Youth-Accessible Grantmaking: How (Not) To Do It?

December 15th, 2017

Written by Gizem Kilinç

Accessing sustainable funding is a persistent challenge for youth organisations working in the peace and security field. In 2016, an average of 71% of the grant applications submitted by member organisations of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders were sadly unsuccessful. A majority of the youth-led organisations operate with limited funding, with 49% operating under USD 5,000 per year. The main sources of income of youth-led peace organisations come from local donations and membership contributions, as demonstrated by the report Mapping a Sector: Bridging the Evidence-base on Youth-Driven Peacebuilding.

Despite the increasing recognition of the important role of young people in peacebuilding, reflected in UN Security Council resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, existing assumptions about youth organisations still limit the kinds of investment that donors are ready to make in youth organisations. Youth are not recognised as key practitioners in the peace and security sector on an equal basis with other experts in the peacebuilding and the broader development field. Most funding schemes are designed to enable non-youth actors to work with young people as passive beneficiaries rather than supporting youth to develop and carry out their own initiatives.

So what are the common barriers that youth-led organisations face in accessing financial resources? And how can funding that is intended to support peacebuilding work be more sensitive to the needs and local realities of youth organisations?


Walls built up so high: A funding application must tick all the right boxes. If it does not meet the threshold criteria of the donor, it will be rejected – no matter how brilliant the idea. One example is a minimum amount of organisational turnover with which the donor seeks to assess the applicant’s financial absorption capacity, invest the required paperwork only in high value projects, and prevent an overt dependency on the donor.

The vast majority of youth-led peacebuilding organisations come nowhere near the desired amount of zeros in their operational budgets, as only 11% of the organisations operate on a budget over USD 100,000. 

Toxic relationships: Many youth-led organisations are seeking relationships with donors that have commitment issues. It is incredibly difficult for youth-driven peace organisations to secure multi-year, operational and flexible funding that allow for the design of cohesive activities leading to lasting impact.

Youth-led peacebuilding organisations are often pushed to implement short-term, project-based and output-oriented interventions, and to report success as “X amount of young people trained which led to: (a) narrative report; (b) 10 photos ; (c) a Tweet-a-thon”. They are additionally challenged by grants that require and depend on co-funding, being placed in a minefield of risk.

Lost in translation: Young peacebuilders and the donor community speak different languages. There is an issue of “donor speak” which prescribes logical frameworks, milestones, and other concepts that mystify the average grassroots youth organisation. But donors may in turn feel a sense of confusion when youth organisations propose the use of debating clubs, theatre-based approaches, and volunteerism as ways to foster dialogue, bridge divides and promote peace.

Traditionally, peace refers to the absence of war, security is simply understood as state security, and a peacebuilding process is what is discussed at the negotiation table. Youth-led organisations have a much more holistic understanding of peacebuilding and, subsequently, design innovative activities that cut across personal, cultural and structural dimensions.


Many peace and security funders have the best of intentions, but might be far removed from the day-to-day reality of youth organisations or even unaware how low-cost yet impactful it is to invest in youth-led peacebuilding. There are also donors that do get it right, having carefully designed their grantmaking schemes in a manner that is accessible and tailored to youth organisations. What can we learn from these best practices?

  • Fund the frontlines of peacebuilding by making use of larger, well-established youth organisations to act as an intermediary between a donor and smaller youth organisations.

    Example: The Norwegian government provides a large grant to the national youth and children council in Norway (LNU), which in turn divides this grant into smaller grants for individual organisations or activities, as a way of dealing with heavy technical and financial requirements and bridging the trust gap.

  • Enable the build-up of organisational capacity of youth-led organisations as well as long-term sustainable action, through funding that is flexible and designed to consider the specific needs of youth organisations.

    Examples: PeaceNexus Foundation invests in the organisational capacity of peacebuilding organisations (including youth-led groups), catering to the actual needs and natural pace of their partners. Cordaid goes beyond the traditional donor-grantee dynamic by establishing strategic partnerships that bring about the types of change which require time, effort and patience.

  • Allocate funding specifically for youth-led organisations working in peacebuilding to reflect the range and impact of their actions, and to support their innovative approaches. Youth themselves are well-equipped to understand and address the root causes of the issues that they’re facing. They are best positioned to identify strategies that reflect young people’s visions for a peaceful and inclusive society.

    Example: European Youth Foundation’s (EYF) Programming Committee on Youth enables meaningful youth participation in grant selection committees by including eight representatives of youth organisations who take decisions on all received applications. The EYF additionally provides hands-on support to prospective applicants throughout the process by organising workshops and providing detailed feedback.

Let’s break down these walls, find a common language, and build healthy and mutually beneficial relationships between the donor community and youth-led peacebuilding organisations. Think of the benefits: Self-organised youth that have the skills and opportunities to come up with bottom-up, cost-effective solutions that make a difference in the world. It truly is worth it.

This post builds on the input from UNOY member organisations in Afghanistan, Burundi, India, the Netherlands and Pakistan. Let’s continue the conversation! Do you have experience with or creative ideas for more youth-friendly grantmaking? Please get in touch with us:

UNOY Peacebuilders

We are a global network strengthening sustainable youth-driven peacebuilding. We connect 70 youth peace organizations across 45 countries.

Our goal is to create a world where young people have the opportunity and skills to contribute to peace. We work to strengthen youth-led peacebuilding initiatives, facilitate a safe space for dialogue and conflict transformation, develop the organizational capacities of our members and to bring the voices of young people to policy makers on a regional and global level.