Global Youth Work and Development Education

Global youth work is essentially good youth work, which responds to young people’s changing circumstances.

Global youth work and development education explores global issues with young people (poverty, inequality, hunger, injustice, and climate change, etc) through non-formal education. Global youth work explores the role young people have in their local community as well as their connection to the broader, globalised world. Global youth work recognises that globalisation increasingly influences young people’s lives and environments, creating new opportunities, challenges and concerns.  

Global youth work aims to empower young people to develop the knowledge and skills to tackle global issues and explore their own values, beliefs, and connections with the wider world. Young people are supported to see themselves as agents of change, empowered to be active global citizens using development education tools to deliver on the seven personal and social development outcomes (DCYA) – communication skills; confidence and agency; planning and problem-solving; relationships; creativity and imagination; resilience and determination; and emotional intelligence. For young people involved in development education, their enhanced attitudes, knowledge, and skills contribute towards building a world of justice, equity and dignity.

Global youth work and development education supports greater knowledge and understanding of the rapidly changing, interdependent and unequal world in which we live. It supports young people and the youth sector to critically explore how global justice issues interlink with their everyday lives.

Global  youth  work begins with an understanding of a young person’s reality.  This happens through an engaged youth work practice and relationship building, which creates opportunity for insight into the personal world and experiences of the young person. Global youth work works with these insights  on  a journey of change and consciousness raising using the tools of  development education.  It is based on the principles of non-formal education and it is about  provoking consciousness, so that a young person can relate their lived reality, to one of interest and engagement with the world and with others.

Global youth work asks us to look at the world and to become curious about our individual place in it.  It asks us questions about  globalisation, as a concept and a process: “what is it and how does it impact on my life and the life of the young people I work/engage with?” It promotes  consciousness and action  for youth workers and young people, to critically think about their world, to challenge oppression, and to advocate for social justice.

Global youth work works with the UN sustainable development goals framework to question the logic of the global system currently in place. A  global youth work practice  helps us to disrupt our understanding of global systems  and  to  look afresh at our personal, local,  national,  and global relationship with these.

It is important that young people understand the world in which we live, where 1.8 billion or one quarter of the world’s population is aged 10-24 years, where our views, opinions and learning, are constantly influenced and challenged by new knowledge, discoveries, achievements, communications, and opportunities – coming from within our own communities and also from different places around the world. 

On a daily basis, young people’s lives are shaped by what Dr. Momodou Sallah (Global Youth Work: Provoking Consciousness and Taking Action, 2014) says are the five faces of globalisation:

  1. Economic: Trade, economics, transnational corporations
  2. Environmental: Carbon emissions, ozone layer, rain forest, water, global warming, flooding, quality of air, etc.
  3. Cultural: People’s way of life, food, beauty and body image, music, media, internet
  4. Technological: all means of communication that brings the world together – internet, mobile phones, newspapers, magazines, air travel, etc.
  5. Political: Democracy, right and wrong, world views, world order, what is and what is not human rights abuse, UN, etc.

These five faces of globalisation in turn influence young people’s actions at a personal, local, national and global level. Sallah calls these PLiNGs.

According to Sallah, global youth work is:

  1. Concerned with how globalisation impacts on young people’s lives

With increasing interconnectedness and focus on how globalisation impacts on the earth and its people – economically, environmentally, culturally, politically and technologically – a global youth work approach is concerned with making personal, local, national, and global links between young people’s lives and the different dimensions of their lives.  This can include: the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the air they breathe, the gadgets they use, and the political systems in which they live.  With a global youth work approach, young people are supported to understand their place within all this interconnectedness. 

  1. Based on principles of non-formal education and youth work

Equalising the power imbalance between young people and the practitioner. It is mostly voluntary engagement of young people, using non-formal education approaches to work with young people, and with a focus on developing critical literacy. It is about negotiation with young people.

  1. Located in young people’s realities

Unpacking what might look like complex interconnections between personal, local, national and global to bring about change no matter how small. It must always start where the young people are at – their own realities.

  1. Challenges oppression and promotes social justice

In a world where over 80% of the resources are consumed by 20% of the world’s people, we must challenge the ‘truth’.

  1. Promotes consciousness and action

Global youth work and development education promotes young people to think outside the box, outside what they see and know every day. To ask questions.

  1. Starts from young people’s experiences and encourages their personal, social, emotional, and political development
  2. Works to non-formal education principles and offers opportunities that are educational, participative, empowering and designed to promote equality of opportunity
  3. Is based on an agenda that has been negotiated with young people
  4. Engages young people in critical analysis of local and global influences on their own lives and communities
  5. Encourages an understanding of the world based on the historical process of globalisation
  6. Recognises that relationships between, and within, developing and developed countries (‘global north’ and ‘global south’) are characterised by inequalities caused by globalisation
  7. Promotes the values of justice and equity in personal, local, national, and global relationships
  8. Encourages an understanding of, appreciation for, diversity, locally and globally
  9. Sees the people and organisations of all countries (developing and developed; ‘global north’ and ‘global south’) as equal partners for change in a shared and independent world
  10. Encourages action that builds alliances to bring about change

(Global Youth Work, DEA, 2004) 

There are many different kinds of youth workers. We acknowledge that we are all on our own unique journey in youth work and that we have our own experiences, skills, interests, strengths, and of course, areas that require growth. There will, however, be certain things that unite us, certain principles such as the right of a child to respect and dignity, to safety, security, and joy as they develop. We all agree on our role in supporting young people, in challenging young people.

Before you go any further, check out the questions below. Think about them.

At this stage, we would like you to consider whether or not you agree that most of the situations below relate to you in your everyday work with young people:

  • Do you work with young people in a way that supports their growth and development?
  • Are relationships and connection important in your work with young people?
  • Do you talk with young people about issues that affect them?
  • Do you work with young people who have ideas and opinions about what is going on in the world?
  • In your work do you see a changing Ireland which relates to a more “global” and interconnected existence for us all?
  • Do you sometimes find it challenging when young people present with a variety of different attitudes about the new global reality? E.g. Migration, diversity, refugees, ethnic identity, etc.
  • Do you see a relevance in youth work for exploring the connection between, personal, local, national, and global when it comes to youth issues?
  • Do you sometimes struggle to find a balance between responding to the immediate needs of young people (drug use, trouble in school, issues with police) with an overall goal of helping them develop and grow?

Youth work at its best is rooted in a developmental approach where young people are supported to develop the competences to face their challenges with resilience and to strive towards their potential with confidence.

We believe that with the right approaches and tools and supports, all youth workers or youth leaders in Ireland can consider their work in terms of its value and significance not just as local or national youth work but also as global youth work. 

(Good Practice Guidelines for the Youth Sector, NYCI, 2020 forthcoming)

  • Create opportunities where the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills related to social justice and development education are explored in a holistic and engaging process.
  • Provide educational opportunities to empower young people to act on social justice and development education issues by building self-confidence and developing skills such as critical thinking, and systems and power analysis.
  • Build young people’s capacity to work from their own reality, to consider oppression and discrimination as having local, national and global interdependence.
  • Recognise that knowledge is generated between youth workers and young people.
  • Support young people to develop social, environmental and global awareness, a sense of solidarityand commitment to action.
  • Give young people a voice in decision-making which affect their lives.
  • Enhances young people’s role as active global citizensand as changemakers.
  • Work collaboratively within the youth sector and across sectors to achieve better outcomes for young people.
  • Build capacity of youth work educators to deliver development education and to become active global citizens aware of their roles and responsibilities as educators.
  • Build on key social justice and development education activities, innovations,programmes, and events in the youth sector.
  • Act on social justice and development education issues
  • Make personal, local, national, and global links and relationships with the wider worldexplicit–on whatever the concerned young people deem relevant e.g. food, clothes, gadgets, political systems etc, to create a more just world for themselves and the rest of humanity.
  • Deconstruct individual reality and consider new ways of looking at the world.
  • Appreciate the similarities and differences between people – locally, nationally, globally.
  • Critically examine values and attitudes and key social justice principles.
  • Challenge key development issues, promote and support social justice, through consciousness, action, questions and education.
  • Embrace and value diversity.
  • Learn about the work of Irish Aid and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) working in the development sector, environmental sector and other fields.
  • Develop the skills and methodologies that will enables and empowers action to combat injustice, prejudice and discrimination.
  • Promote action at a local and global level, empowering the learner to engage in individual and/or collective action to bring about a positive difference in the world.
  • Contribute to the learner’s knowledge, by deconstructing and rebuilding an understanding of global justice issues and facilitating the learner to engage with multiple perspectives.
  • Consider experiences, knowledge and insights from a critical Southern perspective as key to understanding core justice principles*.
  • Understand individual world views as socially constructed.
  • Enhance the learner’s skills and competencies, placing emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills.
  • Strengthen the learner’s values and attitudes, support the learner to recognise our global interconnectedness and consequently our rights and responsibilities as global citizens.

(adapted from Development Education, Irish Aid, 2017)

*The term ‘critical Southern’ here refers to the Global South. 

Watch Momodou Sallah Talk About Global Youth Work

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Uniting 43 national youth organisations who are full members of the NYCI, another 10 organisations have corresponding or observer status


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