Youth Involvement

Why Should We Involve Young People in P/CVE Programming?

Many organizations implementing P/CVE programs identify youth as a key target group for their activities. This youth focus is understandable since many countries – particularly developing countries where violent extremist organizations (VEOs) may be present – are home to a large populations of youth who may be vulnerable to radicalization. Youth are often the most visible participants in violent or extremist groups. At the same time, research and implementation experience have shown that only a small portion of young people who are vulnerable to VE actually become violent. Most young people are not only resistant to these threats, but also play an active and essential role in building peace in their communities.

The value of involving youth and youth-led organizations in P/CVE programs
On-the-ground knowledge and reach

Young people can be better attuned to the shifting dynamics of marginalization and vulnerability among their peers and within the broader community. In many instances, youth can also access hard-to-reach youth groups and take action in places where other actors cannot go.

Creativity, know-how and mobilization

Young people, typically working with limited support, have been particularly creative in addressing the challenges of their communities and involving their peers – using innovative forms of mobilization, communication, and advocacy, including through new media. One of the strengths and common actions of youth peacebuilding organizations is promotion of various forms of knowledge-sharing and skills-building among their peers.

Inclusivity and influence

Youth-led organizations often use open organizational models built on volunteerism, trust, shared values, and a common activist spirit. They tend to be more gender-balanced and work with more diverse groups that are often not fully engaged by other actors.

Defining youth and wider community priorities

Youth organizations can also play a role in collecting, defining and amplifying the views of diverse young people as well as their wider community, including in priority-setting and decision-making. Youth organizations can play an important advocacy role in reaching out to, and working with, marginalized groups in their societies. They can also act as bridge-builders between broader youth groups and official institutions.

How Do We Define Youth?

"Youth" is not a set age range, and governments, organizations and academics may define the youth age group differently based on their specific contexts, needs, and requirements. Therefore, youth is better understood as a life stage, a period during which an individual is transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Accordingly, there are two points to keep in mind when developing a project involving youth:


The program should clearly define what it means by youth in the specific context in which it is operating. You can find USAID’s definition of youth here:

DefinitionUSAID uses the terms youth and young people interchangeably and while youth development programs often focus on youth in the 15 to 24 year age range, USAID programs also are likely to engage individuals aged 10 to 29 years as a broader youth cohort.

The youth life stage includes sub-groups of young people whose experiences and needs are different. As the USAID Youth in Development Policy indicates: “The transition to adulthood involves multiple and overlapping physical, cognitive, emotional, political, social, and cultural changes. Successful youth engagement and programming is based on a lifecycle continuum, beginning with deliberate attention to the critical years of children entering adolescence and into young adulthood.”

P/CVE projects and activities involving youth should be designed based on an understanding of each developmental stage and designed to leverage young people’s interests and capacities. The four developmental stages for youth identified in the USAID Youth in Development Policy are: (1) Early Adolescence: 10–14 years; (2) Adolescence: 15–19 years; (3) Emerging Adulthood: 20–24 years; and (4) Transition into Adulthood: 25–29 years. Annexes A & B in this policy provide a description of the major developmental characteristics of each stage and the types of programming and implementation strategies that could be most effective for each stage.

Positive Youth Development: A Key Approach

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is an approach to youth development that focuses on increasing youth assets and strengthening protective factors. PYD is based on the belief, founded in research and program experience, that “building the intellectual, physical, social, and emotional competence of youth is a more effective development strategy than one that focuses solely on correcting problems.”


PYD DefinitionPositive youth development engages youth along with their families, communities, and/or governments so that youth are empowered to reach their full potential. PYD approaches build skills, assets, and competencies; foster healthy relationships; strengthen the environment; and transform systems.

While there are several models that advance PYD, we focus on the model developed for USAID by YouthPower Learning. YouthPower draws on previous research and models in addition to consultations with USAID and other organizations. For more information on the YouthPower model for PYD, please refer to

Implementation Tip: Other Asset-based Approaches to Working with Youth

DFID’s Three-Lens Approach to Youth Participation: This asset-based approach looks at participation through three lenses: (1) working for youth as beneficiaries, (2) engaging with youth as partners, and (3) supporting youth as leaders.

Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Framework: The framework outlines 40 positive supports and strengths (assets) that young people need to succeed. Half of the assets focus on the relationships and opportunities they need in their families, schools, and communities (external assets). The remaining assets focus on the social-emotional strengths, values, and commitments that are nurtured within young people (internal assets).

How is PYD different from conventional approaches to youth development?

The field of PYD started to develop in the 1990s. At this time, researchers started to shift their questions around youth development from “Why does this youth problem exist?” toward the question “What makes young people do well or thrive?”  This shift stems from a recognition that youth represents a period of opportunity when young people are also open to positive ideas, behaviors, habits, and risks, and they are able to contribute and participate actively in their own and in their communities’ development.  

Conventional Approach to Youth Development
PYD Approach
Focus on single sector to prevent negative behaviors   Focus on developmental stages and needs
Focus on the individual   Focus on the individual as well as family, peers, community, environment
Developmental needs and competencies ignored   Includes promotion and prevention
Focus on youth’s problems and problem prevention   Focus on building assets and competencies and nurturing positive outcomes 
Youth as a beneficiary/recipient   Engage youth as actors and active participants 
Youth (whether high risk or leaders) are targeted by professionals   Youth working with the community, as part of the community; creating opportunities for all young people.
Youth are recipients of services and programs   Young people as resources and partners who can make valuable contributions in planning and implementing activities  
Reactive, one-off programs   Community-based, sustainable and pro-active response
Youth development is a task for professionals    Youth development is a task for all community members


Why Should You Integrate the PYD Approach into P/CVE Programs?

In general, the PYD approach has been effective when involving youth in programs, particularly as PYD programs have achieved or contributed to positive results across different sectors, including:

healthy productive and engaged youth graphic

  • Crime and violence prevention
  • Delay of sexual activity
  • Increased academic/soft skills
  • Increased community engagement
  • Substance abuse prevention
  • Improved relationships

While the PYD approach is used to achieve one important objective or outcome (like crime prevention), it can also lead to other important youth outcomes which may not have initially been targeted or were considered ‘secondary.’ For example, crime prevention programs using the PYD approach can positively impact both academic skills enhancement and the delay of sexual activity. This impact cuts across gender or ethnic groups.

In addition, research and programming on P/CVE have highlighted the importance of engaging youth as “agents of change,” capitalizing on youth assets and potential, promoting a sense of belonging and providing opportunities for positive contribution to the community, supporting youth leadership and participation, and building the skills of young people. All of these factors are key building blocks of a PYD approach.

What does a PYD Approach Look Like?

The USAID YouthPower PYD framework is built on a set of domains (core themes) and corresponding features (specific components on which a program or activity could focus). For examples of PYD program activities aligned with PYD features and mapped to a Socio-Ecological Model, refer to this document.

Implementation Tip: Guidance on Including Youth in the P/CVE Project Cycle

As you think of how you have been or can start involving youth throughout the different phases of your project – Assess, Design, Implement, Monitor and Evaluate, and Learn – take a look at this guidance note on the different levels of participation and their implications and some guiding questions to consider when involving youth in the P/CVE project cycle.