So what is youth development?


Understanding Youth Development: A Local Government Perspective, by Tsholofelo Koopedi, Managing Director of the UJ-NYDA Institute

As we move towards the fourth democratic local government election in 2016 there will be much commentators and politicians alike who will make noise about the so called youth vote. However few will bring it to the attention of policy makers, politicians, administrators and most importantly the youth on what and how local government can advance their development. Understanding youth development and how local governments, in particular metropolitan municipalities, can contribute to the development of young people is critical to stakeholders such as policy makers, politicians and administrators.

Let us first focus and recap on what is youth development? In order to get a clear meaning the two terms are separated and succinctly discussed.


The United Nations define the youth as the age cohort 15-24 which is estimated to be about 1.03 billion, or 18% of the total world population. The majority of the world youth population (84% in 1995) lives in developing countries. This figure is projected to increase to 89% by 2025. Jones (2008:16) argues that “apart from the statistical definition of the term youth, the meaning of the term youth varies in different societies around the world”.

Definitions of youth have changed continuously in response to changing political, economic and socio-cultural circumstances. The difficult circumstances faced by the youth in many developing countries include “limited opportunities for education and training, viable employment health and social services, and growing incidence of substance abuse” (Jones 2008, p.16). Such circumstances have contributed to developing countries especially African states to define the youth as those between the ages of 14 to 30 (35). In South Africa the youth is the population between the ages of 14 to 35 years of age.


Contemporary scholars such as Sen (2001:3) suggest that “development is an expansion of freedoms” that a population enjoys and such freedoms are determined by social (education and health), economic, political and civil rights (democracy) arrangements that governments puts in place. Stiglitz (2004:239) further points out that “development as a democratic transformation” should not be limited to technical adjustments and economic growth. Rather, development should be a holistic and co-ordinated transformation of social and economic objective including means of achieving them. Therefore it can be argued that if successful, democracy should reduce poverty and crime while improving the standards of living, health, and education; in particular of the youth.

Youth development

Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pittman (2000:1) discuss youth development as “a concept with the following three aspects a natural process, principles, and practices”:

The natural process is the transitional state between childhood and adulthood. This means that human development is a natural unfolding of the potential inherent in the human organism in relation to the challenges and support systems of its physical and social environment. Through development, individuals lead a healthy, satisfying, and productive life.
The principle of youth development emphasise “active support for growing capacity of the youth by individuals, organisations, and institutions” (Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pittman 2000:1). This principle would call upon government to take purposeful steps in organising young people through among others civic organs such as youth councils or forums.
The concept of practice refers to the application of principles to planned practices that foster the development of the natural process leading to youth development (Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pittman 2000:1).
The concept, of youth development, gets a bit complex due to an addition of the fourth ‘P’ pointed out by Pittman, Irby, and Ferber (2000). This ‘P’ refers to policy, which is a “course of action adopted by an organisation especially government institutions” (Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pittman 2000:2). Youth development influences policy at all levels of government and within government departments to include an explicit focus on young people (Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pittman 2000:2). Implying that Government should put in place policies that are unambiguous and can champion youth development. In defining, what youth development it can be deduce that youth development is a function of a natural process plus principle multiplied by practice through policy? Youth Development = Process + Principle x Practice (Policy).

Sen (2001) and Stiglitz (2004), are explicit on the role of government in the creation of an enabling environment for development. Young people in all countries are human capital for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation. Their imagination, ideals, considerable energies and vision are essential for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. Thus, there is a special need for new impetus to be given to formulation and implementation of youth policies and programmes. The ways in which the “challenges and potentials of young people are addressed by policy will influence current social and economic conditions as well as the wellbeing and livelihood of future generations” (Jones2008:17).

This implies that government has a distinct role within the youth development formula above; and since the focuses on local government, it is important that we briefly grasp the character of local government in South Africa. The 1998 White Paper on Local Government defines the character of local government in South Africa as developmental local government. According to the white paper developmental local government is a local government “committed to working with citizens and groups within the community to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic, and material needs and improve the quality of their lives” (White Paper on Local Government 1998:17).

Youth bulge: a ticking time boom?

The demographic landscape of South Africa show a typical population pyramid of a developing state, “with 54% of South Africans being younger than the age of 24 years”( Taljaard 2008:1). While similar to other developing states, research seems to suggest that South Africa is not following the global trend, but rather have more people in the age groups of 24 to 44. This places South Africa and Gauteng in a favourable position in terms of human capital development. This is one of the advantages of the ‘youth bulge’, which if properly tapped into could lead to a demographic window of opportunity for the years, 2030 to 2060. Taljaard (2008:2) further defines the demographic window, “as that period of time in a nation’s demographic evolution when the proportion of the population that is in the working age group is particularly prominent”. Without venturing into demographic studies, it is important to illustrate that young people are not a burden nor a ticking time boom to society but rather a key component of human capital that needs to be maximised.

What research tells us

Everatt (2000) argues that youth institutionalisation [and thus mainstreaming (Koopedi (2012)] failed primarily due to the inability of institutions such as the erstwhile National Youth Commission to enforce decisions. To the extend the National Youth Commission (NYC) ended up having to pressure and lobby government departments to design appropriate youth programmes but without any power to enforce decisions at all.

“Their mandate is to formulate and monitor policy but not to implement, and their position symbolises that of youth development: much lip-service is paid to it, but not much more than that. Even in its mandated areas, the National Youth Commission lacks power, it can formulate policy, but is entirely reliant on Cabinet to endorse, and fund.” (Everatt 2000:17).

The fact that these institutions were not initially tasked with a mandate of implementation is yet another indication that there is no coherent and consistent approach on the formulation, championing and fostering of youth development in metropolitan municipalities.

Prinsloo (2001:289) concludes that, “marginalising effects of social inequity and that of a loss of moral values are linked to the loss of a safe and secure family life”.

Interestingly a recent report (April 2011) by the South African Institute of Race Relations supports the above argument and indicates that: “Many children in South Africa are growing up in fractured families. Millions grow up living without one or even both of their parents. The consequences for young people—the country’s future workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders— may be dire.” (Holborn 2011:7).

Olawale and Abiodun, (2007:3) argue that “efforts to address the challenge posed by youth must move from platitudinous wish-list into formulation of coherent policy agenda that is consistent with socio-economic and political realities of individual countries, in which youth themselves are active agents, and one which must be incorporated into wider governance framework”.

In South Africa there is no indication of a coherent and consistent approach to how youth development is formulated, championed and fostered in metropolitan municipalities Koopedi (2012). Recently Thiti (2014) noted that “Even though there are challenges around structures and legislative frameworks in dealing with youth development, there are also underlying challenges that confront youth development.” Such challenges seem to be impeding the full realisation of youth potential and the need to place the youth at the centre of development in government planning and processes

To date (15 years into a democratic local government dispensation) there is no in-depth research on the consistency and predictability of implementation strategies for effecting youth development across municipalities. Notwithstanding, in December 2008 the Gauteng Department of Local Government tabled a report on the findings of its baseline study on the status of youth development in 14 Gauteng province municipalities. Actually, the baseline study suggested that, there is no consistency in the systems in place to foster youth development. This is evident in the different institutional arrangements that municipalities have adopted to meet the needs of young people in their jurisdiction.

It should be noted that the Gauteng Government has since made tremendous strides on implementing youth development since 2008, with the introduction of its youth development programme ‘Tshepo 500 000’ which seeks to give empowerment, economic and employment opportunities to 500 000 young people in the province by 2019.

According to Spierings (2000:6) “political culture tends to be more comfortable with the framework of targets than legislated entitlements”. As a result, youth development should influence policy at all levels of Government and within Government departments to include focus on young people.

This implies that government should put in place policies that are unambiguous and those that can champion youth development if effectively implemented.

Legislated entitlement

For youth development to be functional it needs to be underpinned by a strong legislative obligation/entitlements. This was one of the conclusions made by Dr John Spierings Australian research in a paper he presented to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) ‘Understanding Youth Pathways’ Conference in Melbourne in October 2001. Indeed as a country we have had a myriad of policy interventions focusing on youth development, form:

  • The 1996 National Youth Commission
  • The 1996 Interdepartmental Committee on Youth Affairs
  • The 2000 National Youth Policy
  • The 2002–2007 National Youth Development Framework
  • The 2008 National Youth Development Act
  • The 2008-2013 National Youth Policy
  • The Youth Employment Accord
  • The 2015-2020 National Youth Policy

Some of the findings were captured in The Status of Youth Report (SYR) 2004, which highlights that youth marginalisation is an issue. The report acknowledges that although there are political and systemic changes, many factors still make it difficult for youth to achieve their full potential. These factors include high dropout rate from school, high unemployment, and childhood poverty.

Other factors such as rapid urbanisation, breakdown of families and communities as well as the impact of HIV and AIDS have compounded problems faced by youth. Further, the report discusses challenges affecting implementation of youth development programmes.

The 2004 Municipal Youth Guidelines

The guidelines provide for establishment of youth units in municipalities to assist in planning, setting targets, resourcing, and mainstreaming of youth development as well as, lobbying, and evaluating performance. The guidelines advance the establishment of civic society organs such as youth councils and youth organisations to lobby and hold the municipality accountable for youth development in their constituency.

The 2006 third National Conference on Youth Development at Local Level

This conference made the following four ground breaking resolutions. The first resolution focuses on the institutionalisation of youth development not only as essential but also critical and compulsory function, which is not negotiable.

The second resolution focuses on strengthening current platforms of engagement between youth and local government for optimal use.

The third resolution focuses on supporting flagship programmes such as the National Youth Service and other institutions implementing youth initiatives and programmes by all municipalities. Lastly, the fourth resolution focuses on monitoring and evaluating findings and recommendations from youth sector research for implementation.

The 2008 Framework for Youth Development for Local Government and the 2010 Draft Youth Development Strategy for Local Government

The framework and the strategy are a build up from the 2004 Municipal Youth Guidelines and the 2006 third National Conference on Youth Development at Local Government. Now referred to as the 2010 Draft Youth Development Strategy for Local Government.

Its objectives are to first, provide a legislative framework on which youth development programmes can inform Local Government to plan, implement and monitor youth development processes. Second, to guide municipalities on designing, implementing and monitoring of youth development. Lastly, to support municipalities and local government role-players to mainstream youth development into their plans and programmes.

Noting, the above discussions we can conclude that there is sufficient legislative obligation and institutional arrangements in place to foster youth development.

Youth Development beyond 2016 Local Government Elections

As we move towards the 2016 local government elections all relevant stakeholders should ensure that youth development is at the centre of our developmental local government state as envisaged by the white paper on local government. This can be done through ensuring that youth development is mainstreamed in the local government process and most importantly that young people’s energy are correctly channelled into public participation processes which inevitably influence the mainstreaming agenda of youth development. Noting that mainstreaming and public participation are independent but interdependent factors for advancing youth development.

The interdependency of both these processes is anchored by the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) one cannot therefore divorce the IDP from the mainstreaming agenda, because it is through the IDP that the Service Delivery Budget Implementation Plan (SDBIP) is developed. All local government programmes are reflected through the SDBIP, which can be used to provide disaggregated data about budget allocation regarding youth development programmes, they can also be used to report and commit on Key Performance Areas or Indicators on youth development.

To this extent the three metropolitan municipalities in Gauteng have started to partially mainstream youth development, through the following Mayoral Special Projects: Tshepo 10 000 (City of Tshwane), Minthiro (City of Ekurhuleni), and Vulindlela eJozi (City of Joburg). The partiality of the impact of these projects to mainstreaming youth development is based on the fact that they are all initiatives from the various Executive Mayors and they are not necessarily informed by public participation in the IDP process; they are however institutionalised in a manner that they form part of the quarterly SDBIP reports on the implementation of the IDP.

Public participation is a legislative imperative of the developmental agenda of local government enshrined in Chapter 7, Section 154 (1) (e) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The Municipal Systems Act Chapter 4 identifies the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) as a tool for creating conditions for the community to participate in the municipal affairs. Based on our brief discussion on the demographics it is clear that the core of the South African community is young people.

Therefore mainstreaming and public participation are mutually supportive issues anchored in the IDP. Used optimally they could ensure that youth development is properly formulated, championed and forested in local government. Whereby, the participation of youth in the public participation process will ensure that the youth development agenda is in the IDP as part of the broader council agenda. This will culminate in mainstreaming of the youth development programmes by departments through the implementation of the SDBIP.

As stated by Olawale and Abiodun, (2007) the “efforts to address the challenge posed by youth must move from platitudinous wish-list into formulation of coherent policy agenda. Participating in the IDP process certainly gives birth to a coherent agenda that is most critically implementable and measured throughout the SDBIP. After all as the saying goes if you cannot measure it does not count.

Why public participation

Chapter 4 of the Municipal Systems Act, is clear on how public participation should unfold. Section 16 (a) commands that municipalities must “encourage, and create conditions for, the local community to participate in the affairs of the municipality”.

This may include preparation, implementation, and review of the IDP; the establishment, implementation, and review of performance agreements; monitoring and review of municipal performance including the outcomes and impact of such performance.

The Municipal Systems act warrants municipalities to build capacity in communities for public participation. Section 16 (1) (b) (i) states that municipalities must “contribute to building capacity of the local community to enable it to participate in the affairs of the municipality”. It is, within the above context the institutional assessment by Gauteng Provincial Government recommended the following on the role of public participation in relation to youth development:

Instilling young people with awareness and respect for active participation in local government process for them to contribute towards their development. By participating optimally in public participation process such as the Integrated Development Plan.

Developing capacity of young people and providing them with access to information that will enable them to promote their own development and that of their broader society.

Local government has a constitutional responsibility for creating an enabling environment and mechanism for local communities to participate in issues affecting and governing their lives. Therefore, to achieve this, opportunities for public participation should be created for the youth.

How to mainstream

Mainstreaming of youth development in IDP’s, SDBIP and Budget can be done through:

Municipal priorities and departmental programmes in IDP’s provide disaggregated data on beneficiaries of projects to clearly articulate impact of youth development interventions.

Building an integrated and sustainable approach to youth development through establishing interdepartmental youth development units to coordinate reports and commitments on Key Performance Areas and Key Performance Indicators on youth development.

Mainstreaming youth development can be defined as a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of the youth an integral part of designing, implementing as well as monitoring and evaluating the socio-economic-political policies, programmes and projects that should benefit the youth. The 2010 COGTA Youth Development Strategy states that the ultimate aim of mainstreaming will be to achieve equality of youth development outcomes. The strategy proposes two levels of mainstreaming for every municipality, (i) mainstreaming through IDP’s and (ii) mainstreaming through local youth development plans.

Mainstreaming and public participation are an integral part of advancing youth development in local government through IDP processes. They are therefore consistent with Bronfenbrenner Ecological perspective on human development (Bronfenbrenner, 1977 and 1994) where the microsystem is expressed through public participation.

Which is, the immediate environment which may heighten or hinder the ability and relationship of the developing person (the youth) to be active participants in their own development. Whilst, the macrosystem reflects the institutional partners, which would be the mainstreaming agenda of youth development, in the customs, economies and bodies of knowledge disaggregated data and information, located in the SDBIP thus the IDP.

In addition Koopedi (2012) used Hamilton, Hamilton, and Pitman (2000) and (Bronfenbrenner, 1977 and 1994) to hypothesize that, youth development is a function of a natural process plus principle multiplied by practice through policy. Youth Development = Process + Principle x Practice (Policy).

Based on this it can be deduced that the natural process which would be public participation is part of the microsystem and the practice; this would include the principle affirming that to develop humans need to be supported and guided. The practice of youth development would refer to the macrosystem in particular the mainstreaming agenda through the institutional partners who would be responsible for implementing the policy.

In conclusion mainstreaming and public participation are essential to the advancement of youth development in local government. Already one of the critical enabler sufficient legislative framework that also articulates institutions of youth development, exists; the critical challenge is the implementation thereof. The implementation of youth development should be fostered in the Integrated Developmental Plans (IDP) of municipalities. However, the above can only be realised when there is optimal understanding and use of mainstreaming and public participation by municipalities.

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