Lesley Pruitt
Publication Date
Publication Date: 

Sep 1 2017

"While young people, especially those under 18 years old, may often be excluded from a number of formal political leadership roles, such as running for office, the studies make a case for understanding youth leadership as an ever-evolving concept that can include a variety of activities and roles played by a diverse range of young people around the world. "

This bibliography and summary of the knowledge base from Plan International updates the literature on youth leadership with additions published from 2008-2017. Occurring primarily in community-based organisations (CBOs), schools, universities, and through other non-government organisations (NGOs),  these diverse  frameworks and theories deployed in policy, practice, and curricula seeking to support, build, or enhance youth leadership are categorised in 6 key thematic categories by title with annotation. Categories include:

  1. "Theories and frameworks of youth leadership development programmes
  2. Formal (school or university-based) youth leadership development programmes
  3. Youth leadership and political inclusion
  4. Youth-led approaches to programmes and/or evaluation
  5. Gendered analyses of youth leadership: focus on young women and girls
  6. Other publishing relevant to youth leadership research."

Recommendations (appearing in both doucments) for adult facilitators, allies, and peer educators, based on the literature, include the following:

  • "Receive adequate training, support and practice in order to ensure their ability to:
    • Apply a non-judgmental approach
    • Use active listening and positive tones in communicating with youth
  • Critically reflect on how to best support youth-led approaches and/or youth-centred approaches that incorporate intergenerational (or multigenerational) collaborations to redress existing hierarchies – especially intergenerational hierarchies – and pursue sustainable social change.
  • Recognise the need for including attention to broader social inequalities and supporting youth to advocate for broader political change. This could include:
    • Learning and applying young people’s understandings of leadership to research, policy, and practice – noting that their views on leadership often relate most strongly to contemporary approaches that focus on collaboration, collective action, and transforming leadership while allowing for individual difference
    • Prioritising youth voices, and focusing on meaningful participation
    • Rejecting stereotypes that suggest youth are lazy, apathetic, or incapable
    • Involving youth in all stages of the project cycle
    • Working together with youth to analyse and solve social problems
    • Building positive cross-generational relationships
    • Actively engaging with youth
    • Creating/advocating for opportunities for youth to practice leadership with substantial responsibilities (e.g. activities such as experiential or service learning and creating and implementing their own projects)
    • Supporting youth to develop confidence and skills such as public speaking and capacity for critical thinking 
    • Using accessible language and other communication strategies, recognizing youth vernacular may differ significantly
    • Being flexible to allow youth to learn actively and take on increasing responsibility
  • Work to create safe spaces where youth can discuss issues that matter to them (including sensitive topics such as discussions around sexual and reproductive health)
  • Consider using creative, participatory approaches such as Photovoice, playback theatre, or participatory action research (PAR) to include youth in programs, research, and facilitation at all stages.
  • Consider offering peer education opportunities in which young people can learn from a diverse range of peers.
  • Recognise and account for contextual and individual factors (e.g. gender, nationality, class, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) that may affect young people’s beliefs about and knowledge around leadership.
    • Doing so may mean altering program design or creating programs aimed at including particular groups of youth.
    • At the same time, working to create connections across difference for young people from diverse backgrounds can be important.
    • Providing a range of diverse role models who exhibit trust and respect is also critical.
    • There should be recognition and addressing of particular gendered barriers to leadership young women and girls around the world face.

Role models were also noted as critical. Youth workers and other adults seeking to act as role models for youth leaders should exhibit: 

  • a strong work ethic,
  • positive character traits,
  • good interpersonal skills." 

Plan website, November 8 2017.