This week is #iwill week, which sees organisations and individuals across the country joining forces to celebrate and promote youth social action, as well as committing to take action to try to give more young people opportunities to participate in the future.
For those who haven’t yet encountered the #iwill campaign, it is a UK-wide campaign aiming to get as many 10-20 year-olds as possible involved in social action by the year 2020, co-ordinated by Step Up To Serve. It has cross-party support, recently received £40 million from the Government for the #iwill Fund, and has strong support from Prince Charles, who was integral to the foundation of Step Up To Serve.
There has been a great deal of activity across the whole week, which you can find out more about here. As part of #iwill week, CAF was delighted to host a roundtable of young leaders, which followed on from our recent work on the subject of young trustees.
Unlocking the potential of young trustees
Perhaps unsurprisingly, trustee roles have been dominated by older people – which is something we think needs to change. One of the recommendations from CAF’s Growing Giving Parliamentary Inquiry was to improve access to charity leadership roles for young people, which can include appointing a young trustee, putting in place pathways designed to give young people the necessary skills needed for trusteeship, or even creating shadow boards or giving them the opportunity to take up positions on sub-committees.
In 2015, CAF partnered with prominent young trustee Leon Ward to survey young trustees in order to find out more about their experience. We turned the findings into recommendations for both young people and charities, which we released in the originally titled Young Trustees Guide – you can read a copy here. Good practice includes making meetings and the language used at them accessible, giving a comprehensive experience of all elements of trusteeship, and putting in place things like mentoring schemes as necessary to help upskill and give young people confidence.
Our report helped to stimulate debate and discussion around the charity sector, which has led to a renewed focus on the need to diversify trustee boards. “They bring new, fresh ideas, challenging long standing beliefs and systems”, concluded one chair of trustees we spoke to as part of our inquiry. Many organisations already benefit from having one – or more – young people on their board of trustees, and the topic of discussion at our session yesterday was how to get more young people involved in leadership roles.
Learning from the young – a roundtable
Part of the reason that the session was so interesting was because it gave young people themselves the platform to share their experiences, focusing on the challenges that they had faced, how they had tackled any adversity and the skills that they had learned as a result. In addition, we talked about the best ways to encourage other young people to give charity leadership roles a try.
Some of the themes that came out were very informative. Firstly, there was unsurprisingly strong support for getting young people involved in leadership roles. This included an awareness that some current leaders might be fearful of what they see as relinquishing their power, or scepticism about what young people can bring to the table. The leaders around the table were able to talk about the contribution that they had made, and how their different personal experiences and skills were able to improve governance and leadership by offering a variety of views and challenging preconceptions. Positively, most explained that once they had been given an opportunity to show what they could do, they quickly won any naysayers over.
Secondly, there was a discussion about the symbiotic relationships than can be developed around board tables. The young leaders explained that they enjoyed the ability to learn from older peers, but that it also gave them an opportunity to give older trustees access to new skills that can benefit them too. This is particularly relevant with regards to skills around digital and technology. In fact, rather than be pigeonholed as the digital or social media experts, the young leaders around the table were much more eager to help transfer those skills to older trustees, knowing that they would be getting something in return.
Finally, there was an understanding that, although the young leaders around the table were enthused to do as much as they could to help charities, there is sometimes a need to take a step back and give opportunities to others. This is an important skill, and shows that young people are aware that it can often be a case of the majority of roles being offered to a minority of people. Whilst they are undoubtedly talented and committed, there is a danger that this can freeze people out, and acknowledging the need to increase accessibility shows that the young people already doing so much understand this. In addition, there was an awareness that sometimes new young leaders need to be given the freedom and space to fail, in order that they can use this as a learning opportunity.
The overall message from the event was that current young leaders want to do what they can to give similar opportunities to others. Rather than being a standalone event, there was a real desire among the young leaders to use yesterday as a platform to kick-on and do further work to develop young leadership across charities. In #iwill week, a week that sees organisations and people of all ages uniting to promote youth social action, it’s extremely pleasing to see that some of the very best leadership is coming directly from young people themselves.