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.