How can defenders and movements successfully engage youth as allies?

16 posts / 0 new
Last post
How can defenders and movements successfully engage youth as allies?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider and respond to the following questions:

  • How do activist movements make sure that the issues they advocate for are still generating interest and commitment among the younger generations? How are peace movements and women’s movements dealing with the issue of involving young people in their work?
  • What are the differences between current day youth activism, and how it was done in the past?
  • How does the UN work around youth including  a gender perspective (differentiating between boys’ and girls’ experiences and realities) and how is civil society and youth initiatives involved in these UN initiatives? (top-down or collaborative?)
  • Are young activists actively reaching out to those who went before them, building on the experience and expertise gained?
  • Why did they establish themselves as youth organization, and how they link with the older generation of activists?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

Showing youth that they are not alone

Javier posted a great comment in another discussion thread about how War Resister's International engages youth by showing them that they are not alone by supporting conscientious objectors to military service. Sometimes youth are put in situations where they feel stuck, without options, and they need someone to turn to for support. He writes:

Javier Garate wrote: is important to see what are the issues young people are confronted with and how they can see that they are not alone facing these problems and that there is something possible to do - take action!

New Tactics hosted a dialogue a few years ago on Engaging youth in non-violent alternatives to militarism. One of the examples shared in that conversation was about how Project YANO in California successfully engaged youth in nonviolent activism:

rjahnkow wrote:

In order to effectively counter militarism in young people's lives, I agree with Oskar that it's very important to try to encourage and facilitate peer organizing and educating. To do so, there are a lot of challenges that NON-students must overcome. Project YANO has worked at it since its first year (1984). We've had cycles of success over time, and the most recent can be viewed in several sets of photos at the Education Not Arms Coalition Web site (look at links in the JROTC firing range campaign section). Project YANO helped bring this coalition together and now has a number of students from the coalition on its various boards. What made it work was a few key factors:

  1. the existence of a few supportive teachers at students' schools;
  2. a perspective that linked militarism (initially JROTC) to the situation where working class students and youth of color were not being given equal access to college prep courses in high school; and
  3. lots of logistical and resource support (e.g., supplying transportation for students, having snacks at meetings and long school board hearings, and giving students leaflets, buttons and stickers to freely distribute). We also are working primarily with Latino students, many of whom, along with their parents, are English learners, so it's been important to maintain sensitivity to their language needs.

And another examples was shared:

The december18th project is a campaign to Free the Shministim (Israeli conscientious objectors).  The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories.

To me what is unique about these approaches is that groups are engaging youth to support other youth in their nonviolent activism. What other examples are you familiar with?

Rap as a tool to involve youth

Dear Kristin, 

I would like to add an example:

Musicians without Borders was giving Music & Nonviolence Leadership Training in the Occupied Palestinian Territories when we found out that some of our trainees were active in rap music. We decided to add a new program and provided Nonviolence Leadership Training to young Palestinian rappers. After this training, the rappers chose places to give rap workshops to youth (peer teaching). They chose to give workshops to refugees, orphans, an interreligious group, and youth from an isolated village. The youth learned from the rappers how to write their own rap songs about subjects that matters to them. These subjects included the occupation, the wall, life in a refugee camp, and political prisoners. At the end of the workshop series, every group recorded their new songs in our modest recording studio in Dheisheh refugee camp.

One rapper said: "Stop making factories that produce bombs...make studio's that produce music."

Another one wrote the text of a chorus line: "Music is my weapon now, I don't need a gun anymore."

I believe that this rap project is succesful in engaging youth in nonviolent direct action because of the following reasons:

1. We reached out to the youth and chose a medium that they are interested in. Through this medium we shared our message of nonviolence direct action.

2. We let the youth choose which other youth they will train and where. This gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility. 

Although it was not our original idea to use rap and it was the youth that gave us this idea, we believe in the strength of using rap as a tool for nonviolent direct action: the participating youth receives a voice, they get the chance to express their thoughts, ideas, frustrations and dreams, and they have an international audience. They get the chance to show the world something else than the way they are portrayed by the media which is often stereotyped.


Young people are interested in many things because they are still learning about many things and have a long way to go and because of that the risk of loosing them along the way is so high. Two things that I have seen work very well with young people here in Kenya. One, the change must be related to a challenge they face as a young people and secondly enegaging them in other trainings other than Nonviolence Action tend to work well. Nonviolence Actions for example requires serious leadership skills among other skills that can help along the way. Personally mentorship and coaching has worked wonders for me when I work with young people who desire to make change through meaningful engagement.

other trainings than NV Action

Oluoch Dola wrote:

Two things that I have seen work very well with young people here in Kenya. One, the change must be related to a challenge they face as a young people and secondly enegaging them in other trainings other than Nonviolence Action tend to work well.

hi dola, 

Yes, I think it's very important to focus on a challenge the youth have identified as being a problem. 

Fabienne from Musicians without Borders shared an example of the work they are doing with youth in Palestine, providing Nonviolence Leadership Training to young Palestinian rappers. The idea was established because the youth were using rap and Musicians Without Borders understood this and built on it. 

I was wondering if you could share some examples from Kenya how you have worked with youth to engage them in other trainings than nonviolent action?

Thanks, Peace 

NV as a way of life

For the many years that I have trained young people in NV, I have encouraged them to practice NV as a way of life and not just a tool that we use and dump. Change is a continuous process and my take is that tools for change like NV then should be our way of life. 

the language of nonviolence training

Dear Dola,

Good to see you here my friend!

I think as you said training is very important to strengthen our work. What I prefer is when  people in their own groups find the best way to work together. Many times groups are doing similar things to what we would call nonviolence training, but they don't use the same terms. They could just call it running a workshop, having a skillshare, working unsing popular education, etc, all including elements of what we would call nonviolence training. I like the concept of nonviolence training, but I think we also need to be flexible in the use of our language, as to connect to the language which is more familiar to the activists you are working with. 

At a recent event I did a spectrum or barometer  exercise asking people if they called themselves nonviolence trainers. The spectrum coulnd't be biger, with people standing at both ends of the room. The most interesting thing was that people standing at both ends where giving the same reasons for standing there, mostly the idea of being inclusive. People standing in the no, I am not a nonviolence trainer said that if you attached the word nonviolence it was pushing your own agenda, while for the ones on the other end, they saw it as an important element of their identity and the importance to recognise that most of us in the room act nonviolently and the importance to name it.

So, yes I think nonviolence trainings are very important and it is important to recognise different froms of training/ workshops, skillsharing, etc and that languages should not divide us.

Javier Garate

Twitter @javitejavier



Dear all,  I definetely agree

Dear all, 

I definetely agree with Dola in using nonviolence in principle, as a way of life. When we work with teachers who are used to violence in schools, we show them different ways of delaing with the students by using body language or 'music tricks'. As Javier wrote, the word nonviolence can be interpreted different. When we give our music workshop leader trainings, we don't mention the word, but all the skills that people are trained in are based on nonviolent principles. In the actual nonviolence training subjects like leadership, communication, compassionate listening, reflecting and evaluation, and distinguishing between interpretation and facts are all included. We have had trainees that treated the word 'nonviolence' as a curse, until they found out during the training that their activities are actually nonviolent direct action as well. Nevertheless, we still have trainees that refuse to follow the nonviolence training because they think it means 'to give up their rights' or it is seen as 'being weak'. How is this in other parts of the world? Should we try to include the trainees that are against the nonviolence training by changing the name of the training? 

If people make the step to join the nonviolence training even if they are against it, I believe it will also greatly depend on the trainer. For example, we have once worked with a trainer who has lots of academic experience. He came to the refugee camp where we held the training dressed in a nice suit, and gave an academic lecture on nonviolence. It was difficult for the trainees to see him as a role model, because he had such a different background. When we worked with a trainer from a refugee camp with a similar academic background but also with the life experience of a refugee and an activist, the response of the trainees was completely different:

Some of the trainees opposing nonviolence probably joined our samba percussion leadership training because they liked to drum and we were spending a week in a hotel, away from the daily life of the refugee camps. For five days the trainees received samba training in the morning and nonviolence training in the afternoon. The idea was to include drum groups in for example demonstrations and sit-ins. Already after the first day the trainees that opposed nonviolence recosidered their opinions and admitted that actually nonviolence was what they were already doing and what they could develop more. I think that the reason for this little success was the fact that their trainer served as a perfect role model: living in a refugee camp like them, familiar with their challenges, speaking their language (dialect), and being 'one of them'. 

those who are into NV and those who are not

In Nicaragua there are those young people who are still using violence in their activism (using tools such as hand-made mortars), mostly students of some of the universities and those mostly involved in national politics, both within the political parties and elsewehre. On the other hand, young people who are orgnized around the women´s movement are more into non-violent activism and they are contributing their creativity to this activism, they are organizing theater presentations, parades and other peformance presentations, and they are also helping women´s groups develop crative media campaigns. Even the Masculinity Network, which is one of the organizations I work with, we are working with young people to develop our media campaigns: about half of our constituency are young people and we also hire a young creative team to help us develop our campaign materials.    

Aduult vs. youth organizations.

Personally I would argue that both the peace movemenet and the womenś movement are facing quite some challenges in involving youth - especially in Western Europe which is the context I know best. They both have their roots in the 60's and 70's when we weren't even born, and some of their activities (now I am generalizing very boldly) seem to be more fit for that time than in the current world. Taking myself as an example I have identified as a feminist from a very early age, but I have never been involved with the actual women's movement - as it has not attracted me in anyway. I think a core problem is that many organizations have not managed to evolve their discourse and actions as feminist theory has moved along.


Coming from a youth organizational background I very much belive in youth organizing on their own - in formal or informal groups. In this way you facilitate for more flexibility in your activism as youth orgnizations tend to be more flexible and open to change than "adult"organizations. However, youth organizations very often suffer from a lack of organizational memory as the turn-over of people is so high. This can be helped by keeping alumni of the organization involved in support functions, so that the wheel does not need to be re-invented in an annual basis.

All the best, 


UNOY Peacebuilders 

preventing the loss of institutional memory

Hi Matilda

I can strongly identify with what you are writing. I think indeed one of the main challenges of youth organizations is the lack of institutional memory. The youth involved grow older and they rightly want to make space for " the new youth" to join the organization, resulting in an exodus of institutional memory. 

I agree with the need to keep alumnis involved in support functions. I also wanted to add the need to write down and structure "the memory of the organizations" ; how are things being done, and why, as well as writing down important events that happened. I believe this can be an important role of the alumnis , in collaboration with the youth involved in the organization. Another idea is the establishment of a support - phase for new members. Older members who would like to leave the organization should take time to support a few new members and share with them their knowledge of the organization ( if not written down yet) - again; how things are done, why, what events have been organized, what ideas have been developed over time and what has been implemented (or not) and why? What brainstorming has taken place of the past few years? Those kind of issues should be shared with the new youth members. Another important one is the need to take minutes during meetings. New members can go over this, and get a feel of what the organization has been dealing with it. 

This hopefully prevents the re-invention of the wheel ;-).

Greetings Jose

linking the movements

Hi Matilda and Jose, 

You both pointed out some very interesting points. While other movementslike for example the women's movement, or the peace movement, lack young people who want to engage, the youth movement faces another challenge, namely the "outgrowing" of its members. And though it is important for the youth to organize itself in groups, movements, or whatever you want to call it, I think it is important and beneficial for both sides to link. If the youth movement works detached from other political movements, it also misses out on the change to "mainstream" the youth agenda into the other organizations, networks, etc. In that sense again I see a parallel to the gender issue. 

Hi Merle, Jose and

Hi Merle, Jose and all,

Indeed keeping track of how you do things in an organization prevents the loss of institutional memory, and what I also was thinking is that people involved in youth organizations are often involved with their whole hearts, and if I look at my experience these alumni often very much care about the organization and are more than happy to support when times get tough, so I think it's important to also foster this culture and to give the alumni space to support (without it becoming too much "oh during my times we did it like this - you're doing it all wrong" :)

I think activism today is very much about building alliances, and indeed I think it is very important for youth organizations and groups to build alliances also with "adult" organizations - especially on topics of joint concern. I think there is much potential for building partnerships around projects for instance where a youth group could be taken in to give the project a youth perspective. 

So speaking of, I think it would be very nice for UNOY and WPP to meet up - it would be great if you could pop me an email on!

All the best,


UNOY Peacebuilders

Engaging youth in sectarian conflicts....

How do you engage youth in sectarian conflicts? Here is an experience from Lebanon, which we captured in our tactics database...


Nouveaux Droits de L'Homme’s (NDH) education and training program established Club 3D ("Droits, Devoirs et Democratic" or "Duties, Rights and Democracy") in high schools. NDH attempts to counter the factionalist and religious divisions within Lebanon. In particular, education, which is run by the private sector, fosters religious loyalty rather than the ideals of democracy and citizenship.  Targeting youth between 15 and 18, the clubs aim to raise awareness about human rights through training programs and social activities.
NDH developed a participatory method for learning about human rights. The program includes group discussion, role playing and guided entertainment and activities to educate about human rights, citizenship, democracy, tolerance and self-expression. University students were recruited as peer facilitators to lead groups at each school. These facilitators were given training in the program and provided with ongoing consultation and support.

How does the UN work around youth including a gender perspective

The UN General Assembly first recognized the role that youth can play in social development on December 7th, 1965. Since the 1970’s, the UN Youth Delegates Program has been operating to increase youth participation in international policy, presumably also to stimulate national policy’s recognition of youth’s voices. Further, in 1985 the UN celebrated the first International Year of Youth. Ten years later, the UN General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Youth, which provides a policy framework and guidelines for national action for improving the situation of youth. In 1999, August 12th was declared International Youth Day and just last year the second International Year of Youth was celebrated.

The concept of youth and the benefits of involving youth in nonviolent activism and peace building are not completely new; yet, action, I think, on including youth is. In international peace building policy youth remain marginalized. The UN Security Council is yet to adopt a Resolution focusing specifically on youth. Resolutions incorporating youth focus on children (defined as people till the age of 18) and thus neglect youth as a specific population group with specific characteristics, experiences and added value.

The UN Division for Social Policy and Development, which seeks to strengthen international cooperation for social development by focusing on persons in situations on conflict and groups who are marginalized from society and development, acknowledges the need to focus on both young women and men. This is made clear by the use of language in for example the UN World Youth Report. However, clear gendered youth policies lack.

International policy is starting to recognize youth and the need to incorporate youth in peace building and development projects, but a huge gap in policy and implementation is left. I believe in the strength of civil society and young women and men in bringing about change, but a little help from the international community could facilitate our social struggles and provide for much needed international support. What do you think? 

working with youth

the young feminist activism program (YFA) at AWID works with this question of how to engage youth a lot specifically within women's movements and organizations. we are constantly looking to document examples of effective multigenerational collaboration and movement building while also trying to impliment this type of ethic in our own work. One of the issues that we focus on which I touched upon in a previous link is the idea that of youth representation versus youth engagement.

The YFA program over the last 5 years has experiemented with different models of not only providing youth with a representative space but also ensuring that they are using and fully engaged in this space. One of our more popular strategies is creating exclusive youth spaces followed by multigenerational spaces in meetings and conferences. For example at the 12th AWID International Forum in Turkey that was held in April 2012 on Transforming Economic Power, we wanted to make sure that young women were present but more importantly that they were engaging fullyso as to have their voices heard at the conference. We held a pre-Forum meeting exclusively for young women to introduce important and key concepts of economic power and to explain the processes and spaces that the Forum will include and then also created the Young Feminist Corner where we would assist young women through out the conference with further discussion, documentation and networking. The two strategies side by side of providing exclusive spaces for young women support and then engaging them in a facilitated multigenerational process and setting really helped in their engagement at the conference and their learning experiences.

Another fun strategy that we have used in a past conference which left a big impact is the Pink Conversations. This activity required that young women approached older activists to have a conversation about the challenges and opportunities of multigenerational collaboration and work, and once the conversation was over, the young activists would present the older activist with a pink scarf to wear throughout hte conference as symbol of multigenerational dialogue. The pink scarves where soon on every activist attending the conference and many of the conversations that were generation were reported to be moving - some of them were difficult but the objective was to start these conversations and develop a culture where age power dynamics where being discussed.

Topic locked