Making the Case for Space: an initiative to strengthen the environment for child and youth development


Case for Space is a global research and advocacy initiative that seeks to understand and strengthen the conditions and environment for child and youth development in three focus areas: participation, protection and livelihoods. The research was commissioned by the three organisations of the Case for Space initiative – Restless Development, War Child UK and Youth Business International. The project set out to investigate, understand and present considerations for future action on how to improve the conditions and structures affecting child and youth development. The central research question was:


What is the enabling environment (necessary conditions and structures) that ensures children and young people have access to their rights, can influence decisions, and have improved livelihoods?



Photo: Restless Development


The research intends to provide food for thought and action for the child and youth sector, and stimulate discussion and action by decision-makers on the space and structures for child and youth development. The research also serves to inform the strategic thinking, programming and practice of Restless Development, War Child UK, and Youth Business International. Youth Policy Labs designed and implemented the research, and authored this report.

The project combined quantitative, globally-focused research with qualitative locally-focused research, in order to ground the findings firmly in the political, social and economic contexts of young people’s lives. This was achieved through three methods: a global-level survey, completed by 827 people from 123 countries; three national-level case studies focusing on the experiences of the Case for Space partner organisations; and local research projects led by 18 young people from across the globe.

What the research suggests: key findings and considerations for action

Factors that enable and hinder child and youth development in the areas of participation, protection, and livelihoods:


  • When participation becomes an end in itself, rather than a means of advancing change, young people may distance themselves from it.
  • Building trust between established youth organisations and emerging youth movements and activists would create opportunities for collaboration and support.
  • When the rule of law is ineffective and civic freedoms are repressed, child and youth participation often continues through informal networks.
  • For youth participation to be meaningful, it needs to address the issue of power.

Considerations for action:

  • Definitions and understandings of youth participation should go beyond formal youth organisations and traditional civic activities, such as voting, volunteering and being consulted, to embrace genuine spaces for political action, power-sharing and the realisation of meaningful changes in the lives of young people.
  • Opportunities to create stronger relationships between child and youth organisations and youth movements should be established to build trust between groups that have different structures and ways of working. Work should focus on areas of mutual collaboration and support.
  • Donors, international agencies and youth organisations should increase their understanding of the role, structure and position of informal movements and youth networks and provide support that enables their strengths, rather than seek to change them. Support should include flexible finance mechanisms, legal support and protection, and the provision of basic resources.
  • Current representation structures remain a useful bridge between governments and young people, but are at risk of interference and the perception of co-option. Governments should be encouraged to promote independent youth participation structures that are not aligned to political parties and free from manipulation and coercion.
  • More radical opportunities that focus on the development of power, such as co-ownership of development agendas, crowdsourcing of legislation, and data accountability, should be explored to go beyond traditional participation structures.


Photo: Restless Development


  • Children and young people are vulnerable to abuse and violence, where the perpetrators are trusted adults, armed groups, the state and other young people.
  • Challenging cultural and gender stereotypes and changing attitudes and behaviours are powerful tools for minimising violence and increasing the resilience of children and young people.
  • Youth-led networks can play a key role in community-led child protection systems. They can also hold states to account when they fail to uphold the rights of children and youth to protection.

Considerations for action:

  • The state and law enforcement agencies should enforce just and equitable legislation and policies that provide legal protection, redress for violations and space for violators to be held to account, particularly for survivors of abuse, harassment and corruption.
  • Education is a powerful tool for challenging negative cultural and gender stereotypes and changing attitudes and behaviours that pose risks to the wellbeing of children and young people. Teachers, parents and families should be engaged in educational initiatives, to promote supportive environments for child rights in school, the community and at home.
  • Community-based child protection systems should be scaled-up to help fill gaps in state-supported initiatives.
  • Community-based child protection approaches should ensure the participation and empowerment of children and young people, to enable them to inform child protection initiatives, and hold governments to account.


  • Young entrepreneurs are starting businesses, not only to generate employment, but also as a way to express cultural and civic values.
  • Informal and personal learning can complement formal education in providing the competencies and confidence young people need to improve their livelihoods.
  • Livelihoods support for young people is improved when a wider range of stakeholders, including the larger community, are involved.

Considerations for action:

  • Long-term employability, entrepreneurship and practical skills learning should be promoted, in addition to core teaching, and more opportunities created for non-formal education.
  • Ways should be increased in which the private sector and civil society organisations (CSOs) can collaborate to develop activities that enhance skills, knowledge and learning, such as mentoring for young people, paid internships and training in the workplace.
  • Support initiatives for youth-led social enterprises should extend beyond cities into rural areas, where poverty levels can be considerably higher and social problems more acute.
  • The participation of a wider range of stakeholders in the design, development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of livelihoods programming should be strengthened, and particularly the participation of youth-led and youth-focused CSOs. There is a need to ensure that operational frameworks are in place to guide engagement, and that youth have the capacity and skills to participate adequately.
  • There is a need to promote tolerant, open and safe working environments for young people, with a focus on vulnerable populations, such as former child soldiers.


Photo: Youth Business International


Other aspects of environment that enable and hinder child and youth development


  • Poverty is the most pressing issue facing children and young people today. It impacts on all other areas of their development.

Considerations for future action:

  • Children and youth data should be disaggregated in all SDGs data, to ensure that the unique impacts of poverty on children and young people are not lost within the overall statistics. As part of this, there is a need to advocate for age-specific data, with the ability to disaggregate for both children and youth with sufficient refinement.


Photo: War Child UK



  • Poor governance and a lack of effective rule of law constrains organisations and movements, and compromises development for children and youth.

Considerations for action:

  • To highlight the impact human rights violations have on children and youth, mechanisms for human rights monitoring should be strengthened, through bodies such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. To this end, there is a need to advocate for a special child and youth section of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
  • The participation of child and youth CSOs in UPR processes should be encouraged by developing shadow reports with a special focus on children, young people and human rights. Children and youth organisations should be empowered to produce such reports.


Photo: Restless Development


Civil Society pushback

  • Increasing restrictions on civil society, and lack of trust in and recognition of children and youth organisations, threatens many associations, networks and movements.

Considerations for action:

  • CSOs and youth movements must resist, and actively campaign against, national and international restrictions, including restrictions against the receipt of funding


  • Resourcing challenges are most acute for smaller and less formal organisations and movements.
  • It is time for a new vision on resourcing.

Considerations for action:

  • CSOs and youth movements should campaign for development work to be adequately resourced, and for the fairer distribution of resources to reach a wider range of organisations and movements.
  • Capacity building programmes should be initiated to support young people’s organisational abilities, particularly in fundraising skills and financing strategies.
  • A knowledge base should be developed about informal youth movements, to understand their nature and operations, and how best to support them.
  • A global youth donor and philanthropy summit should be established to reconsider the ways in which youth civil society is funded, the uneven allocation of funding, and the ability of small CSOs and informal groups to access resources.

You can download the Executive Summary below:

The Case for Space TeamExecutive Summary