Youth play a critical role at all levels of Plan International USA’s work, both in the U.S. and in its program work abroad. Plan strives to give youth a voice and a platform both in their communities and in organizational decision-making through its Youth Advisory Board (YAB).
I found out about Plan’s YAB while participating in the 2016 Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) over the summer.
The YLA was a week-long program for high school youth to enhance their leadership skills and civic participation in order to organize and carry out a Leadership Development Project. Our projects are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a series of goals created in 2015 to minimize and find solutions for issues like poverty, gender inequality, and climate change. By the end of the week, I was determined to continue learning more about Plan, its work, and the people who carry it all out. In my eyes, the first step was applying to the YAB, a youth-led group with members between the ages of 12 and 22, which advises all of Plan’s work, including discussions with the Board of Directors, was the first step in doing this.
To me, the YAB was also a place where I could flourish, as a young person and as a global citizen. The idea of having some influence in an organization like Plan, thus translating into some influence in the world, was very appealing to me. I thought that maybe this could be the beginning of my journey to leave a footprint on the world. Being very passionate and aware of the social injustices of our world, I felt like I would fit in well with the YAB and its cause.
After submitting my application and receiving a letter of recommendation from my advisor, I learned in early December that I had been accepted to the YAB, and that in January I would be attending my first weekend-long YAB retreat. Being just a freshman in high school with minimal experience in the world of Plan (and in the world in general), I had kept my expectations low when applying. So, you can probably imagine my excitement upon receiving my acceptance email!
Not long after being accepted, I had my first YAB conference call and got to meet in-person with my mentor and fellow YAB member, Nadyah, who is also a member of Plan’s Global Youth Advisory Panel. Through this meeting, I was able to get a better idea of how the YAB actually works.
The YAB has bi-annual retreats, in January and August each year. The January retreat, in particular, serves as an opportunity to set new goals, organize new subcommittees, and reflect on the successes and challenges of the past year. Being one of five new members, joining the YAB at this time of year gave an immediate sense of freedom and responsibility in shaping the agenda for the year ahead. I felt that I had much to contribute in building community, and that everyone’s ideas were important, relevant, and valuable.
Throughout the weekend, we had a number of sessions, workshops, and activities during which new members familiarized themselves with the group; old members caught up with each other; and all members learned new skills and developed strategies to aid us in our work. We participated in a variety of workshops, from practicing how to make professionally designed flipcharts, to learning how to facilitate a discussion, to contributing to Plan’s organizational strategy.
Going on this retreat was so far out of my comfort zone. Being a quiet introvert at heart, the idea of spending nearly 72 hours with a group of people I barely knew was daunting. In spite of this, I made it a point to take that step and fully immerse myself in the group, and I’m really glad I did.
By the end of the retreat the YAB agreed on five new goals to meet by December 2017:
- Increase engagement with Plan staff and really make ourselves accessible and useful to promote youth engagement in Plan’s work.
- Increase the YAB’s visibility through Plan’s blog and social media channels.
- Work towards collaborating on a project with another Plan YAB in a developing country.
- Carry out the Green Initiative that works towards making Plan’s DC and RI offices more environmentally friendly.
- Continue to support and engage domestic youth through programs like Plan’s Youth Leadership Academy.
For me, one of the most important outcomes from this retreat was being able to meet and connect with other members of the YAB, and to get a firsthand look into the YAB’s work. I think that is what makes the YAB so special. It gives youth a voice in Plan’s work and programming.
Considering Plan’s influence, empowering youth in this way is really powerful and further separates it from other organizations around the world.