Youth advisory boards can either be a dynamic force of change, injecting fresh ideas and innovation into your organisation; or they can turn out to be tokenistic photo opportunities and used for 'box ticking' more than anything else.
Whilst young people are incredibly motivated to share their voice and contribute to impactful projects, they are also quick to disengage when they feel an opportunity is insincere or seen as ‘youth washing’. The concept of youth washing is where organisations engage young people without any intention of working with them to bring their ideas to life.
Young people today are increasingly aware of these insincere opportunities and are quick to disengage as soon as they feel their voice is not heard. Because of this, organisations worldwide need to set realistic expectations for their youth advisors and source project opportunities that will provide young people with the opportunity to make an impact and bring their ideas to life.
When it comes to engaging young people in advocacy opportunities, it’s essential to ensure that you are setting realistic expectations for the young people involved and that there are real and relevant opportunities for young people to share their voice and make an impact.
Chances are that if you're reading this post, youth washing isn't the core goal of your youth advisory initiative, in which case, woohoo - you're already on the right track! When it comes to designing a truly impactful youth advisory board that adds value to both your organisation and the young people you're engaging with, here are a few things I'd recommend considering while you're still in the planning phase:
Tip #1 - Build, Retain & Grow: It’s vital to ensure that you add just as much value to young people as you get from engagement with them. It’s important to create initiatives that engage and attract young people, empower and upskill them, and then provide them opportunities to apply their skills and experience to projects. Initiatives should be designed as a pipeline for engaged young people to grow and develop as they provide insights, generate ideas, and learn more about your organisation and mission.
Tip #2 - The Little Wins: Young people today have more opportunities than ever before. For example, research shows that high school students today are expected to have over 17 different jobs in five different careers over their lifetime, and 70% of Australians under the age of 34 are willing to work freelance as opposed to a traditional full-time job. This shows that young people today are looking for fast-paced work environments where they can build their skills and bring projects to life. Because of this, organisations must showcase the little wins throughout youth advisory projects to help participants see their progress, impact and growth despite the often slow-moving decision-making process in large organisations.
Tip #3 - Connection And Collaboration: We as humans are social beings, and young people are no exception. Generation Z are experienced collaborators who can connect effectively in person and online. Ensure that you offer a range of opportunities for participants to connect and collaborate with each other and outside parties during projects.
Tip #4 - Understanding Their ‘Why’: Young people have different motivations for engaging with youth advisory initiatives. Some want to build their skills, others are hoping to develop connections, and some are joining to make real change on a topic they are passionate about. As a facilitator, it is essential that you work to understand the ‘why’ of each young person engaging with the opportunity and help them achieve that goal.
Youth advisory initiatives are not quick and easy things that can be whipped up and run autonomously. To create a truly impactful engagement opportunity for both your organisation and the young people involved you'll need to work to build a solid foundation before then carefully crafting a program that adds as much value to the young people you're engaging as they are providing back to you.
When in doubt, why not reach out to young people and get their thoughts on what they want their youth advisory initiative to look like?
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