I’m Jackson, a member of Plan International USA’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The YAB is a group of youth that advocates for, and provides perspectives on behalf of, youth within the organization. I just completed my second year on the YAB and am coming up on four years of engagement with Plan in general. As a result of these milestones, I wanted to reflect on my engagement with Plan and express hope for the future of Plan and the YAB.
I was first introduced to Plan in June 2013 in Cajamarca, Peru, where I was working with a different organization that partnered with Plan to place youth in different communities throughout the region and advocate for community development projects. I was impressed with Plan’s mission, which focuses on grassroots development. I also felt that the structure Plan provided took pressure off of me, because it guided and organized the various projects I worked on during my time in Cajamarca. Furthermore, Plan was well-known in communities where I visited, lending further legitimacy to our efforts. The nearly universal acknowledgement of Plan as a benevolent presence in the community impressed and stuck with me as I continued to look for ways to engage in international development work after leaving Peru.
When I returned home, Plan phased out of my daily life for some time though I tried to stay engaged through updates on the website and communication with a few Plan staff members in Peru. Eventually I learned about the YAB and bided my time until an application cycle opened in early 2015. I was excited to join a group of motivated youth to help influence the organization that had impacted me so much in years prior. Immediately, I was impressed by the individuals on the board. They were all well-spoken and passionate about a wide range of social issues for which they unapologetically advocated. I have now seen individuals cycle off and on the YAB, and this statement has held true year after year.
I have seen the YAB morph and progress during my short tenure with the group. We have grown in many ways, from working on individual projects related to, yet separate from, Plan’s work, to engaging on a more frequent basis with members of Plan’s staff, including partnering with staff by working in Plan’s offices during retreats in Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island. The scope of the YAB’s work has gradually increased over time, yet the push for youth engagement and voice has remained at the heart of the group. I have personally enjoyed taking on a variety of roles as the needs of the YAB have developed over time.
One of the more significant experiences I have had while working with the YAB has been to develop and implement the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2016. The goal of this program is to bring youth from across the country to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals and how they can put them into practice in their communities. One core aim of the YLA was to demonstrate to youth that they can be change agents in their own communities, and that the voices of youth are critical in the public sphere. Working on the YLA required frequent collaboration between members of the YAB and Plan staff. Some YAB members developed workshops or attended the YLA, shaping the program at every step of the process. This included creating the application and driving the selection process in its entirety. I took a lot away from this experience, as it resulted in the creation of a tangible product borne from the partnership of the YAB and Plan, to create an experience that engaged passionate and thoughtful youth from across the country.
This past summer, I was also given the opportunity to attend the German Youth Advisory Panel’s Youth Action Summit near Hamburg and found the experience nothing short of illuminating.
Engaging with another youth board convinced me more than ever of the importance of these groups within Plan — to provide youth perspective and convey the unique passions youth bring to the table in public forums. Germany’s Youth Advisory Panel has a greater focus on advocacy. I saw the product of their various successful advocacy campaigns, which depend on close collaboration between staff and youth members. Seeing these ideas and projects in progress reaffirmed my commitment to Plan, and youth engagement in particular, as I returned to my own YAB.
Building on these experiences, I am incredibly excited for what the future holds for myself and the YAB at Plan USA. Currently, my primary role involves engaging internationally with other YABs, like the German group, to find areas for collaboration and models that can be applied to our own work. In the coming days, I will be traveling to Ecuador for the summer where I hope to meet and engage with the Ecuadorian YAB. I am optimistic for the future of our YAB and consider myself lucky to have been a member of the group for the past two years.