Youth Integration: What Are We Interrogating?

Continuing the discussion from Youth Integration in HCD+ASRH:

Hi all. As I mentioned before, I lead the Youth Integration learning area at HCDExchange. The process of exploring how youth are integrated in HCD+ASRH programming has been enlightening so far. We have managed to scan documents and speak to staff from some great organizations working across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. What has been most interesting for me to learn is the almost unanimous agreement on the essence of youth integration, despite lots of variety in semantics.

Before the official report of this research comes out, I want to let you all into this discovery around language, and hear what your experience of talking about youth integration has been like.

:bulb: Each person I have spoken to in the research interviews has had their unique preference of a term for youth integration. The term “integration”, incidentally, seems to be one of the less common ones.

:handshake: Some prefer the term “participation”, as it suggests that there is a certain partnership and shared commitment between youth and adults towards the activities of the program.

:thinking: Others have critically questioned not just the extent but the impact or added value of youth participation, thereby preferring the term “engagement”. Yet others have added qualifiers like “meaningful” and “inclusive” to the phrase “youth participation”, or have simply attributed the arbitrary difference in phrasing to geography. :earth_africa: :earth_americas: :earth_asia:

:star_struck: Finally, some have even gone so far as to say that Human Centered Design or Design Thinking is youth engagement (needless to say this was music to our ears!)

It has been intriguing to hear divergent points of view. The most reassuring part of this is the resounding agreement that young people must be involved from the beginning of any program, and throughout all stages of implementation. Only then can their engagement be considered impactful in the long run. Irrespective of the terminology we have used so far or will adhere to later, our work moving forward will seek to capture this essence of youth engagement. As a young person working with other youth within HCDExchange, this reinforcement of values like empathy, inclusion, adaptability, and curiosity - all quintessential to the design thinking process- has prompted me to refine my work to reflect integration/participation/engagement better. In this way, the learnings gathered from our work have already started positively impacting the HCD+ASRH field!

I’m really looking forward to drafting a definition that we as a community can stand by, and one that can serve as a guiding principle for all further advocacy around mainstreaming of HCD for the betterment of ASRH.

And in that spirit- I throw the question back to you – young people on this forum. Can you share an instance where you felt included and engaged in a program? What about the process made you feel that way? What is YOUR definition (and preferred term) of youth integration?


I absolutely love this retrospective investigation about what meaningful youth engagement actually means. Underpinning that conversation has always been how different groups, organisations, entities and individuals actually define engagement and/or participation. Unfortunately this affects work around MYE because how do we do it if we cannot define it?
But I love one conclusion that seems to be presenting itself, Human Centred Design is youth engagement!!!
Additionally, I believe we also need to start questioning and completely dissecting the systems around youth engagement in order to bring solutions to the table that are viable, feasible, desirable, and durable.


Thank you @Ipsa for this thoughtful prompt. My understanding of Youth Integration is highly influenced by a common slogan in the key population space, ‘Nothing for us without us’. For me it is not just a call to action to include key population subgroups in entire project design and implementation process but also a sort of disclaimer for all the poor results that may result from not meaningfully including the end users of services, especially where they’re hidden, misunderstood or simply too dynamic to predict across geography and other cultural factors.

I think the same benefits can be achieved by having the same standards of inclusion for any other group of people and especially youth in the context of ASRH.

I immediately think of a youth organization I’ve been following for the last few months where they held so many consultative meetings before fully articulating their purpose or making their communication channels official. They held these meetings as a way to educate youth, assess the current mental health space and find new collaborators in this emerging area in Kenya.

Now looking at their work I see so many parts of individual conversations I participated in online and I know various platforms I can engage with the management and membership of this group which further cements my trust in this organization. That makes me feel involved and like I own part of their success and vision.


Very essential topic to be discussed because we seriously need to normalize the terms for youth not for organizations because HCD says young people at the heart. I want to share one instant , I was in a 5 days cam organized by RAWA and they devided us in various teams and each team has to run the camp for anyone day. So we managed every thing like workshop, food, discipline , finance for whole day and I feel very engaged.
The reason is we get the opportunity to lead and when young people get leadership opportunities then their participation becomes very active. So I like to use the term participation. Because firstly it’s important to sensitize youth for active participation.


These are some very insightful responses. Thank you all!

@Rasheed_Mutaha I definitely agree that we must be able to define MYE if we want to work around it. A common understanding can serve as a starting point for establishing standards for youth integration. It allows young people to set the minimum bar and confidently say that anything below that may effectively only be tokenism, just like @Maina astutely noted.

And that brings me to @Maina 's recall of “Nothing about us without us”. This rings so true even in the context of youth integration, and it resonates with so many people I spoke to during the research. I think “Nothing For Us Without Us” really serves as the basis of a collective global understanding on youth engagement.

The consultations and holistic involvement in workshops that Maina and @Himanshu mentioned are some great example of youth integration in practice.

What do others think? Curious to learn about applications of youth integration across different contexts!


@Ipsa these are great insights into the web of meanings around Youth Integration and encouraging to see shared orientation to involvement and inclusion of youth people. Really nice work.

As an Advisory Committee member I wanted to offer a perspective :bulb: on this topic to encourage further interrogation of these key concepts. That is, while orgs might agree on the basic value of including youth in the abstract, they may see the intensity of inclusion playing out in different ways in practice.

For example, I have witnessed how some orgs that want to work with HCD acknowledge the need for inclusion and engagement of user and beneficiaries, but what they really mean is just getting their “feedback” or “inputs” say, through research or consultative meetings and leaving it at that. It’s a rather conventional and limited view of engagement and inclusion.

On the other hand, HCD practice aims to mobilizes deeper forms of inclusion and engagement that put co-design front and center and that break open spaces for cultivating youth leadership and ownership --concepts I think are also important to the collective understanding of Youth Integration.

Some orgs are really embracing this type of deep engagement; other less so. I have also worked with some orgs who embrace inclusion, but find ideas of youth leadership and ownership threatening, because they challenge the “business as usual” and the traditional decision-making structures in programming.

This really gets to a key point that @Rasheed_Mutaha raises about how we think about “dissecting the systems around youth engagement” and creating an environment where youth and youth orgs have a permanent seat at the table.


@AshwinBudden thank you so much for moving the conversation ahead with your insights. I agree, youth integration is easier said than done. The systems that we work within are designed along age hierarchies that are often very difficult to break out of, and we must critically scrutinise the larger ecosystem if we want to influence long-lasting change.

I often also see organisations consulting young people, but then hesitating to act upon the suggestions given, or dismissing them altogether. Since those organisations also work within the larger systems that distribute power unevenly, engagement of adults through trainings and dialogue on strong allyship becomes essential. Without adults willing to introspect and unlearn, the onus of change falls entirely on young people.

But I also want to think more deeply on what might be preventing orgs from embracing long-term change? Often, challenges around limited resources pose a significant barrier. And with the system structured such that most programs have funding cycles of a 3-5 years, short-term, high impact becomes priority. I think that this is thus inextricably liked to how we define and measure impact, how we fundraise and budget, how we incorporate intersectionality into quality and standards, etc.

Are there examples, from other areas of development work perhaps, of good partnership between two communities that we can take inspiration from? Has this been modeled before?


Thank you for sharing a bit from your research @Ipsa, excited to learn more! :slight_smile:

My first project with TinkerLabs was on increasing uptake of condoms amongst adolescents and youth. We were a design team of 4, across skill sets and age groups. What I didn’t realise then was that my role on the project was also strategically planned considering it was a youth-centred project. But I realised this only later because everything on the project from the kickoff meeting to research, design and stakeholder meetings involved me, as a design researcher and member of the design team.

Therefore, I will extend the term ‘participation’ to ‘partnership’- young people as true project partners with skills and stakes throughout the hcd process, not merely as participants identified by their age.


Wow, thanks for sharing, @Meru ! Now that looks like true integration/partnership! Did you think there was an active effort to recognise the power heirarchy between adults and youth, though? And how did this organisation approach your growth and capacity building? Did they offer specific training to you?

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Those are great questions/directions @Ipsa. I don’t think there was an active effort to recognise power hierarchy, it was simply a small team with humble adults and such a conducive circumstance may not present itself each time. I had come in with formal HCD education and the Team Lead mentored me on the nuances of the process through the project. That makes me wonder if independent efforts to train more youth (across socio-economic barriers) on HCD may help make any integration/partnership in asrh projects smoother! :open_mouth:

Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this :slight_smile:

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