Vision and Guiding Principles

Who we are: The Global Alliance – Cities4Children

We are an interdisciplinary Global Alliance of over 25 organisations. Together, we strive to ensure that child rights are firmly embedded in the urban agenda. Our approach is people-centred, participatory, inclusive and protects the planet. We are committed to creating a fundamental change in how we and others tackle the huge challenges and numerous issues faced by children and young people living in urban areas, especially the most marginalised.

Our name is a shorthand for our concerns. We are concerned with children, young people and their caregivers. We are also concerned with all urban areas: cities, towns, peri-urban areas and informal settlements in stable, developing and fragile contexts.

Our vision: Cities where children and youth thrive

We work for maximum impact for children, youth and their caregivers. We want to see urban areas that are planned, designed and managed to support children and youth to reach their highest potential. We want urban areas where children and youth can grow up healthy, safe and happy, where they have access to opportunities and where the rights of children, youth and their caregivers are respected.

Our Guiding Principles

1. We are building a movement

We work for maximum impact for children, youth and their caregivers. We want to see urban areas that are planned, designed and managed to support children and youth to reach their highest potential. We want urban areas where children and youth can grow up healthy, safe and happy, where they have access to opportunities and where the rights of children, youth and their caregivers are respected.

2. Respect for children and youth

Our mandate comes from the marginalised children, youth and their caregivers who we aim to support. Our role is to amplify their voices to ensure that their right to participation is respected. It is for their benefit that we work, and we strive to be responsive to their needs and receptive to their voices. Interventions conducted without the transparent and meaningful participation of these groups could cause them harm. Instead, we strive to create an enabling environment where the most marginalised children and youth are safe to claim their rights.

3. Better for children, better for all

If the most marginalised children and youth can thrive in an urban area, then it will better support the well-being of all who live there. We aim to improve conditions for everyone. Part of this work lies in supporting all people, especially children and the most marginalised, to engage in the governance of their communities and cities.

4. Child rights, not quick fixes

Urban areas where children’s rights are respected and protected are at the centre of our vision for sustainable urban development. We are committed to focusing on the causes of rights violations and finding long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. This requires systemic change so that children’s rights are respected and integrated into how urban areas are planned, built and managed.

5. Challenges create opportunities

Vulnerable urban areas create a vulnerable global system. Key challenges include climate change, conflicts, disasters, violence, displacement, the scale and pace of urbanisation, growing slum populations, the urbanisation of poverty, the impacts of COVID-19 and how to coordinate different stakeholders and layers of governments. Yet we also have an opportunity to influence urban development for the good of all. An estimated 60% of the areas that will accommodate the rapidly expanding urban population by 2030 still need to be built. Now is the time to place children and youth on the urban agenda to shape cities that are just, equal and environmentally conscious.

6. Social justice

The Global Alliance is committed to social justice and understanding how power structures such as race, class, gender, migration status, age and other axes of privilege and power affect children’s and youth’s access to rights in the urban context.

7. Climate justice

Urban areas are also central to addressing climate change. Cities occupy 2% of the Earth’s surface but produce over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigating climate change in urban areas will ensure a better world for future generations. We are inspired by the children and youth climate movements, and we will support their work in cites.

How we create change

1. We inspire change

Good ideas excite us. We seek them and pursue them and invite others to contribute and share. We aim to show what success looks like when cities are fit for children by making good practice visible. We continuously look for examples of success in different cities and neighbourhoods, by different organisations. We talk about, communicate and share success stories widely, to amplify and inspire ideas and change.

2. We keep an open mind

We believe that upholding children’s rights is a collective responsibility where children and youth can benefit from our combined efforts, knowledge and experience. Everything we do is guided by a spirit of participation and sharing. We invite diverse viewpoints in our work and share the learning widely so that everyone can feel able to contribute to our vision of urban areas where children and youth can thrive, and their rights are protected.

3. We embrace complexity

Urban areas are complex. The challenges that children, youth and their caregivers face in these contexts are complex. But we must not try to avoid this complexity by shoehorning diverse contexts and experiences into overly broad definitions or interventions. Instead, we engage with the whole range of urban experiences, from cities, towns and peri-urban areas to informal settlements. We focus on a broad range of people, from new-borns, babies, toddlers and children to adolescents, youth and their caregivers. Each of these groups have different needs and experiences and need focused attention.

4. We bridge the gap between research and practice

Robust evidence guides our work to inform good practice. The research produced by academics is often inaccessible to the wider public and does not always reach practitioners working on the ground. Instead, we want to make research widely available in short and accessible format, such as videos and blogs.

5. We foster partnerships

No organisation can effectively engage with the wide range complex urban challenges alone. Our approach is centred on fostering collaboration and partnership between all stakeholders – both formal and informal – concerned with the well-being of children and youth in urban areas. By working together, we can achieve greater collective impact and influence, encourage multidisciplinary coordination and engagement, and enable country and city-level collaboration.

6. We work across all scales

Urban areas are integrated into larger regional and global flows and processes. Our work in urban areas needs to follow an integrated approach that works across all scales: from the neighbourhood level all the way up to the national and the global levels. Both national and local governments play a legitimate role in sustainable urban development alongside communities, civil society groups and private stakeholders. This requires collaboration and cross-sectoral partnerships between conventional thematic areas and sectors.

7. We are guided by local data

The situation of the poorest and most vulnerable urban residents – including children and youth – is often hidden by the lack of accurate data. This makes it difficult to estimate the magnitude of the problem due to the size and complexity of many urban areas. Yet much of the theory on urban development, management and planning comes from western European and north American contexts/institutions and therefore might not be suitable for adaptation to other contexts. In response to this, we are committed to careful data collection and analysis that takes seriously the lived experiences of children and youth, especially the most marginalized, in cities.

8. We reach out to the most marginalised

Many, urban residents live in poor-quality housing and work in informal employment. The lack of up-to-date and disaggregated, neighbourhood-level data makes identifying the most marginalised groups especially difficult. Many children and youth have limited access to essential support systems or basic services. They are often subject to multiple risks, hazards and exploitative relationships and may be drawn into dangerous means of survival. As a result, we have identified a set of urban groups to prioritise:

  • Individuals and families living in the most deprived slum areas and informal settlements.
  • Urban migrants, internally displaced and refugee children
  • Undocumented children
  • Children with disabilities
  • Individuals and families with tenuous legal status
  • Children connected to the street
  • Children doing hazardous work


Do you have insights, case studies, success stories, ideas, new tools, research to share with others? Please contact us and we will be delighted to include your news.