Making Youth Engagement Practical
The power of youth engagement cannot be underestimated. At the Philea Forum 2023, young people from Kenya, Croatia, Turkey, and Ukraine captivated the audience with their compelling statements on how philanthropy can create a better world for young people. They called on philanthropy to create an enabling environment that allows young people to take initiative in their communities and prioritise their mental health and well-being. In the midst of economic, social, and political inequality, including the climate crisis, young people are impacted in different ways.
As a youth delegate, Nina Topić, a UNICEF Ambassador for the Rights of Children and Young People, emphasised the importance of promoting effective youth-adult partnerships. Europe needs youth, and the world needs youth. For Nina, the Forum demonstrated that it is in the best interest of everyone to promote effective youth-adult partnerships.
“When young people and adults work together, we can unlock new ideas and innovations to address challenges, and that is why we also need more young people at the Forum for next year. Six youth delegates for this year are not enough. We need more of us,” – Nina Topić
The youth delegates want to see the applause and commitment from their adult allies translated into action. We want to be more involved in the work of philanthropy, from youth programme planning implementation to monitoring and evaluation. So, we ask you, philanthropy, to invite us, said Antonio Šimundža, youth delegate from Croatia. The young people put forward two calls to action in their recommendations for philanthropy.
- Philanthropy should support initiatives that empower young people and make a progressive investment that encourages them to act on their agency. Young people want philanthropy to create and invest in an enabling environment that will allow them to be more engaged, connected, and committed to ensuring opportunities for themselves and the communities they represent.
- They also want philanthropy to see them as equal partners, not just beneficiaries of projects and initiatives. Young people want to have an equal say every step of the way, included in all decision-making processes that impact their lives. They want a meaningful, sustainable, and mutually beneficial partnership for both youth and their adult allies.
The call to action highlights the importance of empowering and supporting the next generation of changemakers and more reason to see more youth delegates at the Forum next year.
For the youth delegates, what made their participation meaningful and effective at the Forum, despite being a small delegation, was the support they received from Philea ahead of the Forum, which helped them prepare and ensure that they were able to represent youth voices and concerns from the countries and communities they represented. The youth delegates recommended that all young people be given such support before, during, and after conferences.
- Make young people understand their significance and role.
Inviting young people to participate in a conference is just the first step. To truly engage young people, they need to understand the why, what, how, and when of their involvement. We can’t assume that they know and understand what to do, especially if they were not involved in the planning process leading up to the conference. Understanding the significance of young people’s involvement means making them know why it is important for them to be there. Young people can easily feel intimidated or anxious among other professionals, especially high-profile people. The key is to make young people feel valued and respected. You need to let them know that they are experts and professionals in their own right and that no one can think or represent their view of the world better than them.
- Capacity building and training for young people:
If you want to set young people up for success, capacity building and training are crucial. We can’t assume that the young people we invite to conferences can be on stage and speak like a politician or expert who has done public speaking all their lives. Young people need to be trained in public speaking and other relevant topics, such as networking, pitching their work, and using social media platforms to promote their participation and brand during conferences. We can’t just throw young people into conferences and expect them to know what to do. By providing youth with the necessary training and skills, we can help them succeed and make the most of their conference experience. We need to invest in the next generation of leaders by giving them the tools they need.
- Create a safe space for youth and provide ongoing onsite support:
Creating a safe space for young people at conferences is essential. In a conference space made up of hundreds of people, young people need their own space to reconnect with each other, relax, plan for their session, and even take a break from everyone if they need to. Sometimes, these spaces can be overwhelming, and it’s important to give young people options to unplug if they want to. We need to recognise that young people have unique needs and experiences, and we need to create a space that is inclusive and welcoming for them. By providing a safe space for young people, we can help them feel more comfortable and confident in their participation. This can lead to more meaningful and productive moments for youth.
It’s inspiring to see the intentional approach of Philea in providing the youth delegates with capacity building and training and creating a safe space for them during the Forum. It’s important for all institutions that wish to engage young people to provide this basic support for youth.