampala, Uganda. Their goal was to determine the core working principles of the One Stops to ensure that youth had the best experience possible, in a sustainable manner, recognizing youth as leaders of not only tomorrow but today.

Fast forward 17 years, the principles agreed upon by those representatives, now called the Kampala Principles on Youth-led Development, are utilized by all UN-Habitat programmes. These principles have become the basis for ongoing research conducted by UN-Habitat through the Global Youth-led Development research series, which explores youth-led agencies, their functions, impacts, and how they can be best supported. The principles and the concept of youth-led development have also begun to influence UN-Habitat programmes. Notable examples include the One Stop and Integrhabitat Centres, the Youth 2030 Cities project, and the Young Gamechanger initiative.

The five principles of youth-led development are (adopted on December 4, 2015; revised on June 28, 2024):

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

Principle 1: Youth define their own development goals and objectives

Empowering youth begins with their ability to define their own development goals, both individually and collectively through youth civil society, as well as being engaged in governance. The basis of Principle 1 is Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to have their say in decisions that affect them. Principle 1 extends this, recognizing that youth have not only a right but also the capacity to make decisions on their own. Youth are assets in their communities and should be recognized as such, given full opportunities to participate in decisions affecting their lives.

Principle 2: Youth have access to a safe physical space

Research shows a decline in physical space for youth in their communities, especially in urban areas. There is less public space for youth for recreation, interpersonal relationships, or generating income. Access to space is even more limited for young women due to cultural norms and safety issues. This challenge is more pronounced in urban areas. Innovative approaches, such as those used by youth-led groups like Spatial Collective in Nairobi, Kenya, and Harassmap in Cairo, Egypt, are utilizing mobile and geospatial technologies to create safe spaces for youth.

Principle 3: Adult and peer-to-peer mentorship

The Kampala Principles emphasize “youth-led,” but this does not exclude the role of adults. Adult mentors who respect the capacities and leadership of youth can significantly advance their personal development and community roles. UN-Habitat’s Youth Mentorship program exemplifies this, with groups like Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency International (CEDA) in Kampala, Uganda, being mentored by figures like Alexia Parks, an author, journalist, and women’s advocate. Peer-to-peer mentorship is also crucial, allowing youth to learn firsthand from others who have faced similar challenges. This support network is critical, as seen in the UN-Habitat Urban Youth Fund, where youth project coordinators receive intensive training and development.

Principle 4: Youth act as role models for other youth

Studies indicate that youth are often portrayed negatively in the media. One way to combat this is by having youth act as role models for their peers. Programs like the Youth Fund demonstrate that youth have valuable assets and are current leaders, deserving of positive profiling.

Principle 5: Youth are integrated into local and national development programs and policie

For sustainable engagement, youth must be involved in policies and programs from design to implementation at local and national levels. Youth engage primarily with issues closest to them – their family, friends, and community. Local program engagement is a critical first step to them becoming positive contributors to society. Data from the Urban Youth Fund shows that youth-led groups adopt a multi-focus approach to development, acknowledging their role in broader societal improvement. At the national and international levels, youth must be recognized as knowledgeable and expert contributors, especially in the developing world where they represent a significant population segment.

An essential aspect of youth development is recognizing youth as experts in their fields, not just as youth. UN-Habitat partners with youth who are international experts in areas like mapping informal settlements and constructing environmentally friendly housing materials.

In summary, youth should be recognized as key development partners, assets, and rights-holders, alongside all other societal stakeholders. The Kampala Principles for Youth-led Development provide guidance on how adults and governments can support this involvement.

Jon-Andrea Solberg
Douglas Ragan

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