Building bridges with youth for sustainable development in Zimbabwe

‘Pushing Boundaries. Shaping today. Creating tomorrow.’: this is the message of Restless Development, working on youth empowerment across the world since 1985. For this organization, there is no doubt of the crucial importance of building capacities in development among young people today, in order to support the leading advocates of tomorrow.

Maxwell Katekwe, Field Officer in the organization, tells us more about the past, the present and the future of Restless Development.


Hi Maxwell, nice to meet you! To get started, can you please tell us a few words about yourself?

My name is Maxwell Katekwe, I have been part of Restless Development for about three years, building my capacity and experience on sexual rights, livelihoods and life skills development. The first time I engaged with Restless Development was in 2014, as a Volunteer Peer Educator. Then I transitioned to the position of Assistant Programme Coordinator in 2015. Finally, in 2016, my role within the organization changed to Field Officer, a position that I currently hold. My passion is about making a difference by improving the socio-economic lives of young people, through various interventions that address the issues affecting them.


Based on your experience, what issues do you feel are the most pressing?

One of the most pressing issues is definitely unemployment. Young people in Zimbabwe under the age of 30 represent 70% of its total population, which means more than 10 million people. Most of them are are involved in some illegal trade and activities that are not properly registered. Therefore, the actual percentage of young people formally unemployed is up to about 80%-90%. One other key issue is related to personal hygiene, especially when it comes to sexual intercourse and menstrual periods. For example, it is a reality that there is limited access to sanitary wear because of its cost. This problem is particularly recurrent in the marginalized areas of the country.


We understand that Restless Development works on these issues, among many others. Can you please tell us more about the NGO and its story?

Young people have the power to solve the challenges we face in our world, but they are being ignored and overlooked. We work with young people so that they can lead in solving those challenges. Whether that means supporting communities to end child marriage or prevent HIV, we work with young people to change their lives and the lives of people in their communities.

We are run out of hubs in ten countries across Africa, Asia and in the UK and USA, with a wider network of partners across the world. We have been working with young people since 1985 and our work is led by thousands of young volunteers and advocates every year.The organization was originally founded in 1985, and started with a programme sending young people from Westminster School in the UK to Zimbabwe and India to teach Mathematics and English. Our programmes expanded to Nepal (1991) and Tanzania (1992), and we had changed our name to ‘Students Partnership Worldwide’ (SPW).

Between 1995 and 2005, the organization shifted from being a Volunteer-Sending-Agency, to exploring its real strength and expertise – young people. We opened programmes in Uganda (1997), South Africa (1998), Australia and the USA (2002), Zambia (2003) and Sierra Leone (2004). Our strategy changed to recruiting and placing national volunteers; from inside their own countries. From 2005 we have earned a reputation for high quality delivery of programmes led full time by young people. In 2010 we re-branded as Restless Development. Our youth-led development approach has been repeatedly cited as a model of best practice by the World Bank, UNAIDS, UNICEF and other international institutions.

We work with thousands of Volunteer Peer Educators each year, 90+% of whom are working in their own country.  Our daily work is about making sure that young people have a voice, a decent living, sexual rights as well as a leadership role in preventing and solving the world challenges.Restless Development in Zimbabwe has been working with young people since its foundation in 1985 and thousands of young people lead our work each year. The transformative Model for Change we use empowers young people and communities not only to deliver against their own needs, but also to generate learning and expertise, notably through training about policy and practice. We also help them to identify and influence broader societal and structural changes.


How does that transformative model for change work?

We base this model on the strong belief that when young people are given enough capacity, support and trust, they represent an unstoppable force for positive change. Our model aims at involving youth in all development matters. The model is three-pronged: Deliver – Inform – Influence.

-              Deliver: we empower young people to improve lives through community engagement and mobilization. For instance, we help them to be better informed when it comes to making decisions in their private life, by training young leaders to deliver informative sessions, in school and out of school, about Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health. One other type of work we do is about fostering a culture of peace by encouraging young leaders to conduct dialogue sessions using the methodology of story circles. Story circles is an innovative adaptation of what could be considered an ancient tradition of storytelling found in many cultures. It is about gathering people from diverse backgrounds and using the specific intercultural prompts to guide the sharing of experiences and stories: such exercise aims at developing intercultural competences such as curiosity, mutual knowledge of other cultures and backgrounds, listening, openness … each of them leading to tolerance, respect and empathy.

-              Inform: we empower young people to act as a knowledge bridge between communities and the institutions that serve global development, in order to provide a clearer understanding of youth situations. Such knowledge will be shared through surveys, research papers and impact briefs, that have been produced based on the real life experiences of communities where young people live and work.

-              Influence: we support young people to influence policy and practices by enabling them to participate in the decision-making processes of issues that affect them.


Going back to the concept of Story circles, can you tell us a few words about your experience in training the trainers-to-be, how they have scaled it up, what impact it has had...?

The 3 day ToT training with young leaders was so reflecting as young people said the story circles are not something new but helps to understand people with difference. I have noticed that when conducting the training there is the need to also emphasize on the session of communication since the rules of communicating are important, for example listening for understanding. Also, since the guidelines are in English there is the need for the facilitator to interpret adequately in a way that the participants will understand. One young person had this to say:

“The ICD have changed my view towards people with different cultures, I now recognize that diversity is strength which ought to be celebrated and accepted in human societies if we are to see progress and peace in Zimbabwe”  Manuel Kazamento, Age 25

What is the project you have conducted that has shown the greatest results?

It is a project named ‘Asikhulume/ Ngatitaure/ Let’s Talk’, meant to enlarge the civic space and impact of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), in order to empower young people to be active citizens participating in public social development and policy processes, building a more equitable, open and democratic society.

What’s the concept? How does it work? What are the results?

The idea is to capacitate CSOs in the first place, thanks to training and technical support provided by our organization, so that they can then train young people through a variety of capacity-building activities. One of these initiatives deals with the creation of a space for ideas and innovation. It is about a hub, that can be online or set up in a public space, where young people can get involved in campaigns, notably by being able to get in touch with not only thousands of other young people but also with decision-makers. The objective is to create and manage a real space for dialogue that will then conduct to concrete actions. For example, youth-led researchers on health, education and social services are given the chance to exchange with the people in charge of such fields in the government: such interaction has led to concrete evolutions of policies in the country, thanks to a unique dialogue.

What’s coming up next for you and Restless Development?

We have many goals! One of them is about building a strong youth collective. By this, we mean gathering all the energies working in the same direction in order to generate powerful synergies to go further together. Indeed, what happens right now is that many youth-focused organizations implement various development interventions, but the actions are not coordinated whereas there is a huge potential of growing bigger and faster together! This is why we want to build strong partnerships and coalitions between organizations focusing on youth. Also, in order to amplify the movement, we want to create a proper platform that supports the coordination of all the organizations. Overall, the youth collective aims at conducting more sustainable development interventions as well as increasing significantly the reach and scale of youth-led initiatives.

Such ambition also covers other goals we have set up, such as reaching the remote areas in order not to leave anyone behind, developing intercultural competences on a larger scale … We want to keep on changing the world, by enabling more and more young people to do so themselves!

Do not hesitate to check out Restless Development’s official website in order to know more and to get in touch with Maxwell (!

Youth / Africa