Restless Development chief to step down

Nik Hartley, CEO at Restless Development. Photo by: Restless Development

The CEO of global youth-led development agency Restless Development is leaving the organization.

Nik Hartley, who has headed the U.K.-founded charity for seven years, will stand down in March 2018, following a 20-year career during which he has helped build what he calls its “radical model.”

Hartley told Devex he was leaving the charity to spend more time with his young family. Restless Development, which was originally founded in 1985 by British school teacher Jim Cogan, will begin a recruitment process in June, following consultation with the young people it supports and board members.

Hartley joined the charity as a program consultant in 1999, following development roles in South America and the Caribbean. At that time it was named Students Partnership Worldwide and sent volunteers to Africa. However, Hartley says the founder’s vision had always been to mobilize local volunteers.

“The vision was, why are people sending volunteers when there are so many young people across Africa and Asia that could also be involved in development?” said Hartley. “That was his vision, but he didn’t know how to do it.” Hartley helped the founder realize this goal and grew the organization’s staff of five to 450.

The agency now operates from 10 offices in 10 countries across Africa, Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States. “They are 10 equal hubs that are driving everything we do globally,” Hartley said. It prides itself on being the only development organization to work with young people to drive development, not just deliver programs locally.

Staff encourage young people to take action on issues affecting them, including AIDS, child marriage, unemployment and Ebola in Sierra Leone. The organization was recently awarded the first Transparency Award by the U.K. NGO network Bond for its model of “dynamic accountability,” which includes appointing young people to its board and inviting them to develop its new strategy.

Restless Development had received U.K. Department for International Development funding for the past five years as a core youth partner. It also recently won contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Danish International Development Agency to support, advise and train their aid departments to work better with young people around the world.

Hartley told Devex he remained committed to the values of the organization. He will not be involved in the recruitment process, but explained that, while there is no planned change of direction for the agency (it published a five-year strategy only last year), his replacement should expect to lead a constantly shifting organization.

“This is a massive movement of young people who are doing development differently from how it’s ever been done before,” he said. “The new leader will take on more influence of how development is being done and no longer being transmitted from the north to south, or from the first world to the third world. This is development being driven by young people on the ground.”

Restless Development and global executive search firm Perrett Laver will work together to hold online workshops with young people to discover what kind of CEO youths would like to see. Although the search for a successor will be global, it is likely the new CEO will be based in the U.K.

Hartley told Devex he would “possibly” go on to work for another development agency in the future. But he pointed out that if it operated as a traditional NGO, it wouldn’t remain so for long. “At Restless we have forged a direction of travel led by young people that shows there is the skill, the influence and the resilience on the ground to not just deliver aid, but to inform and influence how it is delivered. It’s a pretty radical model,” he said.

He urged the sector to follow his organization’s lead and allow young people within developing countries to deliver change. “Development has become a professional entity and I think it needs to be unleashed and be given a chance. We need to be more catalyzing, and more about solidarity and enhancing the ability of people to self-mobilize,” he said.

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About the author

  • Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.