Reimagining youth power post COVID-19: Lessons from the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

GoalkeeperspicCIVICUS’ recently concluded experiment with a group of young activists offers interesting insights for youth power in a post-Covid-19 world. Many youth-led organisations say traditional grants by northern donors are not quite suitable for them due to, among other factors, donor’s impact expectations and reporting requirements. Are there better ways to resource youth so they can create effective change towards sustainable development in their communities? Here is what we learned through the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator.

by CIVICUS Youth

The global COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world as we know it. Many organisations have adjusted by adopting new and better ways of working, co-existing and resourcing efforts to defend democracies, hold leaders accountable and protect civic rights.

CSOs are leading the response to COVID-19, including youth groups, who are reimagining and adjusting ways to ensure more resources are channelled towards the most vulnerable and in need around the world.

The story of a youth resourcing pilot

In the spirit of social innovation, learning and experimenting, CIVICUS and partners have  been testing different resourcing models to support grassroots individuals, organisations and movements who are less likely to work with traditional donors. Many youth-led organisations, while addressing some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity today, have limited opportunities to access funding, and when they do receive resources, they often come with rigid requirements and conditions, or relationships with donors that are hard to manage. One of the alternative models we tested is the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, which was launched in 2018 with six partners to showcase what young activists can achieve through holistic support that goes beyond funding. The launch of the Accelerator was a direct response to the challenges young people face in accessing sufficient and appropriate flexible resources to meaningfully engage in development decisions and activities that affect their communities. The results were a rich source of learning for us at CIVICUS and all the programme partners and we hope to you too.

Provide resources that support civil society in different ways

The 20 month-long project supported 26 promising youth advocates (ages 18-35) from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are using data and storytelling in innovative ways to address Sustainable Development Goals 1-6 (poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, and water and sanitation). In addition to flexible funding, the advocates received technical support, mentorship, travel, engagement opportunities as well as a space to provide feedback on adjustments to programming to better address their needs and amplify the impact of their work. This ensured a truly “participant-led approach” where their voices were heard and meaningfully engaged and part of the process. 

As a result, all of the participants report having increased their skills, 80% say they have forged new partnerships and more than half of them have managed to secure additional funding to sustain their projects. 

Give activists space in media

After over a year of working with the Goalkeeper advocates, we noticed a significant growth and prominence in the role they play in their countries of intervention. Their projects and profiles were shared publicly and they achieved improved services, scale, recognition and increased accountability among key decision-makers on the issues/thematic areas they are advocating. 

Be open and flexible throughout the process

Being open and responsive to feedback and the context and needs of advocates, allowed space for the programme to experiment new ways of doing things. Every three months, the 26 advocates met in small groups online to share success stories, challenges, needs, questions and suggestions for improvement. The space for reflection among peers also boosted creativity and ideas for collaboration.

While experimenting with flexibility and trust, we learned to prioritise the principle of “do no harm” (especially in potentially dangerous contexts). Traditional grant-making has not always facilitated holistic support that provides for the physical, mental and financial security of young people.

It was also very important to document and evidence the results of this approach so funders and organisations like CIVICUS have the certainty that flexibility, trust and meaningful equal relationships with grantees can lead to valuable learnings, strong partnerships and community impact.

Avoid hefty reporting requirements

We tried to avoid burdening participants by designing a very simple monitoring and evaluation framework that allowed for quick understanding and usability when reporting. Our previous civil society resourcing research revealed that reporting requirements from donors are often rigid, burdensome and come at a high cost, proving an obstacle to activists working towards the actual needs of the community. The framework we used allowed the advocates and us to really analyse progress achieved and it was adaptable to each of their programmes based on their quarterly updates and changes in their contexts. As a result, many participants started to use these tools beyond this particular program and adopted similar methodologies for other work within their organisations. 

The Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator was an opportunity to take part in an innovative piece of work. Young people are the key to sustainable development and their creativity and innovation could be the missing link to solving some of the world’s intractable challenges of today. The Accelerator was a constant process of learning how to support a systemic shift within civil society to address long-standing injustices experienced by marginalized young people, especially in terms of resourcing. And, learning happens not in the moments when we think we are doing well, but most often through the difficult and challenging times – so we need to embrace those.



25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
South Africa,
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

CIVICUS, c/o We Work
450 Lexington Ave
New York
NY 10017
United States

11 Avenue de la Paix
Tel: +41.79.910.34.28