Our Story‌

In the late 1970s, a group of students of Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Mumbai, ventured into the informal settlements of Jogeshwari as a part of a college placement. Their work in the slum inspired them to draw up a full-fledged programme for underprivileged youth; the chief objective being to develop a rights-based approach to address structural inequalities and respond to the issues of the most poor and marginalised. They believed that when the oppressed were made aware of these inequalities, they would come together to address them. Thus the programme aimed to develop a young leadership among vulnerable populations who could steer the ship of their development, where social change would be born of their command.

A few years later, on 30 August 1984, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) was formally registered as a voluntary development organisation supporting and empowering the oppressed and marginalised by primarily concentrating on their human rights.

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In the formative years, YUVA’s intervention aimed at community organisation and development through the youth of Jogeshwari and Cross Maidan in Mumbai. The work concentrated on channelising the energies of the youth encouraging them to participate in the development of their community. Simultaneously there were many immediate issues that YUVA addressed as well; this work tended to be responsive in nature. From police harassment of the youth to the lack of schools for children living on the pavements and streets; from issues of forced evictions to the access to basic services and the establishment of legal identity (through ration cards and electoral rolls). Within a few months, our growing presence in the community was recognised by a group of women who approached YUVA in search of a way for them to get organised and involved. Taking this opportunity, YUVA began working on the strategic and practical gender needs of women in slum and pavement communities that was based on the axiom that “Personal is Political”, i.e. any issue faced by a woman as an individual, is a collective issue.


In 1986, massive evictions and deportations of pavement dwellers in Mumbai forced us to expand the scope of our intervention and this period saw a realignment of our focus areas to include housing and habitation. To further address the issue, YUVA initiated the formation of the Committee for Right to Housing (CRH) at the city-level and National Campaign on Housing Rights (NCHR) at the national level.

This change in the course of work reminded us that community development in isolated communities was inadequate for large-scale social change. So we formulated a model of integrated work on related human rights issues, which would comprise housing rights as also women’s rights, youth and children’s rights across the city of Mumbai. YUVA also constituted a Legal Resource Centre for policy work on women and law, labour rights and tenant rights, with a professional support team for research, documentation and media advocacy.


Following the riots between Hindus and Muslims in 1991-92, YUVA understood the need to work on addressing the divisive forces of religion, caste, etc. The Latur earthquake in 1993 saw YUVA extend its response mechanism from man-made disasters to natural disasters as well. In the light of our experiences we developed 5 non-negotiable core values that would be the underlying principles of YUVA’s work; namely, Social Justice, Gender Justice, Honesty and Integrity, Secularism and Democracy and Environmental Sustainability.

This period was also marked by the opening up of the Indian economy to the global market through the New Economic Policy of 1991. At this juncture we realised that the State is no longer the only actor; the increasing prominence of the market led us to develop the People’s Organisation and People’s Institution (PO/PI) Model. Under this model YUVA catalysed the formation of numerous people’s organisations to address the socio-political and economic issues of several communities.

The opening up of the market further led to the understanding that the issue of poverty could not be tackled solely in the urban areas. This led us to expand our worldview to include the urban-rural linkages. The entrance of the programmes into rural areas, especially around Nagpur, would eventually lead to it becoming a centre for YUVA to initiate a host of urban and rural interventions.

In this phase two new sectors of work were also initiated – the social security and legal protection of the unorganized sector as well as the strengthening of urban local governance through the implementation of the Constitutional 74thAmendment Act in Maharashtra.


While YUVA’s geographical area and spectrum of activities expanded, the need was found to systematise its intervention processes. While our core values remain the same throughout the organisation, we strongly felt the need to bring greater depth in our individual focus. In this light, YUVA India decentralised its work. From 2001, we began functioning as a collective of 4 inter-linked entities: YUVA Urban (working on issues of urbanisation, migration), YUVA Rural (working on issues of natural resource management), YUVA Consulting (to undertake development consultancy based work) and YUVA Central (working on building the capacities of civil society groups and all its actors to understand the continual changes in the socio-political environment, and design appropriate interventions at all levels).


This phase saw a renewed emphasis on policy and practice change and model building with many policy interventions ranging from commenting on policies, initiating networks and collective efforts, collaborating with government committees to prepare a policy etc. YUVA Urban collectively worked on the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Policy, Water Policy, Campaign for adoption of UN Guidelines on Development based evictions and displacement, Campaign on Sanjay Gandhi Niradar Yojana (SGNY), Campaign for Protection Officers in Domestic Violence Act, Campaign on Social Security, Maharashtra Youth Policy, etc. Model building was initiated with regard to implementation of the Area Sabha along with a campaign for a Community Participation Law. This period also witnessed the gradual shift of YUVA Urban from the Mumbai region to various towns of Maharashtra and also to the eastern Indian states of Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, etc.


In 2012, YUVA entered an in-depth strategic planning process, which resulted in the decision to work on three core areas: Poverty, Environment and Governance. Within these defined areas our work would be categorised as is below:

Simultaneously, our field of work expanded from a largely urban-centric focus to include several rural areas as well. This shift emerged from a realisation that YUVA’s work on migration needed to have a more regional focus. This entrance into new spaces meant that YUVA was taking on the form of a national organisation and so we set up a National Desk in Delhi.

YUVA’s drive engage citizens in the decision-making processes amounted in the setup of Basic Service Centres, Migration Centres and Child Resource Centres situated in the community itself. These centres create a space for the masses to participate, debate and decide on issues of urban governance and planning. YUVA has always emphasised the involvement of children in this process, so that their views are incorporated in the development dialogue. Our parallel work on the prevention of child rights violation has resulted in the strengthening of engagements with protection systems and policymakers.

To strengthen work on governance issues, the Right to the City Campaign was initiated at the national level. In addition to this, our longstanding work with informal settlements and informal workers led us to intervene in the revision of Mumbai’s Third Development Plan. Through numerous partnerships this involvement eventually evolved into Hamara Shehar Mumbai, a people’s campaign on urban planning and governance.

YUVA has also been deeply engaged on campaigns on the right to water and sanitation in Mumbai. The Pani Haq Samiti brought to focus fundamental rights of water and sanitation and a stand against water privatization in informal settlements. We are also part of the Right to Pee Campaign that has been advocating for free sanitation facilities for women across the city.