Young people become older people.
And it is older people who usually make the decisions and get stuff done: which public services are offered, how companies will invest; and whether to donate individually to charities.
So for all of our futures, it’s important we raise young people’s understanding and passion for the issues inherent in doing good and support them to develop the skills needed to make good decisions when they become older. While many social action initiatives are great galvanisers of young people, we could still collectively do more to put young people in charge of their own future: enabling them to make decisions on the strategy, delivery and evaluation of programmes.
As Head of the Big Lottery Fund’s Talent Match investment in London I’ve been fortunate to lead a partnership of community-based organisations working together to find solutions to long-term youth unemployment and sharing learning for social impact. Although they all use different delivery models they all have this principle of youth leadership at their heart.
As a result, our Youth Committee – a diverse group of young people from across the capital working together on programme development – argued for the budget to develop their own projects which would further their skills and their career ideas. At first I was sceptical; how would this lead to them getting jobs? How would they decide what to do and make sure it resulted in outcomes? How would the work be quality assured?
I needn’t have worried. What has resulted from these projects is far more than employment outcomes. The young people involved have become genuine community leaders making a huge difference.
They’ve shared their skills and talents to create art for a community centre; worked with local employers and job centre offices to develop youth-friendly recruitment; promoted the positive attributes of their peers so the community as a whole has a better view of young people; and raised money for causes that matter to them. While this may sound similar to what other social action programmes achieve, the context is that the young people on Talent Match London face some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable and have many times been let down and marginalised by the failure of interventions. Their ability to take leadership roles as part of their journey through the programme has raised their confidence and their resilience, given them new networks and a lot to talk about at job interviews – or the confidence to start their own businesses as the community leaders of tomorrow.
Our call is for commissioners of employment services to recognise the importance of young people’s leadership and put it at the heart of their programmes.
Steph Taylor will be leaving London Youth on Friday 16th September to take up a new opportunity with Charities Aid Foundation, There she’ll be using what she’s learnt about building effective partnerships to put people in the lead, and enable them to thrive. If you want to know more, you can read Talent Match London’s learning report here.