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.
"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:
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 (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.”
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 YouthPower.org.
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
|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
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:
- 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.
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.
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.