Youth have been tokenized, manipulated, and seen as "check-list" items for decades. This is the time to revisit your existing strategies and partner with youth to increase organizational impact.
Traditional forms of youth engagement have limited youth to be members of society who need to be guided, controlled, and told how to live a more “positive” lifestyle. Through tokenized and invitational forms of engagement, youth voices have been limited to what governments, organizations, or companies want to hear, rather than truly working to understand the reality. These forms of youth engagement have disengaged and disconnected youth, making them feel powerless, voiceless, and incapable of contributing as active citizens to the communities in which they live. Furthermore, institutional barriers including social inequality and a lack of access to education have dramatic impacts on youth’s quality of life, which in return have downstream impacts which include limited access to opportunities for youth, and ultimately, limited ability to be active members of society.
Over the past few years, there has been a shift – a generational shift in how youth participate in civic engagement and voice their concerns. With the advancement of technology and innovation, youth have taken participatory action into their own hands. Starting a hashtag, creating a Twitter thread, speaking at poetry slams, and boycotting products are examples of ways through which youth have attempted to amplify their voices and be a part of youth-led movements.
With a strong sense of disconnect between youth and governments and organizations, where youth feel unheard and misunderstood, they have sought unique ways of engaging themselves in matters that mean the most to them. Through podcasts, video and audio production, visual art, among others, to organize community outreach and participate in lifestyle politics, youth have attempted to disrupt traditional forms of engagement which has limited their participation. The impact seen over the past few years has motivated youth to challenge the traditional models of engagement and ask for equal distribution of power at decision-making tables.
With youth-led innovation growing and speaking for itself, private and public sector organizations must shift their priorities to increase youth engagement and governance within their structures. If the objectives of organizations are to speak to youth needs, then youth must be at the forefront of guiding the policies and programs proposed by the organizations.
This guide shares three meaningful ways through which public and private sector organizations can work with youth and support a “for the youth, by the youth” approach, instead of continuing to work on behalf of youth. These include:
Organizations should have youth governance models integrated within their decision-making platforms. This starts when organizational culture, values, and bylaws support youth and their engagement within their institutions. Recognizing young people’s right to participate in decisions that impact them is one way towards a path to allyship.
Youth must be engaged in both evaluations and research practices within organizations. Organizations can practice youth integration by keeping up-to-date with regular feedback from those that they serve and addressing the challenges that may arise. Having youth lead the evaluation processes of programs and policies is one way to involve youth in making quality decisions for their communities. This is also a way to build capacity within organizations. By providing youth with the resources, mentorships, and support systems to leverage their own skillsets can lead to strengthened organizational hiring and recruiting processes.
Integrate a “youth-led innovation” incubator or sandbox within your own organization. Youth face many issues in leveraging their own ideas due to the absence of support systems and resources, whether it be networks and connections, monetary resources, or project management. Your organization can support the development of youth-led innovations to boost impact and build on youth allyship. This is a forward-thinking approach to build on your own organization’s goals and objectives, while also supporting youth innovation.
Youth are the decision-makers of the future. They will be individuals who will guide, support, and take the organization to the next level. Disengaging with them is a direct miss.
If it is for the youth, it should be guided by the youth.
Want youth to audit your current youth engagement strategies to improve how youth engage, partner, and support your organization? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.