Main actors: United Nations
History of Engagement with Youth
The United Nations has long recognized that the imagination, ideals, and energy of young people are vital to the development of the societies in which they live. The UN acknowledged this in 1965 with the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples. In 1985, the UN General Assembly observed International Youth Year: Participation, Development and Peace. It drew attention to the important role young people play in the world and to their potential contribution to development and the goals of the United Nations. In 1995, on the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people by adopting an international strategy the World Program of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond (WPAY).
The focal point within the United Nations system for youth issues is located in the Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The responsible entity within the secretariat is called the UN Youth Program. This program defines young people as those between the ages of 15 and 24. The United Nations is authorized to work in cooperation with the action of national governments at the invitation of its member states individually and collectively. This can mean a limited scope of action for UN agencies. Even when governments do not live up to their responsibilities under human rights conventions and other international commitments, UN agencies have great difficulty in criticizing them publicly, despite their mandates.
- To enhance awareness of the global situation of youth and increase recognition of the rights and aspirations of youth; promote national youth policies, national youth coordinating mechanisms, and national youth programs of action as integral parts of social and economic development, in cooperation with both governmental and nongovernmental organizations; and
- To strengthen the participation of youth in decision-making processes at all levels in order to increase their impact on national development and international cooperation.
Finding even a guesstimate of what the UN system spends on youth activities per year is impossible. In addition, it is impossible to find an estimate of the amount being invested from the general UN budget for the implementation of the UN Youth Program and World Program of Action on Youth. It is not clear why such calculations are not done, or if they are, are not made public.
UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD)
The United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) is a newly established (February 2010) network consisting of representatives identified by the Heads of UN entities whose work is relevant to youth issues. The aim of the Network is to increase the effectiveness of UN work in youth development by strengthening collaboration and exchange among all relevant UN entities. Their main objectives are:
- to strengthen and support cooperation to promote youth development, through joint advocacy, initiatives and other forms of cooperation;
- to share good practices and expertise and to promote effective cooperation among the UN entities in programming at country and regional levels;
- to identify global strategic opportunities, ensure coordinated input, facilitate and support sustainable follow-up mechanisms;
- to contribute to increasing the understanding and visibility of the UN System’s work on youth.
Major UN Agencies and Agency Programs
In this section we present the global-level programs and the United Nations agencies that have specific youth-related mandates and objectives and, therefore, operational programs.
UN Programme on Youth
The UN Program on Youth is the focal point on youth within the United Nations. It aims to build an awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations. The Program also works towards greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means of achieving peace and development. The UN program on Youth is part of the Social Integration Branch, which falls within the Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in the United Nations Secretariat.
The role of the UN program on youth is to:
- enhance awareness of the global situation of youth and increase recognition of the rights and aspirations of youth;
- promote national youth policies, national youth coordinating mechanisms and national youth programmes of action as integral parts of social and economic development, in cooperation with both governmental and non-governmental organizations;
- and strengthen the participation of youth in decision-making processes at all levels in order to increase their impact on national development and international cooperation.
It is responsible for coordinating several key work areas on youth in the UN system, as follows:
The World Program of Action on Youth (WPAY)
In 1995, on the tenth anniversary of International Youth Year, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people by adopting an international strategy the World Program of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond (WPAY). The Program provides a policy framework and practical guidelinesfor national action and international support to improve the situation of youth. It contains proposals for action to the year 2000 and beyond to promote improved well-being and livelihoods among young people. The themes identified by the General Assembly for the International Youth Year participation, development, and peace represent the overall themes of the World Program. The Program also builds upon other international instruments, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development; the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights; the Program of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the Copenhagen Declaration and the Program of Action of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development; and the Platform for Action adopted by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. The UN Program on Youth is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the WPAY.
International Youth Day
The General Assembly of the UN adopted August 12 as International Youth Day. The Assembly recommended that public information activities be organized to support the day as a way to promote better awareness of the World Program of Action for Youth. The theme of the day changes annually according to current youth issues. The 2009 theme was Sustainability: Our Challenge, Our Future.
UN Youth Newsflash
The program produces a subscription-based e-newsletter that is circulated once a month by the UN Program on Youth with updates on UN-wide activities relevant to professionals and volunteers working on youth issues.
The World Youth Report
The UN Program on Youth prepares and publishes the World Youth Report, a global report on the situation of youth. The most recent report, from 2007, reviews the progress and challenges in youth transitions to adulthood globally. It confirms that a lack of adequate investments in youth, challenges related to globalization, changes in the world economy, as well as social and cultural constraints, continues to create unfavorable contexts for youth development and participation.
International Year of Youth (IYY)
The UN Program on Youth is also a key partner in the organization of International Youth Year and the World Conferences of Ministers Responsible for Youth. The year commencing 12 August 2010 has been declared Year of Youth, to mark the 25th anniversary of the first international year of youth (1985) under the slogan “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”.
In an effort to harness the energy, imagination and initiative of the world’s youth in overcoming the challenges facing humankind, from enhancing peace to boosting economic development, the United Nations proclaimed an International Year of Youth starting on 12 August 2010. In its resolution proclaiming the Year, the General Assembly called on governments, civil society, individuals and communities worldwide to support activities at local and international levels to mark the event. Under the theme ‘Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,’ the Year aims to encourage dialogue and understanding across generations and promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and freedoms, and solidarity. It encourages young people to dedicate themselves to fostering progress, including the attainment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills, ranging from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.
Key Agencies working on Youth within the UN System
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. UN-HABITAT’s programmes are designed to help policy-makers and local communities get to grips with the human settlements and urban issues and find workable, lasting solutions.
UN-HABITAT recognizes young people as active participants in the future of human settlements. Today’s youth are already conceiving, designing and implementing successful community-building projects in some of the most marginalized regions of the world. Young people need acknowledgement, guidance and training in order to reach their full potential. In response, UN-HABITAT initiates and fosters inter-agency and partnerships with youth organizations. It engages youth at an international level, to help formulate an international understanding of pressing youth issues. Working with young men and women and understanding their diverse abilities, realities and experiences is an essential element of UN-HABITAT’s long term success of achieving sustainable urbanization. The objective of the UN-HABITAT Youth Strategy for Enhanced Engagement is to present an integrated approach to urban youth development, which will guide the operational activities of the agency when working with youth. It will provide a road map for the promotion of urban youth empowerment.
World Urban Youth Assembly
World Urban Youth Assembly (called previously The World Urban Youth Forum) is an integral part of the World Urban Forum, providing youth with the opportunity to discuss and debate issues important to them, particularly, so that they are able to make meaningful contributions to the larger forum. The recent one was launched on March 19, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, three days prior to the beginning of the Fifth session of the World Urban Forum focused on such issues as the increase in urban poverty, the growth of slums, unemployment, economic and natural disasters and climate change. Previous Forums took place in 2008 and 2006.
UN HABITAT: Urban Youth Fund
Officially called The Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-Led Development, this fund promotes the poverty reduction aims of Millennium Development Goals and the Habitat Agenda for better, more sustainable and equitable towns and cities throughout the developing world. It provides small grants for new ideas and solutions for job creation, good governance, adequate shelter and secure tenure, primarily for those working to improve slum conditions and to raise opportunities for young people growing up in poverty. Applicant organizations must be led by young people aged 15-32 years and be based in cities or towns in developing countries. Information about this can be also found in the Mapping of Donors community.
UNESCO Youth Unit
UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) objective is to empower young people by reaching out to them, responding to their expectations and ideas, and fostering useful and long-lasting skills. UNESCO encourages the participation of youth and their engagement in dialogue.
It also supports the integration of youth concerns and issues into the policy agendas of member states in education, the sciences, culture, and communication in order to create spaces and opportunities for empowering young people and giving recognition, visibility, and credibility to their contributions. UNESCO s youth program focuses on inter-agency cooperation, cooperation with NGOs, youth forum(s), youth policies and programs. With a view to supporting Member States in developing and implementing integrated national youth policies and programs, UNESCO developed a set of guidelines covering policy formulation, implementation and monitoring and evaluation.
UNICEF (United Nations Children s Fund) is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children s rights, to help meet their basic needs, and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential under the guidance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It strives to establish children s rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behavior by mobilizing political will and resources. UNICEF works with young people up to age 18.
UNICEF has a separate page with a wide selection of resources related to youth and adolescences like: UNICEF publications, working Papers and guidance notes, links to other useful websites, and information on events and conferences with which UNICEF has been associated.
UNICEF Voices of Youth
UNICEF s Voices of Youth aims to offer all children and adolescents, including the hard-to-reach, a safe and supportive global cyberspace within which they can explore, discuss, and partner on issues related to human rights and social change, as well as develop their awareness, leadership, community building, and critical thinking skills through active and substantive participation with their peers and with decision makers globally.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
UNFPA promotes and protects the rights of young people. It envisions a world in which adolescents and young people of both sexes have optimal opportunities to develop their full potential, to freely express themselves and have their views respected, and to live free of poverty, discrimination, and violence. UNFPA works to empower adolescents and youth and promote health, including sexual and reproductive health. UNFPA takes a holistic, multisectoral, collaborative approach, framing adolescent and youth issues within the larger development context of poverty reduction. Its programs advocate for an essential package of social protection interventions for youth that includes education, sexual, and reproductive health services, support for establishing livelihoods, and intergenerational alliances.
UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel (GYAP)
The Global Youth Advisory Panel was established at the request of the Executive Director as a mechanism for UNFPA to dialogue with youth organizations and networks and to seek their advice on strategic actions to better address the needs of young people. The Panel helps ensure that UNFPA s global, regional and national initiatives are youth friendly and adequately address young people s concerns, particularly regarding their sexual and reproductive lives, HIV/AIDS and gender issues.
The objectives of the GYAP include:
- To act as a mechanism for open dialogue and exchange between UNFPA and young people to advise UNFPA on adolescent and youth issues.
- To continue to develop support and commitment to young people’s empowerment, rights, including their rights to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
- To create a forum for discussion and dialogue between the young people and the UNFPA which will lead to concrete recommendations and follow up actions needed to strengthen the work with and for young people across all aspects of our mandate.
The membership of the Global Youth Advisory Panel (GYAP) includes 21 young people (ages 15 24) from all geographical regions and various international youth networks and organisations from around the world. Members are invited from all regions in which UNFPA offices work, from international youth organizations and from specific vulnerable youth populations to ensure that their concerns and voices are reflected in the discussions of the panel.
UNFPA’s Y-PEER Network
Y-PEER, the Youth Peer Education Network, is a groundbreaking and comprehensive youth-to-youth initiative pioneered by UNFPA. Y-PEER is a network of more than 500 non-profit organizations and governmental institutions; its membership includes thousands of young people who work in the many areas surrounding adolescent sexual and reproductive health. The network, which is constantly expanding, consists of youth from Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North and East Africa, and was recently initiated in Brazil. Y-PEER is an effective means of promoting youth participation in sexual and reproductive health issues. To this end, it builds partnerships between young people and adults by advocating for:
- National youth development strategies
- Increased access to information, knowledge, and services on sexual and reproductive health
- Sharing lessons learned across borders and between cultures
- Standards of practice and improved training resources for peer educators
- Strengthening the knowledge base of peer educators and trainers of trainers
- Y-PEER Country Networks are designed by and for young people.
UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, is a partnership aiming to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
UNAIDS Inter-agency Task Team on HIV and Young People (IATT/YP)
The UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on HIV and Young People was created in 2001 to support an accelerated, harmonized and expanded global, regional and country-level response to increase young people’s utilization of HIV prevention, treatment, and care services. Membership includes the UNAIDS Secretariat and UNAIDS co-sponsors (UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, ILO, UNESCO, World Bank), along with a growing number of youth networks/associations, donors, civil society, and research institutions. The task team, which is convened by UNFPA, is one of four that have been created within UNAIDS to foster cooperation among the many agencies and partners responding to the AIDS pandemic in specific technical and sectoral areas. UNFPA’s role is to facilitate policy discussions and coordination and to provide programmatic advice and strategic guidance, in addition to acting as the IATT secretariat.
World Health Organization, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH)
The Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development envisions a world in which children and adolescents enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and development, a world that meets their needs as well as respects their rights, enabling them to live to their full potential. CAH aims to reduce the rate of infant and child mortality by two-thirds from the 1990 rate by 2015 (in line with the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]), to promote the physical and mental health of adolescents, and to reduce by 25% HIV prevalence among young people age 15 – 24 years by 2010. The CAH s work is guided by the MDGs.
Other UN Agencies and Youth
The UN system comprises many different agencies that do different kinds of work on youth issues in accordance with their mandates. Even taking into account the responsibility for the implementation of the World Program of Action on Youth, which is held by the UN Youth Program, several UN agencies are trying to position themselves as lead agencies on youth. But these agencies have different mandates and modus operandi, affecting their ability to cooperate and creating competition. In any given country, UN activities in the field of youth are highly diverse. The extent and scope of UN investment in youth in one country depends on which agencies are active and their specific mandates, whether one UN agency has traditionally taken the lead, and whether or not a UN Theme Group on Youth has been established to specifically ensure coordination of youth-related programming. A UN Theme Group on Youth is a coordination mechanism among all agencies working on youth-related programming in one country and is intended to serve the purpose of the UN system acting as one in one context. Specific information on the action of each agency in relation to youth is available at
Other Important Youth Related Initiatives of the UN
The Alliance of Civilizations (AoC)
The Alliance of Civilizations was established in 2005, at the initiative of the governments of Spain and Turkey under the auspices of the United Nations. The AoC aims to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions and, in the process, to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism. Working with all social partners, the AoC supports a range of projects and initiatives aimed at building bridges among a diversity of cultures and communities.
AoC Dedicated Youth Website
A dedicated youth website was launched in February 2010. The UNAOC Youth Website provides a central point of reference for youth interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. This website is a place where youth are able to discuss issues and seek resources that can help them find their own unique ways to contribute to the development of inclusive societies.
Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) Youth Solidarity Fund
To support youth-led initiatives that promote long-term constructive relationships among young people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, the Alliance of Civilizations has launched the pilot phase of a Youth Solidarity Fund. The Fund provides seed funding to a number of outstanding youth-led projects in the fields of intercultural and interreligious exchange, youth leadership training, and youth voices in the media. Projects must have long-term outcomes that connect youth from previously unconnected communities with a view to overcoming perceived or real cultural and religious divides and must be entirely managed by youth for the benefit of youth. More information about this Fund can be also found in the Mapping of Donors.
The United Nations CyberschoolBus
The United Nations CyberschoolBus was created in 1996 as the online education component of the Global Teaching and Learning Project, whose mission is to promote education on international issues and the United Nations. The UN CyberschoolBus captures the growing potential of the Internet as an educational tool and provides an effective medium with which to disseminate information and resources about international affairs as well as bring together diverse communities of students and educators from around the world.
The International Labour Organization (ILO)
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues.
The ILO’s program on youth employment operates through a global network of technical teams at its headquarters in Geneva and in more than 60 offices around the world. It provides assistance to countries in developing coherent and coordinated interventions on youth employment.
The Youth Employment Inventory
The ILO, through its Youth Employment Program, has partnered with the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Youth Employment Network’s Secretariat to develop the Youth Employment Inventory (YEI). The YEI is a database of interventions aimed at improving the labor market outcomes of young people around the globe. It also includes analyses and good practice experience on impact of youth employment interventions worldwide, offers information about upcoming events and links implementing agencies, the donor community, youth networks, organizations, and individuals active in the field of youth employment. Comprising more than 300 youth employment programs from around 90 countries, YEI documents program design, implementation, and achieved results.
Youth Employment Network
The Youth Employment Network is a multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the employment prospects of young people by developing better policies taking into account the underlying concerns of young people and causes of youth unemployment. The Youth Employment Network views young people as partners in devising solutions to a common problem. The Network will ensure that its policy recommendations support the aspirations of young people rather than impose perceived needs on them and will continue to work to ensure that representative youth groups play central roles in the development and implementation of National Action Plans on youth employment. So far 21 countries have joined the so-called lead country process, through which countries commit to tackling the youth employment challenge at the highest level.