Skip to main content

Youth leadership in a time of crisis

Youth for Sustainable Development (YSD) is a youth-led network, made up of ICS alumni and community volunteers in Kenya. Read about how YSD is supporting local communities and making the world a fairer place. 

Founded in 2017, the network has grown rapidly – now covering ten counties and functioning as a major actor in youth matters.

The network’s vision is a society in which young people feel the urgency to shape their lives and that of wider society, and are empowered to act. They want to break the cycle, where young people and other marginalised groups are excluded from decision-making and discussion, and they’ve risen impressively to the challenges of the global pandemic. 

Reaching an estimated 1.5 million people with coronavirus advice

“To ‘flatten the curve’ of the outbreak right now, information is our strongest weapon” said former ICS Team Leader, Shila Salim, 30. “People here are oblivious to the danger of coronavirus. We need to step up sensitisation to communities all over Kenya, as it is the poorest who are most at risk”.  

Through a series of talk shows at local Nairobi radio stations, Pamoja FM and Mtaani FM, YSD Kenya raised awareness of COVID-19 and how to stay safe during the pandemic. Their messages reached an estimated 1.5 million of Nairobi’s informal and middle-class residents.  

ICS youth volunteers hosting a radio show.
ICS youth volunteers hosting a weekly radio show to share trustworthy health information.

The network also supported the #VolunteersAgainstCovid19 campaign, which distributed hygiene advice to 400,000 people. Using verified advice from the World Health Organisation, the network helped create short public health videos to explain the concepts of social distancing and self-isolation. They shared messages in Swahili and English through their networks across ten counties. To make the campaign as accessible as possible, the network engaged the D/deaf community with videos in Kenyan Sign Language.

Check it out - COVID-19 Sign Language Video

Prioritising girls’ education

Christine Ogola. ICS volunteer with school children.
After her ICS placement in her home country of Kenya in 2018 Christine Ogola helped create a volunteering task force of young people with one mission: to create social change in the community.

Teenage pregnancies rose at an alarming rate during lockdown in 2020. This motivated YSD network members to step up, supporting girls to stay in education.  

In the county of Machakos, the network has been working with community volunteers to conduct needs assessments and plan sexual and reproductive health sessions to deliver to teenage girls. In Makueni, they delivered skills-based training in bead and soap making for girls already out of the education system.  

Recognising the need to enable women not just to work, but to achieve economic autonomy, YSD network members are also providing training on money management and saving, encouraging teenage girls and women locked out of education to reclaim their power and voice. 

Directly influencing government policy 

Making sure that decision-makers follow through on their promises is a priority for YSD. As keen social accountability advocates, YSD provided direct input into government policies around COVID-19, showing that young people can influence at a policy level.  

YSD linked youth networks across ten counties with local and national-level duty bearers, including the Ministry of Social Services and Labour (they lead the implementation of Kenya’s National Volunteering Policy). Through these connections, young people demanded accountability and responsive governance from their government, and enhanced youth participation in decision-making processes around the COVID-19 response.  

YSD also pushed for inclusivity in the Kenyan government’s COVID-19 response by highlighting the increase in poor mental health and gender-based violence during the pandemic, particularly for the most marginalised and people with disabilities.  

deafway project community awareness parade in Nandi, Kenya
© ICS / Paul Wambugu
Locals and VSO volunteers during a deafway project community awareness parade in Nandi, Kenya

Youth networks - how do they work?

Each of VSO’s national youth networks is uniquely structured and organised, as they are youth-led and specific to the local context. YSD is governed by a National Steering Committee of eleven members, one from each of the ten regions in Kenya and one representing youth with disabilities and the ICS D/deaf alumni group.  

The governance structure is made up of the Chair, Deputy Chair, Secretary and Regional Leads. The Regional Leads also take up other roles such as leading thematic areas, communications, partnerships, and networking.  

“The network has allowed me to continue my journey of active citizenship through motivating and leading fellow youth to address pressing needs in their community”.
Ken Ramah
Member of the National Steering Committee

The role of YSD’s National Steering Committee is to provide leadership to the network by advising, providing recommendations and leading forums for young people to voice their needs for establishing effective youth networks. They also coordinate the activities of YSD at the national level, and direct the network’s partnership and resource mobilisation needs. 

“My driving force for being part of the network is the satisfaction I get by giving young people a platform/space to engage in decision making”. Shila Salim, member of the National Steering Committee. 

Join us! 

Youth networks such as Kenya’s Youth for Sustainable Development create a dynamic space in which young people have a strong unified voice and are a powerful force for positive change.

New members are always welcome. If you’re interested, check out their social media pages

Not based in Kenya? Join a network in your country.

ICS volunteer presenting to parents.
VSO ICS volunteer on the deafway project actively engaging parents during the weekly community awareness classes in Nandi, Kenya.

Dfid Logo

Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

Find out more