A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Over the past few weeks here in the North West we have been reading about, reflecting on and mulling over the term ‘youth leadership’. It is a term used freely by different services and organisations and it seems that there are lots of different youth leadership programmes out there but what are we talking about?
Traditionally leadership has been seen as the ability to inspire confidence and impart a vision to followers: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some are thinkers. Some are our prophets. Both roles are important and badly-needed but without followers there can be no leaders.” (1)
This view is changing, with leadership being seen more as a situational and collaborative activity, particularly when thinking about youth leadership: “I had previously believed leadership to be something led by one sole rich and powerful person, from my experience of UpRising however I now see that this isn’t so. For a leader to be successful and influential they must encompass the needs and opinions of those they lead. To me now leadership is about awareness, both of yourself and those you are leading.“ (2)
There are young leaders working in diverse areas that we can gather into four broad areas:
– Campaigning – young people take an active role in campaigning on issues that affect them or more universal issues i.e. poverty, environmental.
– Democratic – young people become representatives of other young people by standing for election to UKYP or Youth Councils.
– Governance / service design – young people have the opportunity by sitting on adult led bodies or though embedded processes influence the design management and delivery of services
– Service delivery – young people train to be able to work in a service provider role, often in a voluntary capacity i.e. training as a volunteer youth worker.
The term is also applied to peer researchers and young entrepreneurs. All of these areas of leadership have as their basis the personal and social development of young people. The skills required to take on leadership roles are those developed through good youth work that aid young people to develop as individuals and as members of groups.
But what about those organisations that are working with the young leaders – are they prepared? There is a welcome commitment to listen to the voice of young people, to involve them in service feedback and design and to involve young people as leaders and volunteers. Opportunities for young people are emerging all over the place, in libraries, the health service, museums and more. Our own experience of working with services and organisations outside youth work is that the focus is on training young people but the issues and challenges often come from within the organisations.
Looking through publications from Youth of Today, reflecting on our own experience and talking to colleagues we have come up with a number of starter questions for organisations thinking about developing a Young Leaders programme to consider:
Firstly does the organisation have a clear reason for developing young leaders? By developing a vision that has both strategic and organisational support an organisation should be clear about why they want to work with young leaders.
Is the organisation ready to work with young leaders? For young people to take on leadership roles within an organisation or project the adults running them must be willing to share and relinquish power. It is very important to make sure the adults who will be working with the young leaders post training are prepared and have had some induction or training themselves.
Is the right support available to young people? This isn’t a back door way to reduce costs using cheaper labour or volunteers. Good programmes need support and through out the process young people should be aware of the different levels and types of support available to them and how to access it.
Is there a progression route? Young people involved with youth leadership programmes gain, experience, knowledge and skills there is a role in helping them bridge the undeniable gap between civic life as a young person and as an adult.
With diminishing resources our plea is ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’, look around for those people with knowledge, experience and expertise in youth services and participation teams to work with you
North West Regional Youth Work Unit
1 Hesselbein, Frances, Goldsmith, Marshall and Beckhard Richard (eds.) (1996) The Leader of the Future, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
2 Uprising Young Foundation