One of the most resonant themes within Plan International is our drive to walk the talk.
As a global humanitarian and development organization dedicated to advancing the rights of children and girls, we believe in working not for young people, but with them. Our work, spanning across 70 countries, is only strengthened when we include youth voices in each echelon of the decision-making process.
As a member of Plan International USA’s Youth Advisory Board and the broader Global Youth Advisory Panel, I experience, on both the local and international level, the impact of engaging young people in internal governance. At Plan, I work directly with our corporate partners, recently leading a Youth Gathering in Los Angeles with Nickelodeon to gain insights from young people about how media, governments, and educators can promote gender equality. I have spoken on panels about youth movements alongside policy officials in Washington, DC and led board meetings with multinational corporations in New York City. Perhaps the term Youth Advisory Board is misleading, because at Plan, young people are not “advisors” – we are leaders, stakeholders, and key decision-makers.
In November, I had the opportunity to represent the Global Youth Advisory Panel at the Members’ Assembly, the Plan federation’s highest governing body. Though the invitation was a powerful gesture, my role was not an observer but a contributing member – equal in power – to the other assembly members. I worked with the CEO and members of the Executive Team to create a list of what young people need to learn, lead, decide, and thrive in our organization: full voting rights; youth representation at each level of governance; financial and technical support for youth engagement initiatives; and a global strategy that reimagines young people as co-leaders instead of beneficiaries. Though bringing our ambitious roadmap to fruition will require time and resources, Plan is committed to taking those steps.
The very idea of engaging young people in development work undermines the implicit cultural perception of youth as underprivileged and disengaged. But with half of the global population under the age of 30, responding to the needs of young people simultaneously tackles the biggest challenges facing our world. By engaging young people in internal decision-making processes, Plan has an unwavering finger on the pulse of how youth respond to, and are influenced by, development programming.
Engaging young people – whether as part of internal governance or external advocacy efforts – is challenging. Sourcing diverse perspectives without tokenization presents a risk few organizations are willing to assume, but the benefits to your work are well worth it.
Here are my three key takeaways for meaningful youth engagement:
Don’t just offer us a seat at the table--let us order the meal. Youth voices are already excluded from most traditional institutions of power and politics. Simply creating space for young people is not enough; engage in thoughtful conversation, actively seek out youth perspectives, and offer us platforms to advocate for ourselves.
Ask us what we want, instead of assuming what we need. The power of conversation is enormously undervalued in a world driven by market research and data analysis. By asking thoughtful questions, you not only express a desire to learn from young people, but you grant us the ability to share our perspectives for further improvements.
Teach us what you know. Just as you are building a better world for the future, so are young people--and we need a diverse coalition of support to advance our agenda. Sharing your sector-specific expertise will add value to your organization while building the next generation of business owners, policymakers, and innovators.
Ready to engage young people in your work? Visit our Youth Advisory Board page to learn how to get started.
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