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Youth civil society under threat, says new report

Youth organisations and groups have been a lifeline in crises but are under threat, says new report

Youth organisations and groups are both threatened and offer a critical alternative to addressing global crises and injustices of today.  That’s according to the latest State of Youth Civil Society Report: Youth Power in a Pandemic, which explores the challenges and triumphs of youth civil society today. 

The report brings fresh perspective to how young people are leading change across the globe, compiled and written by young leaders themselves who share their first hand experiences, challenges and the support needed to help youth civil society thrive.  

The State of Youth Civil Society

Youth Power in a Pandemic

Read the report online

The global report, which was coordinated by youth organisation Restless Development, includes insights from more than 800 youth civil society organisations spanning 87 countries, including Fridays for Future, FRIDA, and the #EndSARS movement.

The report recommends what’s needed to ensure a thriving, vibrant youth civil society that means communities are best able to adapt and respond to the current global crises.

Key findings:

  • The report finds that youth civil society is under threat, with nearly 75% of the organisations surveyed facing funding cuts that significantly hamper their ability to create change.
  • The overwhelming majority (93%) said that their organisations or groups had to change because of the pandemic, including losing staff and cutting projects.
  • In addition, many report facing unprecedented emotional and physical stress, made worse by multiple crises including the climate crisis, the pandemic and unemployment.
  • The report shows youth civil society is anything but weak despite its challenges, with nearly half of organisations (47%) saying they believe youth civil society is stronger than ever before.
  • Compared to civil society more broadly, youth civil society is able to be more innovative and take more risks because they are more likely to reject traditional, top-down approaches in favour of creative, community-led organising. 

Abideen Olasupo, a political and community activist from Nigeria, said:

“This State of Youth Civil Society Report gave me an experience to tell the story of my involvement in the #EndSars protest and how the civic space is shrinking in Nigeria.

“Governments are making the civic space one of survival for those of us fighting against systems designed to kill activism and civic engagement. Youth civil society is threatened and bullied with harsh policies targeted at dampening “dissent” against authorities. Young people have proven to have the competence, capacity and character to lead change – we need all hands on deck to protect youth civil society.” 

Alex Kent, CO-CEO at Restless Development, said:

Youth civil society has been a lifeline for communities in times of crisis. Without youth civil society, our communities’ recovery from the pandemic to date would have undoubtedly been held back. But their efforts to support communities and help them bounce back from their challenges and crises are at risk.

“It’s a depressing outlook at a time in our history when youth civil society is needed most. But despite the enormous and unique challenges, this report also shows that there is great strength and optimism in youth-led change. Youth civil society is organising community-led change, being creative in crises, and providing solidarity in ways traditional power can not.  They are forging a new world and need more recognition, more backing and more funding to continue leading change, from localised support to communities, to global counter movements to unacceptable inaction on the climate crisis.”

Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, who wrote the foreword, said:

Young people are not waiting for positive change to happen — they are already leading us towards that change. All around the globe, young people are speaking up unapologetically about the injustice they see, and it is our responsibility to listen and act.” 

“However, in order to build a fairer, sustainable and more inclusive future, we cannot solely rely on young people’s ability to fill in the gaps created by political inaction. This report shows that the mental health of the young people on the frontlines is deteriorating. Youth-led civil society is struggling in an ever-challenging funding landscape.”

Each chapter in the report includes findings and spotlights written by youth civil society organisations and groups, covering issues like mental health in India, the Fridays for Future movement worldwide; and economic, social and political problems in Lebanon.

Youth Power in the Pandemic

Download the full State of Youth Civil Society Report: Youth Power in the Pandemic.
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What is youth civil society? 

Youth Civil Society is always youth-led, youth-focused and/or youth-serving.  It includes a diverse range of formal and informal groups such as community groups, NGOs, faith-based organisations, social movements, networks and more.

What is The State of Youth Civil Society report? 

The State of Youth Civil Society report is a global, youth-led publication that looks back over the past year and forward into the next to explore the realities that youth civil society and social movements are experiencing. It reflects upon the global circumstances of young people over the past year that have shaped the collective experiences of youth civil society groups. 

This latest report focuses on the new realities of youth civil society in their quest toward shifting power. The report aims to showcase the many realities that have emerged in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside the many others that have been ongoing over time but have been expedited and/or brought to the forefront in the context of the pandemic. This State of Youth Civil Society report specifically showcases the different ways youth civil society has stepped up around the world to respond, recover, and rebuild in their communities in 2021. 

Read previous State of Youth Civil Society Reports:

2020 State of Youth Civil Society Report: Resilient Realities

Towards a Thriving, Credible and Sustainable Youth Civil Society.

How was this report created? 

Co-ordinated by Restless Development and the Development Alternative, more than two dozen youth civil society organisations (CSO) or movements have partnered to author this report. As you read, you will find an overview of the most prominent themes and realities of youth civil society in 2021, derived from the 22 spotlight chapters as well as a global survey of some 868 members of youth civil society groups across 87 countries. The report is organised into chapters by these themes of what the state of youth civil society in 2021 is: threatened, resilient, adaptable, creative, outspoken, community-focused, and justice-driven. Each chapter in the report begins with a synthesis of main findings from the spotlights and the survey, and it concludes with the spotlights most relevant to the chapter theme.

The State of Youth Civil Society

Youth Power in a Pandemic

Read the report online