Beyond Volunteerism: The Case for Equitable Compensation in Youth Work



In issues of injustice and disparities, young people are often celebrated for their zeal yet ironically left in the shadows when it comes to fair compensation for their work and advocacy efforts. Youth, especially from under-served and marginalised communities work tirelessly to champion causes in field of Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (AYSRHR). Many of these dedicated young individuals cannot afford to engage in unpaid roles, a grim reflection of the socio-economic barriers that continue to hinder equal opportunity. When they do step up to serve, often in various volunteer capacities, they are confronted with a hard choice – to lose money, time, and other valuable working opportunities. This highlights a glaring issue of systemic injustice that undermines the very values these young advocates fight for.

How can the AYSRHR field evolve to better compensate youth for their invaluable time?

In our Action Learning Cycle 5, members representing 10 different organisations came together to explore this issue. These organisations range from those advocating for ‘fair and timely compensation’ to those actively involving young people in meaningful roles. While the approaches may vary, they all share a common purpose. However, the stories of youth receiving meager stipends that barely cover their basic living expenses present a bleak and concerning picture of the current state of affairs.

The aim of this blog is not only to shed light on these critical issues, but also to initiate a dialogue and inspire concrete action towards a future where passion and advocacy are not merely acknowledged in words, but are truly recognised and rewarded in a way that reflects their true value and importance.

“The success of many youth-focused and youth-led interventions depends on the contributions of numerous youth who operate voluntarily. Compensating their work is not only the right thing to do but also a means of sustaining their efforts and investing in their leadership.”  

[CYCLE 5 member]

How are organisations compensating young people?

Advocacy: a number of organisations are raising awareness around the importance of ‘fair and timely compensation’ for young people. They do this through formal advocacy work, trainings on meaningful youth participation, developing guidelines and internal policies on fair compensation, and leading youth councils around this topic and others related to SRHR work.
Capacity Building: there is also effort from organisations in the cycle to build the capacity of the young people they work with, by getting them involved in coordination and facilitation roles as well as allowing them to “provide direct input and co-create” their resources, programmes and guidelines.
Stipends: a few organisations compensate their young volunteers through equal/uniform stipends, creating paid opportunities, and even retaining interns as employees.
Incentives: some organisations make sure to cover the costs of travel and food for their volunteers, and further offer them non-financial incentives like certificates, awards and other forms of recognition for their work.

What does the SRHR field need to do and learn around this topic?

The group was challenged to think deeper about the topic at a sectoral scale because development and progress can only occur when an entire community and network of actors can collectively contribute to initiating change. The following results came from the group reflections: 
What the field needs to do…What the field needs to learn…
Develop global and local policies as well as efficient and standardised methods or mechanisms to compensate young people fairly and on time.Understanding existing policies for youth compensation and how it can be replicated. Create a list of organisations that do compensate with the pay structure.
Reconceptualise young people’s input as “expertise” with inherent value – and as something that shouldn’t just come for free by default.There is nothing for the youth without the youth, we need to involve them – their contributions are valuable. The field must recognise the benefits of compensation e.g., encourages long-term engagement.
Reach out to young people and share best practices and experiences from youth to understand what they need and want.How to make sure that young people in all their diversity can participate – if we only make voluntary opportunities, we risk excluding marginalised young people.
Create career growth opportunities, future engagement and sustainability for volunteers within organization or even link them to scholarships for higher education.How to compensate young people fairly from different places? How can we recognise the different cost of living in different countries, while also working against north-south dynamics?
Donors should invest in youth-led organisation’s core/overhead costs (as opposed to funding projects). Additionally, organisations should promote youth work results to donors.Fair compensation helps to establish trust and accountability between volunteers/young people and employers. Moreso, youth is exposed to higher risks without compensation.

At the YIELD Hub, we recognise that compensating youth fairly is crucial for organisations working in the SRHR field. Organisations need to rethink their policies, not as an act of charity, but as a commitment to justice and sustainable advocacy. By compensating young advocates fairly, we fortify the foundation of a more inclusive, equitable, and effective movement. Let us not just applaud the passion of our youth; let us support it with the respect and remuneration it truly deserves. This goes beyond the issue of budget lines or organisational policies, it’s a question of our collective values and the future we envision for our world and the new norms we want to establish for youth partnership.