Global Youth ACTION Network -  Concepts and Programs”

South American Regional Office, January 14, 2003


  1. Introduction
  2. The Organization
  3. Programs and Resources
  4. Concepts




The Global Youth ACTION Network South American regional office was first created in January of 2002.  After one year of research and development it published the following document of “Concepts and Programs.”


The Global Youth ACTION Network – History


In 1996 17-year-old Benjamin Quinto participated in a small discussion and networking session of international NGOs at the United Nations Secretariat in New York City, USA.  He was inspired to meet a room of people whose lives were dedicated to global problem solving.  At the same time, however, he was shocked to learn that few young people were involved.  He read the UN Charter, observed its call for the participation of young people, and set out to create a Global Youth Assembly within the UN.  After three years of consultation with UN bureaucrats, international organizations, and youth from all over the world he concluded that the UN could not create a youth assembly without demand from its member states.  He also concluded that young people around the world needed to get better organized to warrant the creation of such an assembly.


In July of 1999, Quinto organized a “United Youth Conference” with 20 young people from 12 different countries.  Together they founded the Global Youth ACTION Network to encourage collaboration and help maximize the collective impact of youth activism all around the world.  GYAN hired full-time staff and set up its global headquarters in January of 2000 becoming the only international youth organization with an office near the UN Secretariat in New York City, USA. 


Today GYAN has merged its website with Nation1 and becoming the most active site on the Internet, in English, for young leaders.  GYAN acts as an incubator of global partnerships among organizations as well as an information distributor and conference organizer.  It has 300 member organizations and partnerships with national youth networks in nearly 180 countries, making it one of the largest networks of youth networks in the world.  The Network is best known for organizing two international projects: The International Youth in Action Award and Global Youth Service Day.  GYSD is the world’s largest celebration of youth volunteerism and is developed in partnership with Youth Service America (A USA based national youth organization), six UN agencies, and twenty other international youth organizations.






The mission of the Global Youth ACTION Network is to facilitate youth participation and inter-generational partnership in global decision-making by supporting collaboration among diverse youth movements and providing tools, resources, and recognition for positive youth action to change the world.




The vision of the GYAN is a world of conscious citizens who live for democracy, transparency and the celebration of diversity.  In this new world a permanent, democratic structure will facilitate youth influence on global decision-making.  It will rest upon a network of networks and embrace diverse systems of youth organizing from local to global levels.


To reach this vision, GYAN proposes a 5-part conceptual model of youth organizing to help identify different realities and appropriately engage organizations.  All components of the model work together with each level building on the work of the previous levels.


GYAN 5-level model of youth organizing:

1) Raising awareness of social and environmental problems

2) Action to solve problems

3) Network of information and resources

4) Collaboration of groups

5) Participation in formal, permanent structures of decision-making




           Connect youth organizations to each other and de-fragment today’s global youth movement

           Elevate the voice of youth and involve them in decision-making processes from local to global levels - including the United Nations

           Recognize and reward positive actions taken by young people in their local communities and the world

           Build meaningful, sustainable and cooperative youth-adult partnerships

           Establish a global communications structure and information clearinghouse for today’s youth movement

           Stand for transparency, democracy, and the celebration of diversity


Principles and Values


Mohandas H. Gandhi often said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  With this wisdom in mind we uphold the values of:


- universal human rights

- economic and social justice

- environmental sustainability, and

- a lasting culture of peace 


In addition to these values, the Global Youth ACTION Network is based on the following principles:


- democracy, equity and balance in decision-making

- diversity, cultivation of the diverse expressions and cultures of humanity

- transparency, honesty and openness in all actions

- inclusion of all youth, especially from minority groups, indigenous groups and other traditionally excluded groups

- creativity, especially a commitment to remaining creative, imaginative, fun and open-minded

- simplicity and sensitivity of language in communication

- flexibility in culture, work methodology, and organizational structure  

- respect and tolerance for the individual identity of each organization and individual involved




The GYAN mission and programs work on two fundamental fronts:



GYAN provides support through the following three, increasing levels of involvement:


1) Information Provider - making information available on the Internet for education and support of youth movements


2) Network Articulator – creating opportunities for local, national, and international networks, organizing gatherings of diverse groups, and facilitating collaboration


3) Platform Developer – creating formal spaces and platforms for youth participation and influence in decision-making


All GYAN programs are designed and developed for operation at four geographic levels:










GYAN has many programs. 


Those headquartered in New York City, USA include:


Those headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil include:


Those headquartered in Canada by GYAN’s partner organization, TakingITGlobal include:


Among these programs the unique strengths that GYAN has to offer to the global youth movement include:


  1. The highest traffic portal on the Internet dedicated to young activists
  2. Superior technology for Internet organizing
  3. A global communication network
  4. Hundreds of partner and member organizations
  5. Reputation and access to global decision-making bodies and international grant-making institutions
  6. A headquarters near the United Nations Secretariat in New York City


All of these programs need to have greater outreach in order to impact youth on local levels.  Without roots a tree will fall and in order to develop roots the South American Regional Office of GYAN is developing the following programs:


1. Informal Local Monthly Gatherings of Youth Activists and Allies - The mission of this project is to sustain the relationships of young activists in a local area and to provide a space for welcoming newcomers into the youth movement and the third sector.


2. Formal Local Youth Collaboration Meetings - The mission of this project is to guide youth organizers through the process of holding dialogues on collaboration.


3. Local Calendars of Youth Resources - The mission of the project is to build a stronger voice for young people in the movement for social and economic justice by 1)connecting groups and individuals, 2) sharing information and resources, and 3) helping organizations collaborate on projects and issues


4. Local Youth Summits and Platforms - The mission of the Local Youth Platforms project is to elevate the solutions of young people, motivate action, and establish permanent structures for youth participation in decision-making.


5. Local Youth Websites of Events, Organizations, and other Resources – The mission of this project is 1) to create youth Internet portals for local communities and 2) to facilitate communication among youth locally and around the world.




The following concepts of GYAN were written by Jonah Wittkamper in December 2002 to help strengthen the model of the organization and facilitate the development of the South American Regional Office.  The concepts are also intended to help guide the development of other local, national and regional offices.


GYAN believes that one of the weakest features of youth movements is their fragmentation.  To strengthen movements and their collective impact GYAN promotes the following model of youth organizing and program components.


4.1 Model of Youth Organizing


In order to combat fragmentation youth movements need integration.  There exist many youth programs but they are disconnected and as a result most young people are passive clients of “the system” instead of productive citizens.  A comprehensive package of youth programs are needed to fully mobilize youth – who are our greatest untapped resource (according to the Union of International Organizations – ).


To understand the need for a comprehensive approach one must understand all of the levels.  They fit together like a puzzle.  Each level cannot exist without the others.   They are completely interdependent and the absence of one compromises the whole.  At the same time participation in one level prepared the youngest for passage and effective participation in the next. 


Most youth organizations act on just one of these levels.  One goal of GYAN is to help organizations understand their “place in the model” and ability to plug youth into other “levels” and therefore other organizations.


The 5 Levels


1) Awareness

The first phase is raising awareness of social and environmental problems in order to inspire a sense of responsibility in young people.  Young people are very flexible.  They are swayed by both progressive and conservative education.  It is important to help young people own identity.   As young people develop an identity within their community they to feel more ownership.  The problems of the community become their problems as well and therefore they must act in order to solve them.


2) Community Action

The second level of youth activation is action.  With the will to act it is often difficult to find a cause or develop an action plan.  Organizations operating on this level teach young people how to develop projects and manage them.  Young people form sports clubs or music groups.  They get organized and act, solving social problems or doing cultural expression.


3) Part of a Movement - Part of a Network

The third level of youth activation is the network.  After becoming aware, taking responsibility, and acting one becomes aware of the landscape – of other actors dedicated to the same cause.  There are many diverse movements and each of them is challenged by fragmentation.  To “do more together” groups convene, organize conferences, group protests, create independent media channels, and much more.  There are several kinds of networks.  The simplest form are those networks dedicated to sharing information and building relationships.  Organizations that focus on this level develop databases and websites.


4) Collaboration and Large Scale Activities

The fourth level of youth activation is collaboration.  After becoming aware of other actors and organizations and learning about them everyone is faced by the challenge of “what to do together” and how to get it done.  Groups that work on this level focus on organizing events, teaching facilitation, or creating publications with content of many members.


5) Permanent and Formal Structures – Influence on Decision-Making

The fifth level of youth activation is a formal structure for youth participation in decision-making.  They might have a system for democratically representing students or youth populations.  Many organizations that work at this level are led by adults and seek to honestly represent youth.  Usually they are developed within government bodies and controlled by political parties.  National Youth Councils are the classic examples.




All of these levels have their own identity.  It is easy to take any group or organization and see how it fits into the cycle.  As concepts they are recognizably separate from one another but if isolated they are worthless.  This is the greatest shortcoming of the youth movement today.  Many organizations serve young people at one level but they fail to inform their “alumni” or “clients” about organizations operating at the other levels.  Level five organizations are meaningless if they do not have a constituency of “aware” and “active” young people to represent.  Level three organizations will have little meaningful impact on national agendas if the do not have a relationship with an institution responsible for carrying the representative power of youth to the political arena.


The basic model is:


1) Young people educate other young people and raise awareness.  (Example: Cala Boca Ja Morreu)

2) They form teams and take action to solve problems in their communities.  (Example: Gincana da Cidadania)

3)  As self-recognized citizens they become aware of their movement and plug into the network.  (Example: Rede Jovem emailing list)

4) Organized groups work together for greater impact, perhaps on larger scales.  (Example: World Social Forum International Youth Camp)

5) A formal, democratically organized institution brings youth priorities to the political and social agenda. (Example: Paraná Centro de Protagonism Juvenil)



4.2 Essential Components


At the same time the proper conditions must exist to provide the necessary ongoing support and inspiration to motivate and perpetuate youth engagement.  Groups and organizations will have the most effective impact on their members/participants if their program touches on all of the following four activities.  Organizations that neglect one of them will fail to provide young people with a holistic experience that promises to inspire social responsibility and “collective thinking” instead of “individual thinking.”


Community – Most young people do not have identities without relationships.  As young people enter new communities and interact with other people they discover who they are and form their own identity.  Communities are also vital for providing support.  It is very difficult to successfully implement a project in isolation.  Young people need a variety of supporters and allies to sustain idealism, hope, and self esteem.  Communities should have at least 25 participants


Ritual – Words only make up 10% of human communication.  The religious, spiritual, and non-conceptual qualities of youth activation are essential but cannot be adequately conveyed through group conversations.  Ritual solves this problem.  How?  One simple example is song.  No exercise helps people “hear” the voice of their community better than a song.  Sports activities, religious prayers, dances, mime exercises, talent shows, etc. are all different ways that people make ritual.  Ritual helps groups create an atmosphere of collective energy and collective consciousness.  Only through such non-verbal communication and diverse exercises can people truly develop trust.  Ritual is also important because people have many different ways of learning and participating.  Few people can fully participate in a community by just speaking.  People who are generally quiet in group discussions may be community leaders on the soccer field or the dance hall. 


Service – Youth programs that do not raise the consciousness of young people create unconscious consumers instead of responsible citizens.  Service is the process of bringing consciousness to action.  Many youth programs talk about the need to address social problems but take no action in the wake of their conversations.  Taking action in the form of service shows young people three vital things: 1) It is possible to make a difference.  After cleaning trash from a dirty beach it is rewarding to see that the beach is clean.  Positive feedback perpetuates positive action.  2)  In order to do service you must be “aware” and “organized.”  You must choose an issue, recruit people, and work as a team.  Without having such experiences, few young people will have the initiative and “awareness” to get “organized” and do service.


Diversity – Alone none of us has all the answers but together we do.  When young people encounter other young people who are very different from themselves they are usually afraid.  When such encounters happen within safe environments the fear usually turns into love.  Young people learn that they do not have to be afraid of the “unknown,” that they can take risks, and as a result the world opens up to them.  Diversity means “differences in unity.”  Social change happens when diverse social groups with different perspectives and interests learn from one another and find new solutions to old problems.  Unless we gather diverse groups for discussion and problem solving they will remain in isolation and their efforts will remain disconnected and un-integrated.  Learning to worship diversity (in terms of race, economics, decision-making processes etc.) is the single greatest challenge of the 21st century in the face of globalization as markets merge and cultures meet.  There is a famous African proverb: “You cannot pick up the stone with just one finger.”