Youth Participation

The Summer 2016 Childhood Explorer features two articles about young people founding nonprofit organizations to do good in the world. These examples illustrate how youth can be effective agents of change.

Children and youth are inherently aware of injustice and serve as more than just observers in the world. They are, therefore, powerfully motivated to improve the society and environment they will inherit as adults. If they are to achieve their personal potential and contribute to creating a sustainable future of equity and peace, they should be recognized as agents in their own lives and be provided the education and access they need to exercise that right.

Participation in civil society is considered a basic human right, one of the guiding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as recognized by the UN. For youth, active participation in social change also contributes to their own development, helping them learn vital life-skills, foster decision-making abilities, build content knowledge, and practice citizenship.

The international community has reaffirmed its commitment to youth participation through UN General Assembly resolution 58/133, which reiterates the “importance of the full and effective participation of youth and youth organizations at the local, national, regional and international levels in promoting and implementing the World Programme of Action and in evaluating the progress achieved and the obstacles encountered in its implementation.”

The UN World Youth Report on Youth Civic Engagement, prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, explores young people’s participation in economic, political, and community life, in response to growing interest in, and an increased policy focus on, youth civic engagement among governments, young people, and researchers. The report provides a basis for policy discussions around youth civic engagement in order to ensure that young people are able to participate fully and effectively in all aspects of the societies in which they live.

The young people who founded Kids Saving the Rainforest and Pencils for Peace are exercising their right to civic engagement by creating their own charities to effect social change. Brief summaries about other inspirational youth who are working to build bright futures for every child, in every nation can be found below:

Hannah Taylor, The Ladybug Foundation (
When 5-year-old Hannah saw a man eating out of a garbage can, she found a way to help those who do not have homes of their own. By age 8, she had founded the Ladybug Foundation charity to help homeless people find dignity and refuge.

Craig Kielburger, Free the Children’s WE Villages (
Inspired by the story of child slave Iqbal Masih, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger began his movement—an innovative, holistic approach to development that provides access to education, clean water and sanitation, health care, food security, and alternative income and empowers a community to lift itself out of poverty.

Vienna, Hayleigh, and Sarah Scott, Sole to Soul (
When they heard that a fire had destroyed a Nairobi school and community, 13-year-old twins Vienna and Hayleigh and their 10-year-old sister Sarah sought out a way to help children in Kenya, raising thousands of dollars to buy shoes for them.

Leanne Joyce, Positive Impact for Kids (
Being treated for her own heart condition, 12-year-old Leanne so appreciated the gift from young hospital volunteers that she founded her own nonprofit to focus on improving the lives of children and youth being treated in hospitals.

Ryan Hreljac, Ryan’s Well (
When 6-year-old Ryan heard that hundreds of thousands of children die from drinking contaminated water, he decided to donate money he earned from doing chores to build a well in Uganda. Inspired by his generosity, others contributed as well. He has raised funds to build more than 30 wells and purchase a well drill.