Our History

IN THE BEGINNING... 1985 to 1995

Restless Development was founded in 1985 by Jim Cogan, OBE, then Deputy Head of Westminster School.

Right from the outset, at the heart of Mr Cogan’s vision was young people.  To begin with this meant  young people from British schools volunteering to work full time in underserved schools in Zimbabwe and India, under the working name of ‘Third World Projects’.

By 1995, more than 200 young people from all around the UK were volunteering with the Charity every year. Our programmes had expanded to Nepal (1991) and Tanzania (1992), and we had changed our name to ‘Students Partnership Worldwide’ (SPW).

EVOLVING… 1995 to 2005

Between 1995 and 2005, the organisation shifted from being a Volunteer-Sending-Agency, to exploring its real strength and expertise – young people. The biggest changes:

  • Expansion: We opened programmes in Uganda (1997), South Africa (1998), Australia and the USA (2002), Zambia (2003) and Sierra Leone (2004).
  • Working with national volunteers: We started to focus our work on recruiting and placing national volunteers, from inside their own countries.
  • Focus on need: We reviewed our strategic strength as the experts in engaging young people as well as assessed the most urgent need and moved away from formal education and instead engaged young people full time in tackiling : HIV and AIDS, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, unemployment and the absence of young people in decision-making roles.

TODAY… 2005 to date

From 2005 we have earned a reputation for high quality delivery of programmes led full time by young people.

Our youth-led development approach has been repeatedly cited as a model of best practice by the World Bank, UNAIDS, UNICEF and other international institutions, as well as receiving the 2007 STARS Impact Award in Tanzania, the 2009 AWOL NGO of the Year Award in Sierra Leone and Volunteer organisation of the year in Nepal in 2010.

We have continued our commitment to delivering high quality programmes in underserved communities:

  • More than 1,000 Volunteer Peer Educators work with us each year, 90+% of whom are working in their own country. These young leaders in turn reach more than 420,000 youth as part of our sexual and reproductive health, life skills and livelihoods, and leadership programmes.

And we have found many new ways to use our expertise in youth-led and youth-targeted development:

  • Training other youth-led organisations in more than 30 countries around the world, providing technical support to major aid agencies like the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development.

We have grown consistently, now led by more than 300 full-time staff in 10 countries. After three years of collective work by young professionals and young people across the world, in 2010 we launched a new name and brand to capture our youth-led mission and ambitions.

Restless Development, the youth-led development agency.


We are the Youth Collective. If you believe in the power of young people, join our movement.