Power of Youth Explained

The Power of Youth Explained is a six-part series of short interactive, digital articles curated by #iwill partner organisations and Ambassadors. The series aims to bring together research, experiences and resources that not only develops the readers’ knowledge and understanding of youth social action, but helps them turn it into action. They are also designed to help your organisation put your Power of Youth Charter commitments into practice.

ARTICLE 3:

How can you support youth voice and leadership within your organisation?

A LETTER FROM THE CURATORS:

Hello and welcome to this article on how to support youth voice and leadership in your organisation.

If you want to take youth social action to the next level and bring a fresh perspective to your organisation then putting young people in the lead is the way to go! This can range from young people leading the projects they take part in, to setting up Youth Forums to recruiting young Trustees. The curators – Young Voices Heard, Groundwork, Girl Guiding and #iwill Ambassadors Gabby and Lauren

– bring you very different perspectives on youth voice and leadership and top tips on how to get started whatever sector you work in. And it doesn’t end here – as this article is by no means exhaustive of all the highlights and benefits of youth participation, please feel free to get in touch with any of us for a further exploration, advice or mentoring on this topic.

WHY DO WE NEED YOUTH VOICE?

The vast majority of young people (aged 10-20) care about making the world a better place (88%) (National Youth Social Action Survey 2019)

88%

Only 1 in 5 young People of Colour believe British culture treats all cultures equally (Time And Time Again, Beatfreeks 2021).

20%

Less than 3% of charity trustees are under 30 (Charity Commission).

<3%

9 in 10 young people feel left out of the conversation on the COVID-19 pandemic. (British Science Association).

90.5%

The Listening Fund Final Learning Report by the Centre for Youth Impact found that dedicated support (including from funding organisations) for organisations to listen to young people, “can result in significant positive change to organisational delivery and strategy, with an improved focus on and response to young people’s needs”.

A PERSPECTIVE: Nancy Doyle-Hall, Executive Director, Virgin Money Foundation

Over the last few years the Virgin Money Foundation has incorporated young people in our decision making regarding grant awards and in the design of grants programmes for young people. A decision initially made because we felt it was the right thing to do, has resulted in unexpected benefits.  I have come to realise that this act of inclusion is not simply about giving young people a voice and experiences that will benefit them as they develop their own ways of leading, it is about improving our decision making, bringing insights we would otherwise not gain, shining a light on pre-suppositions we unwittingly hold and ultimately improving the work we do. 

This time last year the Virgin Money Foundation decided it wanted to create a Youth Fellowship Programme – a six month programme of leadership training, mentoring, peer support, idea development, travel, research and implementation. We worked with partner organisation Northern Soul to sketch out the idea, excitement built.

With a loose plan in place we decided to workshop the idea with a group of young people. Over a two month period of workshops, I watched them map out a programme on whiteboards around the room, asking questions of each segment. Hannah asked how this would work for young people with poor mental health, Sophie asked how this would work for a young mum, Sam talked about young people who would hit the ground running and require less support than we envisaged, Rochelle talked about young people who might be prevented from joining in due to financial pressures. Each brought their lived experience into the conversation. With some still in school they talked in detail about the decision making points ahead of them and therefore when and how the programme should be promoted. They challenged my risk appetite, honed the mentoring offer, emphasised the critical importance of time for the cohort of young fellows to be in the same room, bouncing ideas off one another and supporting one another. They took a paper based idea we had and brought it to life.

For me supporting youth leadership and Youth Voice rests on ensuring that their contribution comes with the freedom to draw on their experiences and perspectives, not assimilating into the leadership culture of the organisation. That they have permission to challenge assumptions and believe in the validity of their view even when it differs from everyone else’s around the table. Supporting youth leadership is about celebrating the changemakers that they already are, saying thank you for the wisdom they have already brought to the work we do and having the humility to acknowledge that our work is so much better because young people have generously helped shape it.

TOP TIPS

Here are ten top tips for embedding youth voice in your organisation, pulled together by Young Voices Heard.

Discuss and agree a statement of Vision and Purpose at board/governance level, preferably informed or in dialogue with your young people (staff, volunteers, pupils, service users). The vision is the difference you want to see, and the purpose is the reason you want to see it. This will shape your strategy and be your reference point for then setting the goals for measuring success.

Young people can also inform or work on the plans to engage them and set goals that reflect their priorities too. They can help to communicate them as jointly owned. To do this you can set up a joint working group or ongoing panel/council/forum and invite young leaders/trustees from other organisations with a track record, to both establish and review your work.

Whatever you do, make it visible to first time visitors – easy to find and in formats that are accessible to all, including your stakeholders, as well as potential funders, researchers and the media. Someone searching your “organisation’s name” and “youth/student participation/ leadership” should find policies, activities, opportunities, news and any quality marks/awards, on your website and on social media.

The exact roles will depend on your purpose and strategy. A choice of roles will be more inclusive of different talents and skills and show how they can progress from being consulted to sharing/taking delegating decisions. Examples include: young advisors, programme/project/topic designers, grant-makers, recruiters, peer researchers, peer-mentors, ambassadors or trustees.

Identify staff whose role specification includes duties to support and deliver your participation and leadership strategy; champions in senior positions and trustee to support their input; and mentors/role models to support and inspire – all with an adequate budget/resource to fulfil these roles. Both staff and young people should have access to training that prepares them for their role.

Who do you want to reach and include? Who (and why) is in your target group, Then, taking account of what young people tell us are the barriers to inclusion, reach out in ways they will relate to and respond to. For example: communications in a format/language that is accessible (e.g. video), including basic skills needs or other special needs (e.g. by young ambassadors) with opportunities and at times that take account of their work or studies.

Recognition can range from naming, crediting and praising individuals and groups in communications, speeches and reports, to being included in representing your organisation externally. Rewards can range from basic expenses, to pay and accredited training in transferable skills. Success should be credited to those involved and celebrated with internal awards, letters of congratulation, or  external nomination for project or individual awards.

This should be specific, prompt, and addressed to young people, shared with your stakeholders and visible to everyone else. It can be recorded in minutes or in a letter or a report addressed to the young people/forum concerned – for example from the Chair to the Youth Advisory Board. This should be published on the website, social media and annual report. Without it young people are less likely to participate in the future.

Whether you are starting out or have a track record of youth participation you will always need to refresh your youthvoice membership as each young generation moves on (some can become peer-mentors). Priorities and expectations will be different. Young peoples feedback should be part of the review and seek this views on what should be different next year, embracing the latest means and methods to be more efficient and effective. Bring young people and innovators together, and exchange good practice with others.

What difference has your strategy of promoting youth voice and leadership made to your organisation? Has it added value to your overall vision and mission – be it to provide better services, teach more effectively, be more productive, or be more relevant and sustainable in the future? Young people’s feedback should be part of this evaluation and young researchers can help collect and analyse it. It is not just about the difference the process made to them personally, but whether it met their ambitions and expectations for your organisation.

WHAT’S THE WORD ON THE GROUND?

Check out these two case studies from organisations who have already embedded youth voice into the way they work.

Groundwork
The Roundhouse

ACROSS THE SECTORS

Examples of high quality youth social action in action across sectors:

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND OTHER RESOURCES

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KEEP UP WITH THE POWER OF YOUTH EXPLAINED

Read the previous article
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This will be published Tuesday 9th February.