Guidance for Youth Political Participation Programs

Learn how to deliver effective programs to support youth political participation


NDI has been active in supporting youth political participation for more than 30 years across 70 countries through assistance to civic groups, political parties, and legislatures. During that time, global demographic shifts, the spread of technology and new media, violent conflicts, and other dynamics have generated new challenges and opportunities for today’s young people, who make up more than half of the world’s population. These changes have affected the way that youth communicate with and relate to others, how they perceive and engage with their governments, and how they organize themselves to shape the world around them. With financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), NDI completed a study of youth participation programs and trends in youth political activism and leadership to guide future program decisions. As a result of the study, NDI developed this resource to offer guidance on how to assist young women and men in becoming more politically organized and active.

A Unified Theory of Change for Youth Political Participation

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The theory of change "unifies" the various efforts required to ultimately reduce barriers to youth participation and institutionalize youth-inclusive and -responsive political practices. The two primary components that propel this process are the development of youth agency and an enabling environment for their participation. Agency refers to the willingness and capacity of young people to act individually and collectively. Whereas, the enabling environment refers to the political avenues and opportunities that encourage young people to express themselves, interact with power holders and demonstrate their competence.

Lessons for Structuring Youth Political Participation Programs

The unified theory of change envisions the need to build youth agency, or the willingness and capacity of young people to act individually and collectively. More specifically, agency entails a blend of knowledge, skills and attitudes that develop and are reinforced - in large part - through direct political action. 

An enabling environment refers to political avenues and opportunities that encourage young people to express themselves, engage power holders and demonstrate their competence. Creating an enabling environment relies on intergenerational relationship building that can establish mutual understanding, trust, and respect.

Program Design Guide

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A guide to designing more effective youth political participation programs.

Change My Community

Change My Community provides tools and guidance for youth to lead grassroots advocacy campaigns in their community.