Work the Change: How to put Young People at the Centre of Social Impact

The Prince's Trust's recent YouGov survey on the causes of youth anxiety focused on young peoples’ fears of failing to cope at school or work and joblessness; and as CEO Martina Milburn said, "a generation who fear their ability to shape their own future is slipping away from them".

The statistics from the Princes Trust show that these fears are on the rise in the 16-25 bracket – 50% say it is harder to get a job than last year, 41% that they are more concerned about the state of politics than they were last year. The over-riding picture is one of a young population no longer confident in its ability to affect necessary change. At a time when the vast majority of young people voted Remain, yet face the prospect of the British exit from the European Union defining much of their working lives, it is hardly surprising that so many feel disenfranchised and anxious. When young people feel that their futures are out of their control, initiatives that seek to empower young people to create social impact, and to train them as new social mission leaders are more important than ever.

Key to tackling these feelings of disenfranchisement, anxiety, and stress is by recognising the importance of resilience and confidence within education – and by developing programmes that integrate these skills into the school environment. Rather than leaning into the competitive spirit of grammar schools, we must give young people opportunities to build co-operative practice, teamwork and leadership before they are in the job market. We must place more emphasis on the skills of the workplace to make the transition easier, and to encourage young people to see ongoing education and a successful career as mutually beneficial parts of adulthood.

At notdeadfish we’re passionate about projects that put young people at the centre of their operation, empowering them to educate themselves, and enabling them to take responsibility for their learning and lives. We believe that it’s important for young people to be able to affect change, not just because it’s good for them, but because it’s good for everybody. We know that peer education can be incredibly powerful for young people, and some of the people we work with do great work improving outcomes for young people by helping them improve outcomes for each other.

Peace Child International’s projects are an interesting example of how the skills and creativity of young people can be harnessed and multiplied in models that invest in employability and entrepreneurship, and how quickly they can become self-sustaining. For example, to help women and young people in their programmes across Africa they have created a virtuous circle of young people trained to train and mentor others, improving their ability to create jobs that fuel economic development, create more jobs and boost further development. 

Similarly, Peace Child’s UK programme Work the Change is based on the idea that there is as much value in teaching as there is in learning. The programme identifies those at risk of becoming NEETs [not in education, employment or training] and enables their older peers to work with them to build confidence and foster qualities employers demand including self-reflection and personal responsibility, and providing practical information on researching job opportunities, CV building, and interviewing.

Part of the point is to develop the entrepreneurship and employment skills embedded in the courses, but the other part is to develop confidence in those skills by employing them and teaching them in a peer-to-peer delivery model that creates a trickle-down of knowledge and confidence throughout a school, and across the entire school system. The value of such youth-led approaches is not simply that they enable programmes to maximise their impact at a time when funding is tight, but that it co-produces social impact with young people, helping them to reach their goals rather than simply act as fodder for charity impact reports.

Educating and empowering young people not only builds their resilience but also boosts the longevity and power of a programme. At notdeadfish we’re passionate about initiatives, such as the work of Peace Child International, that put young people at the centre of creating social impact, and projects that work to create new social leaders, especially among those who are traditionally excluded from the world of social entrepreneurship. We’re working on an ongoing project to develop a better understanding of youth-led projects in the sector and we would love to hear about any case studies that our readers and clients have been involved with.

For more information about Peace Child International, contact Rob Giddings, at rob@peacechild.org or visit www.peacechild.org