If you're looking to launch a youth advisory board or initiative in your organisation, the great news is that you don't have to start from scratch. Companies have been engaging with young people in a diverse range of youth advisory initiatives for decades in a diverse range of formats and with varying levels of success.
"The further backward you can look, the farther forward you can see" - Winston Churchill
I for one am a massive advocate for not reinventing the wheel. Instead of spending copious amounts of time and resources trying to design your own youth advisory initiative from scratch, start exploring how organisations and communities around the world have implemented youth advisory engagements and see if you can find one that suits your context. Instead of spending all of that time designing an initiative from scratch, you can instead spend that time localising an existing model to your community and enhancing it further to add even more value to your organisation and the young people involved.
On this point, I will also emphasise the need for localisation. Every community, organisation and context is different and you can't always copy and paste an initiative from somewhere else and expect it to work in your context. You should always work to understand the people you are designing for, the outcomes you are hoping to achieve, and the constraints in which you are operating to localise initiatives to your context.
So, keeping the idea of localisation in mind, here are four of my favourite youth advisory initiatives from around the world and the reasons why (I think) they're awesome:
The Estée Lauder Reverse Mentoring Program
The Estée Lauder Reverse Mentoring Program is arguably one of the most successful youth advisory initiatives around the world today. Launched by the company CEO Fabrizio Freda in 2015, the program currently has over 650 participants globally, with 300 of those being senior leaders from across the organisation.
The program was launched as the company started to see flatlining sales for the cosmetic products for a primarily older demographic. As the company looked for new ways to engage with younger generations, they launched a reverse mentoring program that would see their more junior team members paired with their older senior leaders for monthly catchups.
The idea behind the program was that the younger team members would learn a great deal from 1:1 mentoring from senior leaders, but at the same time, the younger team members would add value to the more experienced leaders.
These monthly mentoring sessions would see 21-year-old employees delivering monthly masterclasses to senior leaders on topics ranging from how to use Snapchat, the latest Netflix hits, and even dating app etiquette.
This program continues today and has seen brilliant outcomes for the organisation, including increased employee retention, a breakdown of internal silos, an increase in diversity and inclusion, a sharing of digital skills and an overall shift in company culture.
Why I Love This Program: I think this is a shining example of youth advisory done right and I think it's succeeded due to a few key reasons. Firstly, it offered equal value to both the mentor and mentee. On top of this, it was led from the top as an initiative that had by in from the CEO and had senior leaders advocating for the program internally and externally. They also did an awesome job of showcasing the wins, and they also innovated out of necessity and took the initiative seriously.
The OECD Youthwise Program
In 2021 the OECD launched their Youth Advisory initiative, 'Youthwise’. This initiative saw 23 young people aged 18-30 from countries around the world as part of an 8-month program to bring youth voices into policy debates for member countries.
This program consisted of primarily older young people, with the majority of participants between 24-28 years of age. The program's primary focus appeared to be the visibility of young people in these conversations, and many participants found this a brilliant profile-building opportunity as they spoke at events, published opinion pieces and built their networks.
Over the course of this program, participants collaborated to deliver the ‘OECD Youth Action Plan’, sat on panel discussions at key events around the world, joined the ‘I Am The Future Of Work’ campaign, and hosted a series of interactive workshops with youth leaders around the world.
Why I Love This Program: This program is definitely quite different to the previous example but I love it for a whole host of different reasons, the first being the myriad of upskilling opportunities offered to the young people involved as they build their skills and experience. In addition to this, it offers participants a host of opportunities to build their personal brand as they speak at events, write thought leadership pieces and expand their networks. Finally, this program also offers those involved some truly unique opportunities to meet with ambassadors, politicians and people they otherwise wouldn't be able to meet.
The UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council
The UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council (GYAC) is an excellent example of a youth advisory program with a clear goal and exceptional outcomes. The program first launched in December of 2017 and saw 15 members aged 18-27 from around the world participating in the program. All participants in the program are refugees, and the program's key focus is to engage young people in policy and practice to further advance UNHCR’s work with and for young people.
Throughout the program, participants have a great deal of freedom to make change how they see fit. Participants often consult with their communities and feedback ideas, bring a youth perspective to policy through videos and blog posts, review and provide feedback on policies for UNHCR, and organise events and activities for displaced youth in their communities.
A highlight of this program is how tangible the outcomes are. Over the course of the program, participants engage in high level activities such as those mentioned previously, whilst also making and distributing masks as part of the COVID-19 relief effort, producing and installing ‘tippy-taps’ in their local communities, conducting training for young people, and distributing emergency food packs to vulnerable families.
Why I Love This Program: This program is a really interesting one as it really focuses on those tangible outcomes. I think it's a great experience for attendees as they gain experience performing a range of tasks over the course of their engagement, they're all working towards a shared goal, and there is a great mentoring program involved.
Gucci & Accor Shadow Boards
Two companies that have taken a slightly different approach to youth advisory in the corporate world are Gucci and Accor, as they have established their ‘Shadow Board’ initiatives.
A “shadow board” is a group of non-executive employees working with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The aim is to leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.
These shadow boards are good at helping with business model redesign, process redesign, organisational transformation, and increased visibility for Millenials.
Key opportunities for the young people involved in these shadow boards include recognition for their work, the chance to work on higher-value projects they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, the ability to build new skills and to showcase their talent, career progression, Gucci created a shadow board composed of Millennials who, since 2015, have met regularly with the senior team. The shadow board includes people drawn from different functions and are seen as the most talented in the organisation. They talk through the issues that the executive committee is focused on, and people involved with the program say their insights have “served as a wakeup call for the executives.” Since launching its shadow board in 2015, Gucci’s sales have grown 136%, from 3,497 million Euro (FY2014) to 8,285 million Euro (FY2018), a growth primarily driven by the success of both its internet and digital strategies.
Accor Hotels created a shadow board to help create a luxury marketing brand for millennials after the marketing team couldn't. The shadow board succeeded partly because they focused on their vision and developed their point of view regardless of all internal and cost constraints. The shadow board then gave birth to another innovation, the Accor Pass, a hotel subscription that provided people under 25 with a place to stay while they hunted for a permanent residence.
Why I Love This Program: These programs are two of my favourite youth advisory initiatives for the fact that they had real, impactful, tangible outcomes. This was due largely due to the fact that both initiatives were led from the top with buy-in and advocacy from the CEO and executive team. As well as this, both initiatives adopted an iterative design process as they worked to evaluate and adapt the program to ensure it was offering maximum value for all involved.
These are just four of the thousands of youth advisory initiatives that are out there. Use these as provocations to go and do your own research to find an initiative that will work for you.
While doing this research, I also encourage you to get social! Reach out to the people running these initiatives and catch up for a coffee or a video call to hear about their first-hand experiences and get their honest, unfiltered advice and insights.
And at the end of the day, always remember to localise these initiatives to your stakeholders, your organisation and your desired outcomes.
About The Author:
The tech-head prodigy behind BOP Industries, Scott Millar is a young entrepreneur taking the world by storm. Compared to a young Steve Jobs after turning a year nine business project into a thriving business, Scott finished high school and deferred university to run BOP Industries full time, now with a growing presence around the world. As a now 22-year-old, Scott has recently been named one of Australia’s top 30 under 30 in business, Asia Pacific’s Inspiring Youth Leader for 2019, Queensland's Small Business Leader for 2021, Griffith University Entrepreneur In Residence and an LGBT advocate and leader in Australia and overseas.
To find out more about Scott and to see if he's available to speak at your next event, head to: www.iamscottmillar.com/speaking