Our world is changing. Quickly. Factors such as Covid-19, climate change, and digital transformation, combined with the usual pace of change, are profoundly altering circumstances and conditions everywhere. This unprecedented dynamism presents an urgent challenge to those of us in the development field. Simply put, we no longer have the luxury of assuming that existing change theories and implementation strategies are always relevant or meaningful in the communities where they are applied.
Corporate strategy gurus such as Michael Porter have long recognized that businesses need to adapt to changing circumstances to retain their competitive advantage in changing environments. Development institutions, not always known for their nimbleness, have also been reacting to new realities. For example, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic lending by multilateral development banks rose by 39 percent, due in part to creative workarounds designed to speed processing and to align with their long-term development missions. In the hyper-dynamic youth development space, IYF has taken an additional step in its strategic approach by acting in anticipation of change. In 2022, three years into IYF’s five-year strategy, Transformation 2025, we leaned into “proactive adaptation” through a strategy refresh intended to deepen and expand existing approaches, capabilities, and models to meet the evolving needs of young people today.
Young people are especially exposed to rapid changes in the world. They are, or soon will be, taking their place—as participants, actors, stakeholders, and influencers—in societies that have been profoundly altered by the pandemic. Youth also report heightened concern, and anxiety, about climate change. Not surprisingly, in many places, they are already leading the responses.
To support them, IYF’s strategy refresh was grounded on the issues that are important to young people right now, the barriers and opportunities that can either hinder or help them to realize their potential, and an understanding of how our organizational assets, experience, expertise, and networks can proactively adapt to better support young people in creating the futures they want.
The process of proactive adaptation should be inclusive, participatory, and consultative. At IYF, this involved talking to colleagues around the world to understand the issues they are seeing that are a concern for young people and the systems that surround them. A survey we disseminated early in our process generated nearly nine full pages of rich answers to the first question alone, which asked about the issues young people face and care about.
We contextualized, contemplated, and sifted through ideas about topics as disparate as migration, climate change, digital skills, digital exclusion, mental health awareness, market-driven skills training, self-employment and entrepreneurship support, the long-term effects of the crisis in Ukraine on young people, violence, growing religious fundamentalism, and the uneven barriers to accessing education and economic opportunities for women. The list goes on. As we learned, ensuring an inclusive process isn’t always quick or efficient. Incorporating diverse, sometimes divergent perspectives takes time. Rather than a straight path to the end goal, it is a journey of listening, learning, and—in IYF’s case—becoming a better partner and champion for young people.
“Sometimes,” one of the survey respondents wrote, “things are done through the adult lens or not taking into account what the youth wants or needs. I think we need to consider how young people access information, how sometimes their inner circles are their young friends, how they need a strong environment to believe in themselves or to know they can access to bigger or better opportunities in life.”
This respondent speaks to the heart of IYF’s strategy and organizational values: placing young people at the center. Our proactive strategy refresh embraced this tenet. We interrogated our strategy, approaches and tools to identify how we can be more responsive to young people and the issues they are facing globally today. We were careful not to assume that our work is necessarily right where it should be. Instead, we sought to identify areas for growth and renewed and strengthened approaches. We examined the “hot button” issues for young people today and explored how our existing approaches and expertise could be applied in these areas. One issue that clearly rose to the top was climate change.
On this topic, our strategy refresh is leading us to deepen our work and commitment to climate-smart approaches and systematically incorporate working toward a healthy environment across our portfolio of projects. We identified “quick wins” including adopting sustainable development and resiliency frameworks to inform the overall approach in our programming, partnering with select climate alliances, signing onto climate declarations, and continuing on our own journey in developing expertise and partners to contribute to a healthier planet.
So, where are we now? We’ve entered a new year with five topics each identified as relevant to young people, grounded in our current strategy, and in demand by funding partners and philanthropy. Throughout 2023, IYF will strengthen and lean into these areas in order to connect young people with opportunities and contribute to a world where they are inspired and equipped to realize the future they want.
Pia Saunders Campbell is the Director of Assets, Strategy & Knowledge (ASK) at IYF.
Emmanuel (Manny) Jimenez is the Director General for Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a member of IYF's Board of Directors.