A Little Bit of History

“YouthBanks have the potential to establish building blocks of civic engagement and democracy, to channel young people’s enthusiasm into positive activity, to provide valuable learning experiences, boost confidence and widen horizons.” Vernon Ringland, YouthBank International Coordinator

A Little Bit of History

YouthBank has been operating in the UK and Ireland since the late 1990s have rapidly spread to other nations. There have been many new initiatives and each opportunity has shown us that even relatively small-scale financial investments have the power to make a genuine difference within a community. This initiative builds on the success of supporting many nations to join the YouthBank family, from the UK and Ireland to Central Europe, the Balkans, from the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia to the Middle East and Africa.

Currently there are 216 operating local YouthBanks with an estimated 2,500 young people acting in leadership roles as grant-makers in 23 countries across the world.

The YouthBank concept

Involving young people in projects that they design and run for themselves is the most potent way of engaging young people in their community. Involving young people in grant-making makes them more aware of the needs and aspirations of their local community and the means to make a difference.

Encouraging involvement in voluntary action where the issues more closely match young people’s concerns creates a dynamic environment in which trustful, inclusive, empowering, respectful relationships can thrive.

Devolving responsibility and accountability by placing decision making about small scale resource allocation into the hands of young people to act philanthropically, bridge divisions, take leadership roles, stimulate entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities, and challenges adults’ perceptions of young people’s capabilities and behaviors.

With these powerful benefits for the life of young people and local communities around the globe, we see the role of YouthBank International as a catalyst:

  • To stimulate such approach in areas where it does not exist.
  •     To help consolidate the programs in areas where it exists.
  •     To create a frame for collaboration between young people across the globe and YouthBank support partners.

If we build on resources and knowledge of existing YouthBanks and harvest their insight, then we can facilitate the development of more sustainable new YouthBanks in other locations. The availability of philanthropic resources and strategic alliances will allow YouthBank International to engage in development support programs that will provide the learning to influence practice and policy development.

If we bring YouthBank network leaders together to learn, share, collaborate and build relationships of respect and trust, then they can increase access to other resources to sustain their YouthBanks and be more effective and entrepreneurial in harnessing the energy of young people.

If we bring young grant-makers together to increase the value of participation, volunteering and activism at a local level then they will act, develop, and express themselves as global leaders – supporting more confident, cohesive, resilient and sustainable communities with the ability to affect change. 

A vision for success

Five years from now we aim to have:

  • A self -sustaining, functioning, vibrant governance structure with young people involved.
  • A Network recognized for living out the Silver Rules (values).
  • Recognition as the go-to organization about young people`s grant making practices with many examples of innovative practice.
  • An International Network with membership beyond Europe; with membership now on all continents, with the existing countries growing their internal membership and numbers of YouthBanks.
  • A Network which is reinforced by having active sub-regional groups
  • A Network which is genuinely inclusive with all marginalized groups or peoples whether on race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, faith or disability and this is supported by a multi-language, multi-media resource center for all membership.
  • A global platform for young people to enable them to play active roles and re-shape their world around them.
  • Young people meaningfully involved in structures from local to national to sub-network to International.
  • A full-time staff team with dedicated roles (administrative, training and consultancy), born out of the Networks funds and ability to be self-sustaining and generate its own resources.
  • An international online communication platform that is used habitually by 1000s of people weekly.

The Need for YouthBank International

The growth of YouthBank internationally has seen the gradual implementation of the model into new regions, often where the economic, cultural and political dynamics were less than favorable to promoting the voice and community action of young people. This development has led to visible increases in the number of youth-led projects supported by a recognized and diverse set of adult workers. The provision and sharing of tools and techniques has sought to unify and advance the practice of youth-led grant-making and to build the knowledge, skills and capabilities of young people to allocate resources that meet local needs and priorities.

In 2011 the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland commissioned CENTRIS (The Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy and Practice) to carry out a needs assessment to guide future support of YouthBanks. This independent survey into the support needs of local YouthBanks was undertaken with YouthBank host organizations in twenty different countries. Barry Knight led this work and in his report noted: “Demand for all of the services [provided by YouthBank International] is high and is related to six characteristic challenges that YouthBanks are facing, which include selling a new concept, funding and sustainability, continuity and turnover, motivating young people, skills of the workforce, and partnerships with organizations.”

Knight concluded that although the “need for particular services varied with stage of development… The speed of the growth [internationally] suggests that a more formal and organized approach is now required.”

Purpose of the YouthBank International Network

The purpose of the YouthBank International Network is to advance the practice of youth-led grant-making by:

  • Raising the awareness and validity of the YouthBank concept and approach.
  • Advocating for greater investment in youth-led grant-making to support youth civic action.
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of existing and new YouthBanks.
  • Generating evidence that supports and enables YouthBanks to share information that might be used for development, funding bids or growing a greater awareness and understanding of the network.
  • Supporting and demonstrating YouthBank as a public service innovation in youth led decision making.
  • Providing opportunities for ‘global citizenship’ connected to a common set of values.
  • Planning for sustainability and succession of the YouthBank movement.
  • Expanding its global reach and engagement to bring YouthBank to countries who are willing to participate.

Operational strategies

This describes, more specifically, what the YouthBank International network will actually do. Thinking through the purpose, values and vision will help set a balance with the range of suggested functions of the network. Not all listed functions as outlined below will be dominant at the same time. It’s likely that we will start with one or two and build the work of the network around them.

Building YouthBank globally

We promote and sustain the values and standards of the YouthBank approach to build mutually supportive relationships. This can be achieved in a variety of ways:  encouraging exchanges, site visits, internships; providing technical support, advice and capacity development to those from new regions of the world seeking to develop YouthBank; enabling others to deliver YouthBank as a youth-led decision-making model; facilitating internal introductions leading to stronger cross- country relationships and facilitating the expansion and development of the YouthBank model through collaboration with other relevant networks as strategic partners.

Sharing information and knowledge

We acquire, exchange and disseminate knowledge. For instance we have developed and maintain an interactive website and social media channels, we produce an e-magazine every other month, we offer an on-line resource library of tools and materials for members to access, and produce reports, case studies and effective practice manuals and toolkits.

We envisage creating Community of Practice (CoP) learning sets with a goal of:

  • Improving practice
  • Recording impact
  • Creating new applications, new adaptations of the model, and new tools
  • Finding solutions
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Mentoring
  • Stimulating knowledge creation about YouthBank as an approach
  • Further innovation
  • Building a reputation as a ‘go to’ organisation on youth-led grant-making

Advocacy, influencing and amplifying

We encourage the visibility and reach of YouthBank by advocating to a broad cross section of stakeholders about youth-led grant-making and demonstrating the impact of the approach. We achieve this by hosting formal multi stakeholder meetings and being influential by taking opportunities to inform decision-makers, policy makers and other networks about how YouthBank could address aspects of their own social policy goals. We represent the YouthBank International network and we amplify the voices of young people who wish to speak out on the issues that are important to them.


We bring together a variety of audiences to learn about how the model can be translated into local practice. We achieve this by commissioning/undertaking independent research on behalf of the network, facilitating external introductions, developing connections between supply and demand, and by stimulating collective learning.

Mobilising Resources

We encourage members to provide assistance to each other and share resources, contacts and know-how. We provide training/consultancy opportunities to increase the range and number of YouthBank mentors/trainers within an agreed quality assurance framework. We open discussions with a range of Trusts and Foundations to secure diverse income streams as well as examining potential support for new field building at a country and regional level. 

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

We have high aspirations for our young people and the work we undertake has at its core the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The principles, ethos and practice that frame the YouthBank approach are underwritten by the Convention and fit with the policies and values promoted by the re-focused Millennium Development goals, the Council of Europe and the European Union. They are also a vehicle to support the implementation of priorities for youth policy and action described in Agenda 2020. In this way there is a natural fit with national youth policies and strategies in the countries where these exist, and YouthBank activities can encourage such strategies in countries where they are yet to be developed.

YouthBank can and does operate effectively in widely diverse places, sometimes working in countries with emerging democracies, in regions affected by conflict and violence and in communities affected by poverty and social or geographical isolation.  Despite this diversity YouthBank retains a focus on issues that affect young people, bringing their agenda to the fore and enabling them to address local priorities.

YouthBank Contribution to Global Development

International experience has taught us that the work develops around four broad themes, crossing borders and cultures to engage young people in working towards very beneficial developments:

  • Building peace and understanding within divided societies Through the YouthBank model young people from different sides of a conflict can work together on committees and share experiences, deepen their knowledge of the aspirations, culture and perspectives of peers from communities other than their own.
  • Nurturing active citizenship and youth philanthropy YouthBank works with young people during their transition to adulthood, which is a time of experimentation, questioning authority and received wisdom, and developing a sense of identity. Values, world-views and aspirations are all forged during this period. The work offers a channel for positive creative energy for both young grant-makers and those developing projects in their communities. This enables active citizenship in the here and now, and encourages YouthBank ‘graduates’ to take these experiences into their future, thereby nurturing future community leaders who can contribute to social cohesion and greater stability.
  • Encouraging social entrepreneurship Young people are a mine of innovation. They have brought solutions to community issues through fresh ideas and collaborative action. Their entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged through their participation as grant- makers and project participants and equips them with a wide range of transferrable skills to focus on future constructive social action.
  • Personal developmentThis is a primary aim of YouthBank activity and has been proven to have significant impact across cultures on social development, decision-making, communication, administrative skills and many others.

The YouthBank model has the proven ability and development potential to address some of the key current global concerns for young people. The model can support work to:

  • Develop and enhance employability skills.
  • Begin a process of lifelong commitment to active community involvement and philanthropy.
  • Encourage the involvement of young people in bodies which make decisions that affect their lives.
  • Promote social inclusion – particularly addressing the needs of disadvantaged young people.
  • Address the under-representation of young people in the governance of public sector organizations, quangos and charitable and community organizations.
  • Increase educational development, achievement and attainment.
  • Divert young people from potentially damaging influences on their lives.
  • Create new initiatives to address poverty and disadvantage in the youth population.
  • Enhance more traditional methods of education by focusing on the personal and social development needs of young people.
  • Promote opportunities for volunteering.