Below are a few questions to begin this conversation thread:
What values and practices provide a foundation for relationships between peers, mentors and leaders that enable growth and connection?
How can organizations/groups/individuals effectively balance empowering youth to work independently while guiding and mentoring them?
How can leaders model effective self-care?
We encourage our Generation Change fellows to practice self-care by maintaining a network of likeminded peers. During our in person workshops our fellows pair off with another fellow to organize a "peer mentoring" partnership. The peer mentoring program consists of 6 months of regularly meetings to discuss challenges and share successes within their programming. By sharing difficulties with a likeminded person, who often face the same struggles, allows participants to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles and to learn from each other’s past experiences.
This approach interests me for a number of reasons. We've been leading global education programs in our community with marginalized youth, and one of the things we've similarly learned through that process is that it can be very powerful for young people to realize that their struggles with violence, poverty, discrimination or other challenges are shared with others around the world.
I'm also interested in the peer mentorship model because we've been trying to identify ways to support youth who participate in our programs to maintain the levels of energy and engagement to continue working on the issues that matter to them over time. It would be interesting to explore whether a peer mentoring process might be adapted for our programs... do you have a specific process for pairing the fellows off based on issues or other criteria? Also, is there a specific focus for the regular meetings or is more of an informal check-in?
I think you bring up some great points. I'm interested, particularly, in this issue that we seem to have across the board of maintaining engagement. I'd love to know what your thoughts are on why there's a struggle to maintain momentum and energy. Within the context of your own programs, what kind of spaces or tools (digital or not) would perhaps help preserve momentum?
This is a really great question and I would be very interested in hearing the strategies and tactics others have used to maintain momentum among youth once they are engaged in human rights or other social issues. Our summer leadership program for youth brings together students from different communities which makes face-to-face meetings difficult. We've been reflecting on ways that we could keep them connected digitally or otherwise help provide them with support and encouragement that they may or may not have in their own schools or communities. I know Dina has also been thinking about this question and may have additional thoughts and questions...
Excellent questions and challenges around maintaining active engagement! As Nicole mentioned one of our challenges with our summer leadership program is the different communities that students are from as well as the challenge of reliable and affordable transportation within the communities that are locally close to our institution. We’ve been considering a few possibilities for on-going engagement.
1. A youth advisory council or group that could meet in person every few months.
2. Creating touch-points once a month with youth that have attended our summer program. This could be a guided on-line discussion that includes working toward planning a shared event everyone participates in and those that couldn’t attend physically could participate in some fashion virtually.
3. A peer mentoring partnership between students from different communities interested in exploring the same issues and challenges that may be manifested in a variety of ways depending on the community they are from. This mentoring partnership with guidelines and facilitation on our part, could lend itself to deeper understanding of the many ways poverty, discrimination, access to education, homelessness, food insecurity, etc. play out in different communities and open the door to shared ideas for solutions and building bridges between these communities.
During a 2008 needs assessment in Montreal, 79 young people and 107 youth program workers had an opportunity to share their views on the elements of youth programs that were most important to them. Their responses included: having fun, having the opportunity to make friends, being able to speak, to be listened to and heard, being respected; not facing discrimination, bullying or abuse because of their age, skin colour, sex, style, physical appearance or ideas; being able to make a difference in their personal lives and in their community; being informed (of what is going on here and elsewhere); having a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities and the means to have them respected.
The issue of youth participation in activities hinges as much on the number of youth who participate as on their level of involvement (practical input, personal involvement, etc.). While a number of elements influence the level of youth participation and involvement in activities, some key factors are required:
Equitas. (2012). Speaking Rights --human rights education toolkit for youth 13-17
We started our work at Youth Philanthropy Connect on the principle that bringing people of a similiar experience (youth grantmaking) together will create magic...and it has! We are four years in and convening across the US in 5 places this year with youth philanthropy programs: http://www.fcfox.org/ypc-story/ypc-gatherings/
One of the publications I have found very helpful is this: http://www.geofunders.org/resource-library/all/record/a0660000008GpukAAC
And, to help us maintain our momentum, we meet with our Youth Leadership Team by video-conferencing once a month with many emails/texts inbetween to discuss and move forward the work of the orgnization: http://www.fcfox.org/ypc-story/ypc-leadership-team/
One way the London Youth Advisory Council has empowered me is by simply giving me a title. It sounds kind of silly, maybe even superficial, but ever since becoming a "Youth Ward Councilor" the way I think abut myself and my abilities as a youth has radically changed. Being a councilor has allowed me to attend events I never would have thought of before; introduce myself to people who I wouldn't have had the courage to do otherwise; take initiative on a project addressing an issue I care about; stand up in front of City Council and make sure they knew what I think should be included in the Municipal budget; facilitate conversations with other youth about the everyday politics in their lives; and the list goes on and on.
I think having a title impacted so much because I felt a reasonability to live out the role and I quickly made it a significant part of my identity. Looking back I realize these are all things I could have done as "plain old" Nicole. When my time comes to move on from LYAC I will take my new sense of identity and abilities with me, regardless of my title.
How do we get youth to realize that they don't need a fancy title or position of power before they can go outside their comfort zone, get engaged and create change? What is preventing them from already doing these things?
What fantastic points, Nicole. Couldn't agree with you more. There's definitely something to say about fostering the kind of work/volunteer environment that inspires a sense of ownership in the cause. If you're given a title and mentioned on the organization's webpage, your personal profile, especially if you're a young person and just starting out, can certainly get a huge boost. There's a certain sense of legitimacy this fosters on several different levels. Not only, as you mentioned, do you feel empowered to act because there's an official body supporting you, but external actors take you more seriously as well.
So, maybe, youth do need a fancy titles and that's okay.
I think this feeds into a larger discussion about moving away from relegating young people to unofficial, unrecognized volunteer-type positions. Even if the position is unpaid and part-time, it ough to be represented on websites, social media accounts, etc as a valuable part of the combined effort, not just a cog in the machine. Not only is this beneficial for career development, but it's a fantastic way to motivate and inspire sustained involvement.
People to People International (PTPI) is a global network of more than 23,000 members—many of them youth—who are committed to engaging and growing in their understanding of other people and cultures. We've been around for almost 60 years (we were founded by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956), so the involvement and enthusiasm of young people is crucial for giving ongoing vitality to our mission.
One of our primary models for youth engagement looks to balance a sense of empowerment with the guidance youth need to make an effective and sustainable difference. Our chapter network includes approximately 80 groups of students in countries from Ecuador to Egypt, Germany to South Korea, who meet regularly to experience other cultures, learn about global challenges, lead projects that address cultural misunderstanding, and connect with other PTPI members around the world. Students take on leadership roles, direct projects from idea to execution, handle chapter finances, and market and recruit, all under the guidance of a competent adult leader—often either a teacher or parent.
One of the aspects that makes our student chapters so successful, I think, is students' ability to pursue projects and connections that are meaningful to them and their communities while operating within the framework that PTPI establishes. We encourage and promote students' innovative approaches through social media, our blog, and award monies that support project development. This sort of reinforcement, as well as guidance from the adult advisor, helps students to focus on the needs we as an organization have identified while personalizing their experience as a member of PTPI. Many of these students have gone on to great pursuits after their time in a PTPI chapter—founding nonprofit organizations, pursuing public service, or continuing to advocate for global understanding in their daily lives.
From my experience being a youth involved in various volunteer groups and organizations, I believe that the key to growth and connection among members is having an attitude of friendship and mentorship. Friendship includes encouraging one another, making an effort to know and care about each other, and being authentic in your interactions. Mentorship involves challenging each other to go outside of your comfort zone or to grow a new skill, giving advice about past experiences, exposing each other to new ideas and sharing your knowledge with others.
How does your organization practice friendship and mentorship?
Whatever role you ever find yourself in, you should seek to get a mentor; whether it is an executive or non-executive role. A mentor doesn't have to be formal - but you should always try and have an external and more experienced person to sounds things against - you'll really appreciate it if you ever feel lonely or isolated on a paritcular issue.
I strongly encourage young people to seek mentors. As a young person, I have benefited immensely having a highly respected mentor and advocate. Having a mentor has also taught me how to be a mentor to younger colleagues. Mentors can open doors to opportunities, give crucial guidance about career decisions, and provide insight that less experienced professionals may not possess.
Here is how I’ve found mentors in the past:
Here is another article on finding a great mentor.
Just to add, I think it is critical at whatever stage in your career that you have a mentor to challenge you and help you develop. I think if we continuosuly split our 'best practice' between young people and 'adults' then we risk undermining the participation of younger folk who add just as much to the table. This is about ensuring everyone, irresepctive of age reachers their potential by working with people who are more exeprienced than they are (that doesn't necessarily mean they are older!).
It's been great to read your insightful perspectives on mentorship! I’d be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on how peers can support one another and practice self-care. What are the different kinds of peer mentoring structures you have created or seen before? What are some lessons that you have learned along the way?
I just wanted to add another thread on the question of self-care... this has been something we have been grappling with as we deal with more difficult and emotional topics with youth, and as we work with more youth who may have experienced trauma in their lives. In engaging in human rights work, it is so important to equip youth (and everyone) with some tools to sustain engagement despite the intensity of the stories and experiences that can be encountered during the process. A lot of our reflection activities invite students to connect with their emotional reactions to difficult content, and we want them to move through their emotions in a healthy way.
The past couple years, we have experimented with adding more mind-body activities to GATE, our summer leadership program for youth. For example, we organized sessions where students practiced being present with other people and tuning into their surroundings. Students also participated in movement-based activities and reflection to encourage them to pay attention to their thoughts and the experiences in their bodies. The idea was to increase their awareness of the ways they experience and integrate difficult emotions so they can better take care of themselves.
Can anyone recommend tools or activities to support the emotional well-being of youth that are interested (or already engaged) in human rights work?