The Youth Think Tank

Caption: Francis, one of the 4 Ugandan researchers using mobile technology to capture voices of young people in Mayuge district (Eastern Uganda)

Securing a living is one of the ultimate goals of African youth. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. These young people themselves can provide insight into key contextual barriers to securing jobs and can identify key entry points to better support others in pursuing work.

However, there is a lack of effective youth engagement in the youth development sector. While many youth focused initiatives aspire to engage youth in various stages of programming, they regularly lack the tools, approaches, or even incentives to make this a reality. Partly as a result of the lack of investment in youth engagement, young people are deprived from access to an on-going network of support and resources allowing them to develop research, communication and leadership skills, which would allow them to elevate their voices and become thought leaders to meaningfully inform and influence policies. Further to this, while there is a wealth of data on youth livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, this often lacks the perspectives of young people themselves.

The Youth Think Tank (YTT) is a youth-led research initiative implemented by Restless Development Uganda in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. The ambition is to ensure young people are meaningfully engaged in informing development programmes and strategies and position themselves as leaders in driving transformative change through research.

Young researchers from various African countries are trained and supported to lead the research process on different themes related to youth livelihoods, employment, education and financial inclusion. The insights generated will enable development actors and other key stakeholders and influencers across Africa and beyond to better understand issues affecting youth and identify solutions to increase and improve the engagement of young people in development initiatives.

In 16/17, the YTT will elevate youth voices by specifically interrogating two priority themes; hospitality and tourism as well as agricultural related innovations and technologies.

How does it work?

To achieve the YTT ambition, Restless Development recruits a talented and diverse pool of young researchers in the 18-24 age range across Africa to lead the research process from start to finish. Following an intensive training in youth-led research methodology and meaningful youth engagement, we commission them to undertake data collection, analyse the preliminary findings, validate them, generate thematic research reports and disseminate the findings in both national and regional spaces. We support our researchers to use the evidence generated to inform and influence discussions in various thought leadership spaces at local, national, and global level.

Caption: YTT researchers at a media briefing shading light on youth economic opportunities in East Africa. From left to right: Aliguma Ahabyoona (Uganda), Ritah Kobusingye (Uganda), Collins Kimaro (Tanzania), and Isabelle Kubwimana (Rwanda)

As part of the YTT programme, we have also created a network of young technical assistants and equipped them with the skills and tools to respond to emergent organisational capacity needs. This will enable organizations and agencies seeking their services to improve and increase the way they engage youth in their programmes.

After each research cycle, the researchers become part of our growing, active, and structured alumni network. We have committed to invest in their career development by profiling them to a broader network of actors or agencies that can leverage their unique skills and competencies.


Caption: YTT alumni Hilda Namakula (Uganda) and Augustine Malija (Tanzania) presenting a background paper on youth livelihoods in East Africa at the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ meeting  stakeholders’ forum in Kampala (Uganda)

The Youth Think Tank is a 4 year programme. During the first year of implementation, the programme’s achievements can be summarised as follows:

  • 28 young people from 7 African countries have driven the research agenda, transitioning from a broad research spectrum on youth economic opportunities to one focused on 2 priority topics on: hospitality and tourism and agricultural related innovations and technologies.

  • The agricultural related innovations and technologies report will be launched in December in Ghana and will bring together up to 100 stakeholders, including youth delegates.

  • YTT has been increasingly recognised for generating quality and credible youth driven insights and as a result accessed a number of influencing platforms like the CommonWealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, where a background paper on youth livelihoods in East Africa was presented at the meeting’s stakeholders’ forum at the end of July.

  • Some of our alumni have been empowered to start own initiatives supporting youth livelihoods and entrepreneurship in their countries like this initiative by Collins Kimaro (Tanzania) or Francis Arinaitwe (Uganda) featured in this  podcast.

  • We have put together and trained a 14 member team of YTT alumni and researchers to provide bespoke technical assistance on youth engagement to development partners across Africa. The team has already developed their offer and will subsequently adapt tools to support each partner based on their own needs.

Faith Kaoma: A Zambian youth researcher

Faith Kaoma is a member of the  Youth Think Tank  from Zambia. Faith is part of the 4 member team from Zambia leading research on youth livelihoods, interrogating the opportunities and barriers for youth agricultural innovations and technologies across the agricultural value chain. Contributing to the YTT ambition of informing and influencing the development sector efforts, Faith led a youth advisory panel that informed Global Center for Youth Employment at RTI International’s “Ideathon” to select the best five compelling ideas that would address youth unemployment. This role was grounded in her knowledge and insight around youth economic opportunities and challenges of youth unemployment gained through her participation in the YTT.

Caption: Youth Think Tank member Faith Suwilanji

From her fascinating presentation in New York, she was nominated as founding member of Project Forward, an innovative, self-sustaining ecosystem that allows nonprofits to indirectly incentivize volunteers. By facilitating incentives for volunteerism, the initiative envisions increase volunteerism rates, thus magnifying non-profits’ ability to achieve their missions. 

“I have always believed that young people have the power to change the narrative about meaningful youth engagement because I have experienced it first-hand and witnessed transformative change. I have been privileged enough to volunteer with organisations like Restless Development whose work is centered around engaging young people as partners to solve critical challenges such as lack of good education, access to sexual health services and unemployment just to mention a few…. Through my membership as a young Zambian researcher with the Africa Youth Think Tank (YTT), I was given a GRAND opportunity like no other to visit New York and represent Restless Development and the Africa Youth Think Tank as a youth judge at this year’s RTI International “Ideathon”. Being given an opportunity to travel to New York for the first time to participate as a youth judge and a roving mentor to the selected ideas was a dream come true. It felt so surreal how I was being given a chance to share my insights on youth employment and use my voice to represent the YTT, fellow young people in my country, Africa and all over the world.”


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