From rhetoric to action: Towards an enabling environment for child and youth development in the SDGs

Cristina Bacalso, Alex Farrow, Andreas Karsten, and Dragan Milhajlovic


What is the enabling environment that ensures children and young people have access to their rights, can influence decisions, and have improved livelihoods? This report aims to stimulate discussion and action by decision-makers and serve to inform the strategic thinking, programming and practice. It confirms well-known hindrances, identifies opportunities, and highlights how meaningful youth participation needs to address power. It calls on the broad range of actors working on child and youth development issues to take action and improve their own effectiveness and the enabling environment.

This report is part of ‘Case for Space’, an initiative to strengthen the environment for child and youth development.  It combines quantitative, globally-focused research with qualitative-locally focused research: a global-level survey (completed by 827 people from 123 countries); three national-level case studies focusing on the experiences of project partners; and local research projects led by 18 young people from across the globe. The research looks at 7 themes, but focuses primarily on three highlighted as ‘critical’ to child and youth development: participation, protection and livelihoods.

While several findings identify new challenges and opportunities, others add more nuance and context to current discussions on child and youth development. The recurrence of some issues suggests that current actions are either inadequate or absent. On the three critical themes the following key findings emerge:

  • When participation is an end, rather than a means, it disincentives youth engagement. Building trust between establishing youth organisations and emerging youth movements would create opportunities for collaboration and support. Child and youth participation often continues through informal networks in contexts where rule of law is ineffective and civic freedoms are repressed.
  • Children and young people are vulnerable to abuse and violence from different people within their lives: trusted adults, armed groups, the state and other young people.  Challenging negative stereotypes and changing attitudes can minimise violence and increase the resilience of children and young people. Youth-led networks can hold states to account when they fail to uphold the rights of children and youth to protection.
  • Youth entrepreneurship is also about expressing cultural and civic values. Informal and personal learning can complement formal education in providing the competencies and confidence young people need to improve their livelihoods. Livelihoods support for young people is improved when a wider range of stakeholders are involved.

The report recommends a number of actions that all those involved in affecting the enabling environment for child and youth development (young people, youth-led organisations, and governments, agencies and donors supporting child and youth development, professional and volunteers) should consider. These include:

  • Going beyond formal youth organisations and traditional civic activities (voting, volunteering and consultation) to embrace genuine spaces for political action, power-sharing and the realisation of meaningful changes in the lives of young people.
  • Engaging teachers, parents and families to help create a supportive environment for child rights in all aspects of a child/young persons life. Education is a powerful tool for challenging negative stereotypes and changing attitudes that undermine the wellbeing of children and young people.
  • Promoting long-term employability, entrepreneurship and practical skills learning, in addition to core teaching, and more opportunities created for non-formal education. Greater collaboration between the private sector and CSOs to develop activities, such as mentoring, paid internships and workplace-based training,  that enhance skills, knowledge and learning are also required.

The link above takes you to the web version of the report. For the PDF, see here.


Youth Policy Labs. (2015). From Rhetoric to Action: Towards an Enabling Environment in the Sustainable Development Goals. The Case for Space Initiative. Berlin: Youth Policy Press.