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Trust: The New Narrative for Partnering with and Funding Young People

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Wondering why young people keep demanding equitable funding, partnerships, and meaningful youth engagement even though donors and INGOs claim they are equitably funding young people? Well, you are in the right place. Young people around the world are facing barriers to accessing adequate funding, and to partnering equitably with youth-focused donors and INGOs. There are so many systemic inequalities that are thriving within relationships between Youth-focused donors and INGOs and youth-led organizations. Young people end up in compromising situations that threaten the sustainability of their initiatives and values. On funding, young people have to go through hoops to access funding for their initiatives. From the complex registration process that does not favor young people especially those at the grassroots level to competing with institutions that are well established and non-youth led, to receive funding. Here are some lived experiences from young people around the world.

Green Girls Platform

The year was 2016, a young woman in Malawi saw there was a need to create spaces for girls and young women in Malawi to talk about their climate change experiences, share knowledge and learn the best solutions from each other. She started the Green Girls’ Platform with a clear vision and mission to provide women and girls with safe spaces to interact and come up with sustainable climate change adaptation strategies that are tailor-made by women and work in their context. 2 years later the organization had only gained 5 new members and it was not taking shape. To make her dreams a reality, she engaged a well-established non-youth organization as a fiscal sponsor, which fulfilled all the “requirements” for receiving direct funding from donors and INGOs. As the partnership was developed based on trust and without a proper contract – the Green Girls Platform ended up only receiving 20% of the allocated amount to fund their activities, with the balance going to the non-youth organization. This hindered the growth of the organization and they could not sue the organization because there was no signed contract that they could refer to. This is just one of the examples of how young people are manipulated into partnerships that do not benefit them in order to receive funding from donors and INGOs.

Copper Rose Zambia

Copper Rose is one of the largest youth-led organizations in Zambia but this growth did not happen overnight. The biggest reason we are not seeing development with regards to funding for YLOs is that donors and funders are not betting on young people. It is still rare for YLOs such as Copper Rose and others alike to receive funding from youth focused donors and INGOs because no one is trusting young people. Why is this so? In most cases, the reasons range from lack of systems to capacity building needs. But after critical assessment, you will realize that YLOs may seem to lack systems –– because systems need money. In order to have segregation of duties with regards to the financial management of the organization, for example, having 3 signatories to the organizational bank account, that requires at least 3 staff members and ultimately the need for staff, that also brings about the need for salaries which comes back to funding. From being able to receive funding from traditional and non-traditional donors since our formalization in 2015, we have learned that equitable partnerships are possible and participatory grant making processes help shift power to young people.

¿Y Yo Por Qué No?

On top of unpleasant funding and partnership experiences, the collective adult-centric assumption that youth-led initiatives lack knowledge or experience, or even that they are not totally trustworthy is a bump we, as young people, face constantly. In ¿Y Yo, Por Qué No?, a Mexican youth-led organization, when involved in political advocacy, young activists firmly claim that, in order to achieve a better understanding of adolescents and youth’s needs, youth representation inside federal and state Congress is key. Nevertheless, unfortunately, political agents still tend to be inequitable and adult-centered. This asymmetrical power relationship between youth and adults leads to young social leaders risking their safety to denounce systemic unfairness and corruption, whereas some adults simply choose to remain silent. Mexican youth – and youth globally – are not apathetic; we are continuously becoming the most active in political and citizen participation, thriving to be meaningfully included in decision-making processes and consultation relevant to our present and future.


We could share dozens of examples when youth-led organizations have been doubted by the ‘system.’ After working tirelessly to prove their worth and showing traditional donors that their work is credible and can influence change in their local contexts. There are so many Youth-Led organizations like Green Girls Platform, ¿Y Yo Por Qué No?, Copper Rose Zambia that are still struggling with inequitable partnerships and systemic inequalities. They are still doubted for no reason other than the fact that they are young. We at the We Trust Youth Initiative are challenging you donors to change the narrative and trust young people. We know that change is possible, and we’re trusting you, to trust youth to make it happen and change the narrative and our realities.

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1 Comment

Mar 01, 2022

Well articulated! Its basically a "smear game" where non-youthled organisations are getting funding in the name of the youth. Its a pity that due to lack of funding, youth are unable to roll out their brilliant ideas and initiatives and are forced to volunteer and commit their time on projects that do not really reflect their needs and aspirations. Indeed, this narrative has to change!

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