Our Co-CEO and Co-Founder Duncan reflects on the last decade at StreetInvest
Today is the International Day for Street Children which sees the launch of StreetInvest’s “Real Change takes Lasting Support” campaign, which is part of our 10th Anniversary “celebrations”. Today also marks almost exactly 12 years since I left the finance world and moved to the development sector, joining a very small charity supporting street children after the behemoth that is JPMorgan.
So, 10 years after co-founding StreetInvest (together with a lawyer and a priest), have I learned anything at all…and have we achieved anything at all?
On the one hand, there is a great deal to be proud of. StreetInvest has now established a global network of 20 like-minded organisations in 15 countries supporting some 25,000 street connected children every year. We have engaged with the United Nations that has since passed a resolution on street children (2012) and a General Comment to go with it (2017). We host the largest everlongitudinal research project into street children in Africa and we are the sector leader in street child data collection (Headcounting). And today is the International Day for Street Children (which we were involved in inventing). None of this existed 10 years ago.
And for me? Well, 12 years ago I knew nothing about small charities, street-connected young people or the people who support them. Now I have had the honour of working with some of the most resourceful, resilient and responsive young people I have ever met – despite their living in conditions as raw as anything I could ever imagine and facing levels of daily violence, abuse and discrimination that is, literally, criminal. I have also had more than a decade of learning from the selfless “street workers” (detached youth workers in UK) who work with these children – every day and night, where they are and for as long as it takes. They are largely ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I have travelled across Africa which is a continent I now understand in much more respectful detail. And, finally, I have come to know the delights and exasperations of small charities – almost always under-resourced but fighting with their whole beings against social injustices which really are largely other people’s responsibilities (often those that let them happen in the first place).
And I can tell you countless stories of young people whose lives have been transformed by the support of these organisations and people who have simply taken the time to understand their reality, their needs, hopes and dreams and worked tirelessly to help them achieve more positive lives for themselves – and challenge all those that stand in their way.
On the other hand, in twelve of my years and ten of StreetInvest’s, can I really say that things have changed for street children? As we speak, children in Kenya and Ghana are being forcibly removed from the streets. Bundled into the back of vans “for their own good”. In India, children found on the street have a week to go back home or be incarcerated in government orphanages. Here in our own country, StreetInvest now has primary research to go with the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that the needs of young people are rising alarmingly at a time when youth service provision is being decimated (along with lots of other services). The fundamental and sad truth is that we (everywhere around the world) continue to see young people who fall out of the system and end up on the street as either victims or criminals. They are troubling and troublesome and we often remain scared, ignorant and largely helpless in what to do.
What I have learned is the vast bulk of these young people are like our own children – but with greater challenges and with fewer opportunities. They have been let down, neglected and abused by those who are supposed to support and nurture them and, as they become more and more detached from all the things we would like them to do, we offer them less and less options for a positive future.
What I have really learned is that, if we take the trouble to listen to these children, we will understand their strengths and potential and be inspired. And if we are inspired, then things really will change.
StreetInvest has been in it for a decade. Our co-founder was in it for four decades. How wonderful if we could get more people, many more people to come on this journey with these children. That is why today, the International Day for Street Children is the day we launch our campaign “Real Change takes Lasting Support”. Please join us.