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Sunday, 25 September 2016

Giving young people a voice in the 3rd Sector

I recently helped run an event in Cardiff where we invited young people and charities involved with young people to attend, to hear from them about their views. We touched on community, on diversity, and to a lesser extent, on Brexit and the perceived repercussions. We had about thirty people attend the meeting, and of those thirty, we had about seven or eight young people. 

Whenever they spoke, the charities leaned in and furiously scribbled. I am sure if you are involved in the 3rd Sector, you have experienced something similar. 

I attended the Edinburgh Culture Summit this summer (see my blog on this here -http://rantingsandravingsofayoungone.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/get-cultural-and-die-trying-young.html), and the story was different. When the young people spoke, there was a real sense of anticipation in the room. The young people were challenged in their assertions, they were critiqued, they were not blindly listened to, and they were not tokenistic. It was brilliant. Being at the table, not being the young person in the room, but being a person in the room, was so enlivening and refreshing. 

In the past six months, I have begun to interact a lot more with charities and started to notice three major things:

1)  Young people are unaware of the role they can play in the running of a charity. 

The voices of young people, from what I have seen, are always gratefully received. The staggering number of other young people I have talked to who have no idea what a young trustee is, or does, highlights a need. If you are reading this and are curious about what a trustee is and what one does, read Leon Ward's brilliant article here - 
https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/aug/13/how-to-become-a-charity-trustee
It is by getting young people into positions where they can vocalise the issues of other young people fairly, without special treatment, in which we learn firstly our importance, and secondly we learn our place. As someone once told me when discussing charity roles, we learn "when to shut up". And that is also crucial. Making young people not 'special voices who are beyond reproach'. 
I think that might be why sometimes there is less appetite from charities for appointing a young person to their board, this idea of young people + soapbox = obnoxiousness.  And I am sure that is a true formula. But if the box is removed from day one, and young people are on equal footing, there is no temptation towards the end result. 

2) Charities can seem at a loss on how to engage young people

In my opinion, it is crucial for charities, especially charities with young people as key stakeholders, to be as accessible to those young people as possible. The figures betray this concept though - only 21% of charity trustees are under the age of 40. 
On top of this, as stated in Ian Joseph's blog here (http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/blogs/content/14950/its_no_wonder_young_trustees_are_hard_to_come_by?topic=&print=1), on how their trustees were recruited, "With almost half of new trustees recruited by friends of board members and existing networks, very few through work schemes and none through social media, it is little wonder that boards today lack diversity". 

Without seeming too cliché in linking young people to social media, they are key users of the platforms. Barnardo's has a brilliant social media presence, as does Oxfam, but I have seen charities relegate social media as a method of communication, in favour of newsletters. For all the effort it takes, is a tweet that difficult?

3) There needs to be a focus on effective Mentoring for Young Trustees

Once young people have found their place on the board of a charity, it is of vital importance to then give them effective support which will allow them to make the best of their talents, and evolve their ideas beyond simply that, thus making their ideas more cohesive and specific. Once in, it is no use simply allowing a young person to struggle in deeper waters than they may be used to working in, and pointing out the ineffectiveness of young trustees if they fail. 

It is important to give constructive feedback from a more experienced trustee a welcome and vocal place in the young trustee's tenure. I have been lucky enough to have several mentors, who have probed and challenged concepts and ideas. Blind nodding and inaction is no help; young people desire a place in which our ideas can be bounced off more experienced minds, that is partly the reason for this blog. 

Most importantly, it allows young people a chance to learn. It allows young people the chance to gain more experience in the often difficult waters of charity management. 

With effective mentoring in place, charities have young people who know the organisation well from having partaken in the meetings of the trustees, they have an understanding of finance and administration, they are invested, and they have a real willingness to help and work for the bettering of that charity.

And that's really the goal with young people in the 3rd Sector, isn't it?  

Joe Stockley


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