We often see changemakers as those with immense power that can shift societal norms. From politicians to civil society, to activists, we tend to view change through the eyes of social capital. However, more and more youth are being looked to for their leadership and expertise, as we seek to build a better future. And they are succeeding. From climate strikes to defending encampments, they have demonstrated how to draw support for the changes they seek.
Still, there remains resistance to having young people at the forefront of movements and heading up organizations. As we look to follow the lead of the next generation, we must strategize around how to ensure they are valued, supported, and resourced in their efforts. This is especially important for those working within the non-profit sector where youth, particularly those of colour, have a history of being exploited for their labour.
Looking ahead, there are some areas to highlight where altering organizational practices can help champion youth leading the charge.
The importance of challenging and eliminating tokenism is one of them.
Across the sector, the creation of youth advisors and councils in the name of representation has continued to become popular. Usually, they are unpaid positions aimed at inviting youth to the proverbial table of change-making. Sometimes, this can be a good first step in recruiting new folks, but without decision-making power and agency, these diversity and inclusion measures reap few benefits for anyone. Instead of tokenistic spaces, we need to recognize the labour being used and provide fair and equitable compensation. As well as moving beyond “the checkbox” and towards actively implementing the recommendations youth bring forward.
It is additionally important to recognize who is welcomed into these spaces. Privilege based on race, class, gender, ability, and immigration status often dictates which young people have the opportunity to become changemakers. When looking to learn from or highlight the work youth are doing, we cannot continue to embrace the same few people of stature, while ignoring the rest.
This also means prioritizing accessibility.
It is essential that everyone feel safe, equipped and able to engage fully. For non-profits, the common rhetoric always revolves around budgetary constraints. This then leads to the active exclusion of people who require support services, which are deemed costly. Navigating all barriers to entry should be a core priority for organizations wanting to engage with young changemakers.
A final key consideration for the sector should be how to utilize the status of organizational platforms to amplify the work already being done by youth. This could include promoting work by mobilizing social media audiences, constructing operational methods of funding grassroots movements, or sharing access to tangible resources.
Youth continue to be one of the largest driving forces behind advocating for a better world. And they are doing so in unique ways, from providing intergenerational education to reimagining how our governments and societies could operate. It is time to step back, stop offering guidance, and start learning from tomorrow’s agents of change.