7 ways to support youth movements which change the world

Across the world young people are rising up. They are demanding action on the environmental destruction, poverty and injustice that threaten their future. Tearfund is increasingly realising that youth networks and young leaders are some of our most dynamic and effective advocates. They represent a large proportion of the world’s population and are taking their place at the head of movements for change globally. This blog explores how we can effectively support youth movements to make an impact.

Young people meet to discuss and plan community projects in Nigeria. Photo: Fwangmun Oscar Danladi

‘We don’t want to live and then die and our story is gone. We want to make an impact.’

Harry, a young man from Yola, Nigeria

Facing challenges

Despite considerable natural resources and a creative, hardworking population, the Nigerian cities of Yola and Jos are facing a number of economic and environmental challenges. Climate change is making their land more arid, farmland and city streets are littered with waste which brings disease and flooding, and communities there are dealing with the devastation from recent conflict. Tearfund Nigeria has proactively brought groups of young people together to seek God’s heart on these issues pressing in around them. We have helped them develop a vision for change and equipped them to independently pray, act, mobilise others and speak out in pursuit of transformation of their society. 

So what does it look like when youth movements are supported to outwork their passion and energy on the environment and poverty?

Creative responses

These young people have been making items out of waste, and training others to do so. They have made solar technology out of electronic waste, charcoal briquettes out of woody waste, and paving tiles out of plastic waste. Some have successfully started businesses in waste and renewable energy, and also connected with young Muslims and trained them in these livelihood opportunities. They have met with policy makers to suggest policy solutions, drawn in key Christian leaders, and worked with many communities, schools and churches to encourage them to take action.

Colourful coffee tables made from recycled tyres by young people in Nigeria. Photo: Naomi Foxwood

Supporting young people

From what we’ve seen in Nigeria and our work with youth movements in a number of other countries, we can draw some lessons on how NGOs and churches can support young Christians to be effective agents of transformation: 

  • Study the Bible. This is vital because theological reflection is key. What Christians understand of God’s will and God’s heart for a situation should direct and fuel their actions. The young people in Nigeria came together weekly to study Live Justly, a resource we have found effective at mobilising young people in many countries. 
  • Back up theological reflection with technical capacity building on advocacy and poverty/environmental issues. This makes people feel empowered to take action well. For example, Tearfund runs workshops which train people on elements of movement building, from use of media to defining campaign asks. 
  • Move to action early, and alongside the reflection and study. This brings momentum and encouragement. 
  • Use hope-filled narratives which inspire people. Tearfund casts a vision of a different sort of society that has at its heart what we call the ‘Restorative Economy’. This is an economy that protects people from living in poverty, confronts injustice and sustains the environment. It’s an exciting and sustaining vision and reminds us that we are partnering with the Holy Spirit in this work. ‘After I die, what is my legacy? My spirit rejoices, I feel that I am doing something that my heart has been looking for,’ says Jesse, in Yola, Nigeria. 
  • Encourage young people’s creativity. Do not hold to how things have always been done but support young leaders to think and do things differently. Recognise that many youth activists are volunteers, and youth networks do not operate like traditional NGO partners. 
  • Help create a community of faith which nurtures young activists. Peers are a major sustaining factor in the work. NGOs and churches can help by providing spaces/platforms where young activists can come together. ‘This group is one of the best things to happen to me. I have found family here and I feel safe,’ says Jesse.
  • Provide young Christian activists with spiritual support from older Christian mentors. This is very important when many youth movements feel misunderstood by their churches. Oscar from Jos says: ‘I can tell that the church is generally not interested in supporting young Christian activists because of the gap that divides what the church considers as spiritual and what the church considers as social.’ 

Young Christians will be working for societal transformation with or without the support of their churches or Christian NGOs. However working together will make us all stronger. 

You can read more about supporting the ideas of young people around the world in Footsteps 109.

Naomi Foxwood
Naomi Foxwood is a Senior Associate for Global Advocacy at Tearfund.