The Involving Young People Collective is made up of young people from all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives. This is how diversity should be - not as an overlooked checkbox, but as the core element of a project - because it is a strength in itself.
In early May of this year I received an exciting email from the HUDL youth development agency, which aims to diversify opportunities and increase professional development for young people, and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, one of the largest independent funders in the UK. The Foundation aims to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future and strengthen the bonds of communities in the UK. I had constantly heard about the Foundation through environmentalism; a funder who I always thought I would be far more likely to send a proposal to than receive an email from.
Valuing young people’s experiences
The email layed out a simple, but surprisingly shocking setup: they wanted to hire young people to find out how best to involve young people in their work. The young people were recruited into paid positions in the Involving Young People Collective (IYPC). This, again, surprised me about the project. Young people’s experience and time are often not valued to the same extent as an adult’s knowledge, which means positions for young people are usually not paid. From the start, the IYPC stood out as being inclusive and valuing different peoples’ capacities and experiences.
The IYPC would work together with the Foundation to produce a plan to achieve this. I was amazed that I had never heard of co-production (where the target group is involved in the design process) before, let alone taken part in a similar scheme. It seemed like a no brainer: who better suited to the task of building an inclusive system for young people than young people themselves? Young people who have valuable experience in social and environmental change in their local communities, and who know what it is like to not be thoroughly included or seen as ‘tokens’.
The power of youth
I decided to apply for the Collective as a result of my long standing passion for the creativity and power of the youth voice. I am a youth trustee on the board of the environmental charity Action for Conservation; I have experience with what works well and what doesn’t in youth involvement in decision making. I have also had the opportunity to see the potential of youth leadership through completely youth-led climate organisations like the UK Student Climate Network and the Teach the Future campaign. These experiences meant that I know how necessary the youth voice is.
Making a difference to the funding sector
The funding sector has always felt unreachable for young activists and social change makers: both detached - with the vast majority of funders being adults, and there being a lack of knowledge among young people about finance - and vital. The sector is something I always thought I would have no understanding of or be able to influence.
However, young people can bring refreshing, diverse perspectives to the funding sector, as well as their experience in making change. The IYPC can change how we view the role of funding and funders, and it was this pioneering approach that encouraged me to join.
Through co-production, we have collaborated on a working agreement and constantly rethink the dynamic working process to ensure the project is functioning as well as it possibly can. Consistent review sessions allow us young people to be engaged with the core of the Collective and ideas behind it, rather than subject to a process that might not fill its potential.
Strength in diversity
I had never been paid for my experiences as an activist before, and had the background of purely environmental education and climate justice, so deciding to join the IYPC was a jump into the unknown. This was the first time I would be collaborating with young people who worked in other sectors, such as school exclusion, mental health and racial justice.
This turned into something inherently valuable. The IYPC is made up of young people from all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives. This is how diversity should be - not as an overlooked checkbox, but as the core element of a project - because it is a strength in itself. As a result, we look at the problem of inclusivity for young people differently. I especially appreciate the regional diversity of the Collective. Too often, national projects are london-centric and ignore or exclude people from different regions. Living outside of London, I have found it helpful to have the IYPC completely virtual and to meet many other changemakers from other parts of the country.
This proved especially useful when we were giving feedback for the Foundation’s new strategy. Throughout the meeting, I was repeatedly surprised by the ideas that others were coming up with. Even something as small, but significant, as language changes, that would never have crossed my mind, influenced the tone and priorities of the strategy. This is enhanced through working with the employees of Esmée Fairbairn, whose experience in funding and practicality compliment our own perspectives.
In the future, the IYPC will continue designing, researching, trialling and implementing a scheme to integrate young people into grant and decision making at Esmée Fairbairn Foundation in an ambitious way. It may be difficult at times to balance the views of so many stakeholders, but I believe that, together, young social changemakers and adults can create more inclusive and durable solutions for empowering young people.