Supporting Youth Leadership: Why we must recognize young people as agents of change

02 July 2020

“If the children aren’t active, positive leaders and know that they have to demand their rights while they are young, they will not be active and innovators when they become adults.” Girl, 15, Yemen

The global economic slowdown induced by COVID-19 is disrupting the financial inclusion and stability of adolescents and youth. Young people are concentrated in informal jobs with temporary, flexible, and unstable arrangements, little to no social protection and in sectors which have been hardest hit by the lockdown. In addition, young people face disruptions and setbacks in their education and training, further damaging their job prospects in the future.

The massive vulnerability of young people to the economic downfalls of lockdown cannot be understated. COVID-19 is rapidly worsening economic inequality amongst youth and harming those already vulnerable before the pandemic. If we do not start engaging young people right now, we may be heading towards an even more disastrous situation. Adolescents and youth can be, and have already shown to be, important change agents for ongoing initiatives against COVID-19.

Adolescents and youth are great at adapting, so investing in re-skilling is not only an investment in their future but will help rebuild the economy. Javier Gregorio Schuever is a good example of a young person making a difference. Javier started as an adolescent with Save the Children’s Youth Empowerment Bulgari Program and is now an entrepreneur. Initially, his venture was in serigraphy (i.e. screen printing) and his business began making a profit and growing. After COVID-19, he adapted his business to produce bio-security clothing, a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) now in high demand. This is just one of the many examples of youths’ ability to adapt and be productive.

Many youth-led organizations have created virtual learning and experience-sharing platforms. These platforms help to stay connected and maintain a safe learning environment during prolonged social distancing practices. As an example, the Inno Community Development Organization in China has been broadcasting COVID-19 prevention videos to youth club students. They have also conducted offline epidemic prevention awareness activities in vocational schools and scheduled lectures on COVID-19 prevention by inviting experts. Our job is now is to support and enable this type of action for groups of young people experiencing difficulties to self-start.

Going forward young people need access to virtual technology as well as information on new jobs and business opportunities. Youth require updated information, knowledge, and skills for the “post-COVID-19” labour market. We must facilitate the opportunity for them to gain these new skills including e-commerce, online and offline marketing and other areas where new opportunities will emerge. In addition, greater access to online and offline hubs of experts to receive financial or technical support will help young entrepreneurs. Just as importantly, transferable life skills will remain a foundation for young people’s ability to cope, adapt and innovate.

Youth engagement has become the most urgent strategic need in order to keep adolescents and youth active, safe and resilient. We must support the development of mechanisms to ensure that vulnerable adolescents and youth have access to online and offline communication channels. We should support multiple forms of communication to ensure that the most marginalized and farthest left behind communities are reached. This includes materials for adolescents and youth with disabilities to ensure their inclusion, such as text captioning or signed videos for hearing impaired.

The past few months have made it abundantly clear that COVID-19 is not just a health crisis, but an economic and social crisis; one that is hitting vulnerable populations disproportionately hard. Yet, the potential of young people to fight back must not be wasted. Rather adolescents and youth need to be recognized as agents of change. It is time for us to tap into young people's potential and for them to step up.

by Muhammad Obaidur Rahman (Global Youth Adviser, Save the Children Denmark) and Silvia Paruzzolo, Ph.D. (Global Head of Child Poverty Reduction, Save the Children)

This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact



Muhammad Obaidur Rahman

Global Youth Adviser

Save the Children Denmark


Silvia Paruzzolo

Global Head of Child Poverty

Save the Children

Contributing partner

Year of publication

02 July 2020