Story 1: UNOY Peacebuilders

The United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY – pronounced ‘You Know Why’) is a global network of youth organisations committed to establishing peaceful societies. Young people constitute half of the world’s population and we strongly believe in their importance in society. This is why we aim to provide youth with the necessary means to contribute to peace. Since its inception, 25 years ago, UNOY has developed a multi-dimensional expertise in its main areas of action; advocacy and capacity building. Our additional core activities include networking, sharing information, research, and fundraising. The activities we provide combine methodologies such as non-formal education in youth work, peace education, community development and intercultural learning. 

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United Nations of Youth

UNOY – United Nations of Youth – was created in 1989, based on an initiative of a Russian UN diplomat who acted on a dream he had on his 50th birthday. Nikolai Firjubin dreamt about a general assembly hall filled with young people discussing the major challenges facing humanity. Travels led him to meet people that advised and supported him in his effort to give meaning to this dream. The Universal Education Foundation assisted organizing an International Working Group in the Netherlands for the creation of UNOY. 34 enthusiastic young people from a total of 13 countries and 4 continents took part to discuss the vision of the new organization and resulting in the founding of UNOY. Soon afterwards, various country branches were set up. UNOY was legally founded on 15 September 1989.

In the first years, numerous working group meetings, international executive council meetings, conferences and youth assemblies were held in a number of countries, including India, Belarus, Belgium and the Netherlands. The first major event was the International Youth Assembly, which took place in the foothills of the Himalayas of India; a year after UNOY was founded. 60 participants from five continents took part and a flair of idealism surrounded the meeting. The assembly wanted to address genuine and specific concerns. Hence, the issue of street children was chosen. In collaboration with UNICEF, 20 street children, mainly from New Delhi, participated in the conference.

The first assembly was followed by a number of meetings in which global challenges as well as organizational matters were considered. Leadership, structure and focus of the organization were re-visited and the preliminary charter was revised. The participating youth wanted to create something brand new and with a clear democratic structure.

In order to discuss more than technical issues, UNOY added a capacity building element to its events and conferences as the organizers wanted to not only bring young people together, but also give people concrete skills and tools that they could use after the events.

The ambitious mandate, many promises, little budget, high expectations of the members and costly international communication made sustaining and developing the organization very difficult. In the first years, the office was run from a private home and running expenses were minimum and largely covered by private resources of the office bearers.

UNOY had been involved in issues ranging from street children to environmental issues in the first years; but realized that, as an action-based organization, it had to specialize and find its niche and added value in the broad spectrum of international youth organizations. Based on the success of the international peace conference held in the Peace Palace in The Hague in 1993, UNOY became an action-based loose network of peace organizations. It saw a unique role for youth in contributing towards a more peaceful world through promoting a transition from a culture of war and violence towards a Culture of Peace, which vision acts also as a guide to ethical action and unites its young peacebuilders across the globe.

The old structure was dismantled and UNOY became a servicing organization, aiming to link up young peacebuilders and peacebuilding initiatives around the world into a global network. Its core business became local capacity building: training young peacebuilders in peacebuilding skills and organizational management. It also adopted a more regional structure.

Creating the United Network of Young Peacebuilders

Developing over the years into a global network of young peacebuilders, the organization changed its name to United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders) in 2003. The statutes and mission statement were reformulated and the name changed to better reflect the nature, work and scope of UNOY. In 2005, UNOY moved its office from the small city of Purmerend to a larger office space in The Hague upon the invitation and with support of The Hague Municipality. Its central location made it more attractive for donors and for internships of international students.

Leading up to its 15th Anniversary, UNOY had been steadily growing in reputation and number of activities and the organization underwent serious restructuring and professionalization. The development of the Global Network in general and the African Network in particular, brought with it its own challenges related to questions about ownership, democracy, accountability, transparency, as well as identity and youth leadership. It became clear that the UNOY Peacebuilders’ loose organizational structure with over 300 contacts with individuals, organizations and other networks made it difficult to make an effective stance on issues or be able to work coordinated and with long-term effect in capacity building of youth-led peace organizations.

In 2006, the network was restructured after a year-long research and consultation process. The new structure, consisting of 32 member organizations and a number of affiliates, allowed more adequate cooperation and possibilities of exchange among members of the network and the Secretariat, increased capacity to organize more activities around the world and increased the sense of ownership of the youth participating in the network. In the new structure, the members were represented in the International Steering Group according to region.

Up to this point, UNOY was mainly financed on project basis. In connection to the restructuring, multi-year funding was acquired from the European Union and from Oxfam-Novib. This improved UNOY’s capacity to plan ahead making multiyear plans possible and realizable and reassuring that the organization could learn from its training activities and make manuals leading to sustainable and consistent capacity building.

The Secretariat at this stage although largely run by interns and trainees, was for the first time able to pay its small staff regular salaries. UNOY continued to grow steadily in scope and implemented a number of projects, with increased attention to research, advocacy and capacity building projects both in the Netherlands and abroad. The trainings aimed to build the capacities of young peace activists and were increasingly organized in partnership with other organizations, particularly members of the UNOY network. In order to match the growing budget and volume of the program that was implemented the organization was extensively reorganized regarding financial management, HR management and board structures. A new logo and graphic profile for UNOY was launched in 2011.

Focus on Advocacy and Capacity Building

While focusing on capacity building, UNOY realized that it was not enough just to train young peacebuilders to become active, but that policy makers worldwide should be made aware of the positive contributions young people could make to peacebuilding. UNOY Peacebuilders launched its first advocacy activity in October of 2005, when the first Youth Advocacy Team promoted the Decade for a Culture of Peace at the UN. This was followed up by a related campaign in 2006 in New York and two campaigns in 2007 at a national level by member organizations and at a European level by member organization and the secretariat. Another Youth Advocacy Team was created in 2012 and is still active to date. To support the work of the teams, several reports have been published. In order to build the capacity of UNOY members, and of the Youth Advocacy Team, several trainings on youth advocacy for peace has taken place, and training materials and manuals have been developed since 2004.

UNOY advocates for the role of youth in peacebuilding, and more specifically to promote the visibility and recognition of youth as active stakeholders in peacebuilding and promote the partnership between young peacebuilders and other stakeholders. In 2009, UNOY was granted UN ECOSOC Consultative Status. UNOY was elected a member of the Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth for the period 2014-2015 and is a member of the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Sub -Working Group on Youth Participation in Peacebuilding.

Besides advocacy, capacity development is the other key focus of UNOY. Training courses – usually one week long residential international trainings – focused on conflict analysis, project management, gender and peacebuilding are held annually. Regional African Training Courses bringing together UNOY members on a regional basis were held in 2009, 2012 and 2013. Toolkits and manuals on topics including working in networks, fundraising, and gender and peacebuilding have also been developed.

To strengthen the UNOY network, jobshadowing projects took place in 2011 and 2013 in which UNOY members from different regions were able to visit each other for a week to get to know each other better. UNOY works in a gender sensitive way, and several projects have focused on gender related issues.

The formal UNOY Network today consists of member organizations only. Members retain their membership by taking part in the Annual Impact Review. In its 25 years of existence, UNOY Peacebuilders has grown into an established network with members and partners all over the world. The organization now has 4 staff and 60 members in 35 countries. UNOY has kept its dynamism and commitment while continuously working for youth participation in peacebuilding and for the creation of a Culture of Peace. UNOY Peacebuilders has gone through different phases, narrowed its scope, evolved, learned and professionalized. But, despite the organizational changes and ever-evolving nature of the network, the mission is still the same: UNOY Peacebuilders is about giving a voice to young people and providing them with the space and capacity for constructive action.

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