Young people participate in a communal theater project to promote peace and reconciliation in Mali. Photo by: Marco Dormino / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

Nowhere is there more potential for change than in the minds and hearts of young people around the world. This was a resounding message in Devex’s lively monthlong #YouthWill campaign, organized in partnership with Chemonics, The MasterCard Foundation, U.N.-Habitat and The Commonwealth Secretariat. Nearly 13 million people worldwide tuned into #YouthWill to contribute to the conversation. After an invigorating campaign, we wrap up with 3 key takeaways.

1. The youth movement needs support of global leaders and the development community.

While we see young people speaking out, disrupting the status quo for social change and rallying on important issues, the greater development community and established world leaders have a responsibility to support them. In areas where young people are fighting to have a voice, the development community can amplify that message.

Gulalai Ismail, the 28-year-old leader of Aware Girls, which educates young women about their human rights in northern Pakistan, said development agencies need to make more effort to implement programs designed or led by young people. “If they’re engaged in development work, they’re more likely to be beneficiaries,” she said. “The development world needs to include young people in decision-making processes. We don’t need development programs for young people, we need development programs for young people run by young people.”

2. Employment, education and civic engagement are pillars of peace. 

A generation that is raised in conflict presents an opportunity for either sustained violence or action towards a more peaceful society. Youth Will delved into the tipping point between a peaceful path and extremism, and how organizations, business and young people are contributing to peace in meaningful ways.

William Reese, president and CEO of International Youth Foundation, which includes a network of 1,100 young social entrepreneurs in 89 countries, suggested that young people are more likely to build peaceful futures if they can find jobs and help strengthen the economy in their countries. He points out that businesses are part of the solution, particularly because they have a vested interest in the communities where they operate.

Other organizations like U.N.-Habitat are focused on creating spaces for young people to express themselves. The group’s Urban Youth Fund, which supports youth and community resilience, has funded 177 youth-led groups from 67 countries in the developing world, on issues from climate change to the prevention of violence against women.

Matilda Flemming, leading coordinator at the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, told Devex. “The creation of spaces for youth to express their opinion to decision-makers and broader society ensures that they have the opportunity to be heard.”

3. Young people are already leading tomorrow’s change today.

It is easy to follow that overused adage: Young people are the leaders of the future. The truth is that, young people are affecting change right now. Today’s youth are exploring social entrepreneurial ventures that are expanding access to education and leveling the playing field for the next generation, leading movements to replace violence with peace, and advocating for their right to employment, government representation and more. “The younger generation — particularly those in their late teens and 20s, many of whom are struggling to find meaningful employment — have aspirations that deserve to be heard,” said Deodat Maharaj, deputy secretary-general of The Commonwealth Secretariat. “They are often the first to recognize a problem or feel its effects — from joblessness to the rise of extremism. Young people are also often best able to propose and implement solutions that shift the needle and have an enduring impact.”

We thank our partners and dedicated community for joining the Youth Will discussion this past month. With your help, Youth Will reached 13 million people, featured 70 articles, interviews, videos and expert commentary, as well as more than a dozen interactive online events. More than 8,000 tweets were sent using the #YouthWill hashtag from organizations like Plan International, Microsoft, and Nuru International, as well as luminaries like Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, Philippe Cousteau Jr., co-founder and president of EarthEcho International, and Ahmad Alhendawi, U.N. secretary-general's envoy on youth.

The Youth Will conversation will not stop today — it will only continue to grow stronger and more effective. So please check back on Devex to get breaking news, insightful analysis and commentaries on youth issues. And feel free to get in touch with us anytime at

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Mandy McAnally

    Mandy McAnally is a former associate director of marketing and communications for Devex with 10 years of experience in journalism and communications with a focus on international health and development. She was previously with Population Services International where she led and executed strategic communications campaigns across digital and print platforms, and edited its flagship publication, Impact Magazine.