Empowering young people

‘Give power to young people to take action. Young people have the answers to many of the problems society is facing. What can your organisation do to support youth social action today?’ Charlotte Hill, chief executive of Step Up To Serve, asks third sector leaders to listen to and work with young people.

Young people in the UK are facing a deeply divided society. The labour market is changing rapidly and opportunities for social mobility are shrinking. Brexit is creating significant uncertainties, and we will experience catastrophic climate change unless we take urgent action.

Despite these challenges, young people want to improve their communities and make the world a better place. They are taking part in meaningful social action, whether that’s volunteering, fundraising for a charity, acting as a coach or mentor, or campaigning.

For proof, you only have to look at the #YouthStrike4Climate that mobilised tens of thousands of school-age children across the UK this year.

Young people are taking action

Our latest National Youth Social Action survey shows that:

  • 82% of young people want to make the world a better place
  • 6 out of 10 young people have taken part in social action in the last 12 months
  • There is a significant gap in participation between low-income young people and their wealthier peers.

For many of the young people who haven’t got involved, it is simply because no one has ever asked them or because they don’t know how. But in order to tackle the problems facing society today, we must empower young people and ensure the opportunities to make a difference are open to them. They have the power, energy, resourcefulness, passion and commitment to bring about huge changes both within their local communities and beyond.

#Iwill aims to make youth social action the norm

The #iwill campaign was set up in 2013 to celebrate and grow all the different ways that young people are taking action. We want youth social action to be the norm for 10 to 20-year-olds so that making a positive difference to society and the environment is a natural part of growing up.

During the lifetime of the campaign, we’ve seen some impressive progress. Over 1,000 organisations have joined us as partners, including more than 370 charities and voluntary sector organisations – alongside businesses, those from the education sector, faith sectors and others. Each partner has signed an #iwill pledge to embed youth social action in a specific way.

Through the #iwill Fund, over £60m has now been invested in creating high-quality, sustainable youth social action opportunities, particularly for under-14s and for those from more deprived communities. 73% of teachers say that social action is part of their school’s culture and practice – up from 48% three years ago. And Ofsted, Defra and the NHS have all put youth voice and action at the heart of their long-term plans.

There’s so much more for organisations to do

We’ve come a long way. But there’s still a long way to go. Although much progress has been made over the last five years, participation in meaningful social action remains stubbornly fixed. So, too, does the gap in participation between low-income young people and those from more affluent backgrounds.

What more can organisations do to embed youth social action into their culture and practice?  Based on what we have learned over the last five years, there are five ways that organisations can embrace the POWER of young people to make a difference:

  • Prioritise youth social action – this can include incorporating youth social action into your organisational strategy and developing plans to support the quality, scale and reach of the opportunities provided.
  • Offer leadership opportunities – supporting young people into leadership roles within your organisation can enrich and enhance decision-making.
  • Work in partnership – working collaboratively with #iwill campaign partners, funders and schools will enable your organisation to pool knowledge, expertise and resources to enhance the opportunities you can offer young people.
  • Evaluate impact – this can include assessing the benefits for young people, the impact they are having on their communities, and the extent to which the opportunities provided are of high quality, scale and reach.
  • Recognise young people – celebrating the impact of young people can help recruit and retain young volunteers and assist organisational buy-in to maintain or grow the focus on youth social action.

With a divided country and significant challenges ahead of us this century, more than ever we need a sense of urgency to radically shift the role of young people in society. Join the #iwill movement. Pledge to the campaign. Take part in Youth Social Action Day on Wednesday 5th June as part of Volunteers’ Week.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

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