Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Young People and Brexit - An hour with Mark Drakeford AM

As Eisteddfod rushes on apace, and MP's rest up, Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government and AM for Cardiff West since 2011 took an hour to talk to us at Wales Council for Voluntary Action's headquarters, on Brexit and Young People.

This blog aims to pull out the key messages from the discussion, and raise any interesting points.

Brexit will be an act of self-harm for all in the UK, the ones it will affect the most are those already in poverty. This impact could be greater or lesser, depending on how the leaving process is handled. The Welsh Government is not currently focusing on the journey of leaving, rather the positions which they must take, and hold, in order to safeguard what the UK holds dear.

Drakeford highlighted that the damage of Brexit has already begun, with a hit of 2% on the UK's economy corresponding to approximately £905 per household in the UK. Less money to pay taxes results in lower taxes, which result in less public services, an area which, especially around young people, is already in crisis mode. A hard Brexit would be even more detrimental, a hard Brexit which is much more likely than it was 6 months ago. Theresa May's ability to negotiate with the EU is weak, due to the reputation of her government, and her ability to negotiate within the House of Commons to reach an agreement on Brexit is even weaker. The UK is not yet in this position, an agreement is the most likely option, but the risk of Theresa May being unable to reach any majority in the House of Commons is high. This follows the theme, the main blockers for a deal on Brexit are in London, not in Brussels.

Drakeford posited 3 potential results of the next year:

a) The House of Commons could take ownership of the situation, this is the opinion of Hillary Benn, that the House of Commons will take the agenda from the executive to the legislator. It could be possible to have a majority in the House of Commons, and if the government fails to persuade the House of Commons, they can ask for a new agenda.
b) A referendum on the agreement, a People's Vote. He warned, if this was to happen, to be prepared for a bitter, grim battle, in which the lies of 2016 would look tame in comparison.
c) If there is complete disagreement within the House of Commons, there could be a general election, requiring votes over Christmas.

His summary of the current situation was that the UK is incredibly divided. Half of the population feel as though their opinion is being ignored, while elements of the other half feel that anything but the hardest of Brexits is a betrayal.

Erasmus+ is often discussed in London, the funding stream for this finishes in 2020, and there are a number of people involved in negotiations who support the access of future EU funding pots of this form. Drakeford also highlighted the two way nature of the funding, that it means young people will come to the UK, and must be welcomed, where it is clear in recent surveys of young people that that is not the case. In the report I helped to create as a UK Young Ambassador with the British Youth Council, we pulled out statistics that demonstrate that hate crime toward LGBTQ young people and young people of colour has increased after the referendum in 2016, which supports work done by research for LSE to show a similar conclusion. Our report showed that half of young people we surveyed feel that the world is changing for the worse after Brexit, and this sense of divide can be seen in Ipso MORI's new report on 'Beyond Binary: The life and choices of Generation Z', which shows young people have a historically low concern about immigration, which is definitively incongruous with other age ranges in the UK. Being part of funding streams such as Erasmus+ requires a two-way relationship, and it seems like Brexit has damaged the preexisting one.

Mark Drakeford also highlighted that it was important for the Welsh Government to use the networks they already have to help the vulnerable on the ground who may be harmed by the rise in hate-crime.

The final message was that we are leaving the EU, not Europe - and it is more important than ever to build strong relationships within Europe with those who are willing to work with the UK, to make good contacts, as this is the only way Brexit will actually work.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Charity Sector and Me - A short story

As a quick disclaimer, this is a blog on 8 months of unemployment in Cardiff, looking for work in the charity sector. I have been umming and aahing about writing a piece on my unemployment for a long long time. I am of several minds about my position on it, would I potentially jeopardize future job opportunities? Would it sound like sour grapes? Or could this writing be vaguely useful to other graduates, young people, looking to get into the charity sector? 
The last point has eventually won out, but don't deafen me with "he's just bitter", cause I'm not. 
So there.

I'll tell a potentially familiar narrative to get me to the crux of this blog, of how I got to unemployment in the first place.

I got involved with youth politics in my first year of university really, joining social action group UpRising, meeting amazing people and learning about what I thought. Second year fell into place, and I was successful in applying for a position as the UK Ambassador for Wales, with the amazing Arooj Khan. We killed it, had a lot of fun, represented a lot of young people. I started to slowly integrate myself into the Welsh Charity Sector, working out the assembly, and the key players. I networked hard, and made a few brilliant friends. Third year saw the continuation of the Ambassadorship, then a successful bid to become a trustee for the British Youth Council, and a chairmanship of Student Representatives in Cardiff University. I worked with Google, I went to international summits, I was in my absolute element.
I organised an internship in one of my favourite Welsh charities for the summer holiday after my graduation, and applied for a lot of student coordinator roles, a position often filled by early 20-somethings from a similar educational position as myself.

Then slowly the interview rejections came through.

By the end of the summer, I had had five interviews, and not got one. That feeling was to become a common one, but I didn't know it yet. I moved into friends' spare room in Cardiff, (to both I will be eternally grateful), and began unemployment.
I was devoted to finding a job in the charity sector, after enjoying it so much. I have worked a job since I was 12, it was an unusual feeling for me, not having one any more. Anyone who talked to me in those months, I pity. Because I talked about the application process, and interview techniques, and how much I was enjoying the work I was doing in the Welsh charity sector. I threw myself into whatever volunteering I could find, and I got up at 8am every day, and applied for jobs, and went to interviews, and failed in interviews.
This continued for eight months.

I have checked through my laptop storage, and I wrote over 60 job applications, and sent off many more CVs.
I attended 27 charity sector interviews.
I volunteered.
I failed 27 charity sector interviews.

On the whole, I was treated to a terrible recruitment process, one characterised by archaic Microsoft Word forms, bad salaries, bad hours, and a lack of any care for the candidate.

That was the thing that I think stood out to me.

I have not ever been under any illusion that the charity sector I have fallen in love with in Wales is 'kinder' than a normal sector of industry. It cannot be, or it would not exist. It is not charitable in nature, and nor should it be. If I didn't have the skills, then I didn't deserve the job. If I was not what they were looking for, then I was not what they were looking for. That wasn't my fault, the job simply wasn't a good fit for me.
But the lack of care I was shown as an individual baffled me at first, and then angered me.

Some gave feedback, most did not.
Some respected me, one rushed me through the interview because they clearly had an internal candidate in the works and the 2 hour journey on public transport I had made to get there for a 15 hour a week contract was in vain.
One rang me up, accidentally told me I had obtained the highest score in interview, and then informed me that I hadn't got the job. I later found out that it went to a returning to work parent, who wanted a bit of part-time work to keep them busy.

Two recurrent, interconnected themes came through in the feedback that some recruiters were kind enough to give me.

1) I was too young
They wouldn't say this. It was heavily implied over a drink afterwards, it was within the lines of the email, it was thought that I had no appetite to stick around and learn and work. My age worked against me, they wanted a mid-40s parent, no risk.
I understand this, to an extent. I know they largely didn't care that I cared about the industry, about the importance of charity, that I was a bloody hard worker with a good amount of experience. And the second interconnected theme;

2) I was a risk
I was told several times in feedback that I should be more ambitious in my job search, that their admin job wasn't up my street, and that they wished me the best. I get that they were trying to be kind, but honestly, telling someone that they're not ambitious enough when failing them in a bog-standard admin job is some cruel poetry.  
Again, part of me understands this. I know the oft-crippling pressure that charities can be put under, I know how tight money is. Hiring a graduate to a 15 hour a week contract and giving them any training at all would surely result in wasted money, when they upped sticks and left for a full-time job. But I have worked for several years now to get young people into volunteering, into non-executive roles, into trusteeships, to give free work, essentially, ever the idealistic student. When I finished my degree and actually began job hunting, I realised why people in their mid-twenties never aspired to the charity sector.

I aspired for the charity sector, and I still do. I strongly believe I'm taking the right steps to get back there in several years' time, and make my mark.
I have lost my naivety/innocence about it though.

I most of all want to go back, and shake up what I see as wrong. Leon Ward mentions in an old blog that young people are the next Chief Executives, Philanthropists, Guardians of the sector. But until the charity sector is bold enough to recruit them, then the experience that young people can gain is always going to be limited. The 'home-grown talent' goes to London, and stays there.

But I'm not going to end on that, because that's just a big old moan. Here's what I learned, from unemployment in the charity sector.

What did I learn about aspiring to work in the charity sector?
  • Get some thick skin, quick. You're going to be told you're not quite up to scratch for all sorts of jobs. 
  • Whatever skills you think you have, if you don't have basic admin skills, minutes taking, that sort of thing, don't bother. Charities are stretched for money, they don't have the funds to give you Excel training. Get that from a big company, and go from there. 
  • This is more of a general point on work after university, but the sun does not shine from your nether regions. You are almost certainly not all that. It doesn't matter what title you have had. Demonstrate not that you can talk the most impressively or have a selfie with the most important person, demonstrate that you can work hard, demonstrate that you can master simple things.
  • The charity sector will surprise you in its ability to not give a hoot about you. Focus on the individuals who do, and get their feedback, learn from them. Get a mentor. Listen. 
  • Don't be disheartened. The sector is still bubbling away, there's more opportunity than ever to get involved with non-executive roles, young people are more than ever listened to. Volunteering is constructed better than it ever has been, so many charities are getting on board with the volunteering journey. 
My final recommendation would be: Never stop trying to expand your experience. The charity sector is better than any other for diversity of experience and learning scope, but it can be a hell of a lonely place. Get in there, get learning.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Fourth Option

Life is absolutely exhausting isn't it. When I get home from work every day I'm lucky if I can read a chapter of a book before the urge to examine the backs of my eye-lids kicks in. I've noticed I'm worse at keeping in touch with people, with having the motivations to do the things I care for and about - I haven't written a blog for months - that's definitely indicative. I've thought about writing a few times recently, as it's one of my favourite creative things to do, but just not felt the passion.

Things I care about are still continuing. There's still plenty in the news to get angry at, I just haven't worked out how to get that care back. I haven't worked out how to rage on paper again. I end up accusing myself of slacktivism, what does an angry blog achieve anyway? But that's the passivist's way out, I end up with no outlet, no creative piece, and a BA in cynicism to take my collection of useless BAs to two.
And cynicism is just the worst.
No-one likes a cynic, with good reason. Cynics aren't proactive, cynics bring down. Cynicism is the enemy of creative thinking. But yet it is such an easy trap. That empty smugness is to die for. It makes me feel like a soccer mom who's got her first prepubescent McDonald's employee sacked for forgetting darling Timothy's Happy Meal toy.
It's an addictive feeling.
But McDonald's workers across the globe, have no fear.
For I am writing again.
Look at me write.

The main gist of this blog is learning to run fast enough to do more than stand still. I've been playing a game of stuck in the mud, stood stationary as my job and my volunteering commitments play rock paper scissors for my energy. It's a convoluted metaphor, but the job has discovered the fourth option, dynamite, and is building an impressive win-streak.

One of my favourite cartoons as a kid was a Broons cartoon, featuring Granpaw at the pub with his drinking friends, telling them how the wind was so fierce on his way to the pub that every step forward he took, he was blown back two steps.
"But Granpaw", his friends cry, clearly more au fait with rudimentary physics than their bloodshot eyes would suggest, "how did you get here then?"
Granpaw sighs, probably tired of voting to leave the EU, and grins.
"I just turned around and headed for home, boys, and here I am!"

Now while my taste in classic comedy has somewhat evolved since then, it's an interesting point to illustrate my current dilemma. It is so so difficult to get to where you want in life (ie. the pub), because everything seems to conspire against you. And it's so easy, when you're battling to get somewhere, to settle. Halfway up the hill becomes really comfy, and before you know it, halfway up the hill was actually your goal all along, remember? I am a naturally sedentary individual, and it's easy to convince a tired body to not do more work at the end of a day. Cause I'm only 22, one day it'll magically happen, I'll just be where I want to be, with all the experience I want... only, as you know, discerning reader, that's not how life works.
If I just did my job for the next five years, in five year's time I'd have earned five year's wages. I'd have a bit more training, I'd be really good at minute-taking, but in terms of personal progression, in terms of long term goals, I'd be nowhere.
In fact, I'd be worse than nowhere.
My contacts in the charity sector, the skills in digital and communications that I've worked so hard to get would have faded. Now as it happens, I enjoy my new job a lot, so if I want to keep those skills and learn some new ones, it looks like I need to crack this problem sooner rather than later.

Now that sounded like a very 'me'-specific paragraph, so I'll summarise the main point in a impersonal way:
"An expert has failed many more times than the beginner has tried" - Stephen McCranie
It is so easy to settle. If you ever feel like you haven't achieved life goals, it may be because those huge goals are not specific enough, and that's why you haven't achieved them.
If you have ever set business goals, you quickly learn to be micro-ambitious in what you want to achieve, Try applying that to personal goals.
Yes, you might be a whisky taster or drive dumper trucks for a living, so this isn't for you, you've reached your dream. But it's no use setting Z as the goal if you're at D. Being micro-ambitious, working out how to get where you want to go. Big goals that are steps away from your current ability are unreachable, by their definition. Maybe when you've worked that out, I'll have realised how to get where I want to be, and we can laugh in our slippers and dressing gowns with big glasses of Gin and Tonic.
(That's my life goal, don't know about you).

This is a most unusual Joe blog, because it isn't going to end with a glib one-liner with just a hint of pretension, no. This blog shall finish as it started, by recognising the exhaustion of living, and by commending those who have the energy to keep changing the world in their little or big way, however that looks.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Blue Sky, Thinking

"Okay, that's one thing I know about life, One thing I know about life is a guarantee, right?
Change is inevitable!
And listen to me, as much as you like to be in your comfort zone, as much as you like to be stable, as much as you like to control your environment,
The reality is: Everything Changes" -
Eric Thomas
I write a journal. Every day(ish), I'll write a page or so of brain mumblings, good quotes, interesting people I've met, that sort of thing. These next two sentences have come from post-University journal entries, and I find them really interesting to examine with hindsight:

"You finish University, and you are the cock of the walk, and ever so quickly you're a feather duster - that change is rapid and inevitable. 
I'm in a stasis between full-time education and full-time employment."

They nicely sum up this feeling I haven't been able to shake, that something isn't starting yet, that life is currently tougher than it has been, and that if one thing changed, I'd be alright and I could start to 'live life'.

When you are born, you go through a range of physical changes that eventually deposit you at adulthood, right? And there's a range of mental changes you undergo too, the reason I don't find The Beano such a good read any more(Sorry Mr D. Menace, I loved you once), and the reason I've stopped bathing in Lynx Africa. I'd say I have gone through more mental changes over the past few months than I did during my entire University period, and if you'll excuse the rampant pretension, I'll attempt to explain why, in three reasons, I think that's the case. (You've got to excuse it, it's my blog, "whatever, I do what I want".)

      Unemployment = Forced Retirement
While difficult, I have really enjoyed unemployment (I think), for the reason that it forces you to evaluate what you deem to be important. "People retire to die", right, the famous saying. You potter, you watch the snooker, you spend time with family, and then you shuffle off the mortal coil and go to *insert personal Heaven fantasy here*. But I have no intention of shuffling off the mortal coil and going to LegoLand any time soon, rather, I need to keep myself in the best mental shape I can, so that when an application comes through, I can be my best self in an interview, and hopefully get someone paying me. I've noticed I value my time these days far more than I used to, which is interesting. Now I have more time, I'm more protective of it. Go figure. Without the routine of University, or sixth form, or secondary school, or primary school, I've had the time to pursue passions. I'm far less deferential than I was 6 months ago, I have begun to respect knowledge, not position. My Christian upbringing has faded, beautifully and mercifully. More on that later.
        Talent = Sustained interest
This was huge to realise. I've been good at things before (I know, check me), and I've put time into those things. I never quite made the correlation. Talent = sustained interest - I'll quote it again, I love it so much. For instance, I have always wanted to make my own text-based adventure game, skill checks, an inventory, sprawling story lines, a real monsters and clever protagonists immersive game. And I have wanted to make this game for years. I realised, one day, that I could want to do something all my life, and just not do it because I didn't know how to do the intermediate skills that it would require to do. Because I couldn't achieve intermediate instantly, I didn't bother.
Until I became unemployed.
I signed up to a free course, and I've been coding for just over a month now. I'm terrible. I know I'm terrible. But I am "terrible and learning", which in my book is better than "slightly better than terrible and not learning". I made my first game this week- Pong. It took me 4 hours and a tutorial that said I'd do it in just under 2. I was so pleased with that progress, cause I'd written the theme tune, played the theme tune, and sung the theme tune, I'd done everything to make one of the most well-known games of all time. Talent = sustained interest, so in a few months I'll be a whole lot closer to making my own text-based adventure game than I would have ever been if I hadn't have bothered learning in the first place.
       Who am I?

This is a less refined version of the "what's important to me?" question we all tackle till the day we die. For those who I confide in, they will know that a lot of things I put stock in have fallen by the way. The weirdness of my manically Christian upbringing has fallen where it needed to, and those I love have remained. And as a result, there's such a freedom in how I act now. I'm not constrained by what I 'should do', I'm certainly not constrained in what I can say.
I'm also realising that there's no such thing as "being in a stasis", and trust me, I've really been through the five stages of grief on that one. I'm realising that "I'm in a stasis" is a defensive mechanism, it's an excuse (which is fine, we're allowed defensive mechanisms, we're allowed excuses) which means I don't have to interact with the present in the present, I can look at it from the end of a barge pole. I caught myself time and time again, talking to people, saying "Oh I'm in such a stasis at the moment, when I have a job and a place, then I can really start life, then I can really start to make 'ME', the adult." And I had the horrible realisation that it doesn't exist. There is no stasis, there is only horrible all-consuming life. And that has been such an eye-opener for me. If I want to start climbing, why say I'll do it when I've got a house? How are those two statements even connected? If I want to write a book, saying I'll do it when I have more time means that without a doubt I won't do it when I have more time. It won't ever magically 'get better'. That's a scary thought, and it's a liberating one, because once you realise something doesn't exist, you can fill the gap it occupied with something more worthwhile. I don't have to wait till I've got my own house before I code. I can do that now. I don't have to wait till I can drive before I make sure I'm a presence in my nieces/nephews lives, I have a rail card and I'm not afraid to use it.
Try me.

All the most pretentious waffle ends with a quote, so Tim Minchin says it best:
"Life is meaningless...You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead. 
There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It...It's an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours." - Occasional Address

Saturday, 16 December 2017

How to survive: Being Unemployed edition

Since September 1st 2017, I've been without a job, and I would say it has been three of the more difficult months of my life. I am adamant that I want to work in the charity sector, and I worked throughout secondary school and university, so I have a decent enough buffer to allow me to not need to work right now, but still, being unemployed post-university is miserable.

Thoughts fly through the mind of being part of the statistic of the wasted degree, or of missed opportunities of just starting a more manual trade and not going to university at all, or of going back to live with the parents.
None of these I believe are the right path for me, and I'm glad I am where I am now, with the skills I have now, but to any graduate, none of those thoughts will be new ones.

This blog is written with sympathy, for other graduates, for third years in the final stretch of university. Any digs at graduates are at myself first and foremost, but if the boot fits, please wear it. Here are 4 things I picked out as the feelings of graduating into unemployment. I'll state them, and then give the solution I worked out. I hope it's helpful.
1. Free time = Guilty time. 
You feel guilty spending any time in the day not applying for jobs. No application is ever guaranteed to be successful. But when each application improves the odds of that phone call coming through, not doing part of an application for even an hour washes over you with this nasty guilty feeling. Down time becomes anathema, so of course the applications suffer, because you feel mentally chained to the keyboard, and you're not able to relax.
This is not a novel solution. This is rule one of unemployment. Routine, and contracted hours. Wake up at a normal time. Go to sleep at a normal time. Go outside at least once a day. Eat at least one vegetable a week day. Treat applying for jobs as a job, because it is, so clock in and clock out. I have a specific place I apply for jobs from, I get up at 8, read with a coffee till 10, then apply for jobs till 1. I'll have lunch, go for a run, and apply for jobs till 5. I only use Mozilla Firefox for applying for jobs, and when 5 hits, I close Firefox, and I don't open it till the next day. Not keeping a routine will only hinder when you eventually get a job.
2. I am a skill-less use-less waste
Skills you know you have, you begin to question. When that rock solid application you sent off to do 12 hours of admin work a week, oh pretty please let me answer phones, comes back as a failed application, because they've got someone who's answered phones for 20 years who wants the job to keep themselves busy, you doubt your ability to do anything. You try to reword everything, rejection makes you limit your own opportunities. When your nose is in the dirt, it's hard to look at the sun, and it's hard to know you're good at what you do when implicitly it feels like you're being told you're not.
This is a bit exaggerated. But getting told you suck by 5 different employers a week hurts. I began to doubt if I was as good as I said I was. Here's the kicker, they don't think you suck. Employers don't think you suck when they turn you down, you heard it here first (They might do, if you don't show up). There's just someone there who fits the bill slightly better than you. And that's frustrating. So what I have done, is when I apply for a job, I make a circle of my current skills. I make another circle with the skills the job is looking for. I then cross the circles, thus making a Venn diagram. The goal is to have as many skills in that cross-over as possible. Then I go from there! I have three set examples for pretty much every skill in the world.
"Used to changing levels of work" - Like a flash, I've got three.
"Excellent administration ability" - Bang, three examples.
"Experience of managing volunteers" - Three.
"Beautiful face" - One example. Me.
As a result, I can apply for pretty much any job within a certain sphere in about half an hour.
3. Guilty money
You feel guilty spending any money on anything, because there's no income to replenish it. I spent £16 on a bottle of whisky as a birthday present to myself at the start of December, and I nearly put it back twice on my way to the counter.
If you do have any money, try something with me. Start a new bank account. For every hour you apply for jobs or do other productive things (volunteer etc), transfer £3 across to it. That's your spending money, right there. I've been going between this and giving myself pocket money every week.
4. We all hate interviews
You absolutely hate the interview system. You hate the fact that you have a degree and you can't get 5 hours polishing banisters.  
So two little anecdotes here.
During the summer, I was flying high. I'd got an internship with a really good organisation in the charity sector, and I had three interviews to do a position I really wanted, each on about 20k a year. The organisation offered me about a month of administration work, which I turned down immediately. I was going to get a well paid job.
Fool of a Took.
I was unsuccessful in all of the interviews, I had badly prepared because I thought I'd walk into the position. They said I lacked demonstrable experience in one or two things, one being admin. I wish, I really do wish, that someone had grabbed me in August, and said "Joe, the sun doesn't shine from your rear. You are not owed anything from society. Well done for the voluntary stuff, get some paid experience". No-one did, because I'm not owed anything from society, but I learned that lesson the hard way.
The second anecdote, on hating the interview system.
I had just finished hearing back from a 15 hour a week admin position, I hadn't got the job. On a question on data protection, I had not given the obvious answers, but had talked more about the whys of its importance. Now I'm not tooting my own trumpet, but I know data protection pretty well for a muggle, I've been in several seminars on it, attended workshops on it, read thousands of words around it. And I was being penalised to the point of not getting the job (I missed out on this job by a point, apparently), for not saying "data protection is gud becuz it protects the customer". And I was ranting down the phone about this to a friend. I knew that data protection was gud becuz it protects the customer. And then I realised that was exactly it. I knew it, but I hadn't said it. I hated the game, but it didn't matter that I hated the game. I could hate the game in unemployment for as long as I wanted. Actually, it was time to learn the game, learn how to play it, and actually get a job.
It's all about the game, and how you can play it, all about control, and if you can take it. etc etc. Thanks Trips.

So I hope this was a helpful read, or even an interesting read if you are one of the lucky people with a job. I'll still do my voluntary work, my trusteeship with the BYC is more enjoyable than ever, and I'm doing a few other interesting charity bits, but that's a different blog for a different time.

To end, I'll quickly introduce you to 10/10/10. It's my new life motto. It stands for ten days, ten months, ten years. The motto bit is when you see a problem, you say "will it matter in ten days? Will it matter in ten months? Will it matter in ten years?"
I don't currently have a job.
Will that be the case in ten days? Probably.
Ten months? Almost certainly not.
Ten years? I won't remember this feeling in ten years.

Monday, 13 November 2017

#TrusteesWeek 2017 - A Young Trustee's View

Young Trustees make up 2% of UK Charity Trustees, despite research that 85% of people aged under 35 would consider becoming a trustee”- Charities Aid Foundation

It was September the 2nd, the day after my job contract finished, the day after I had moved out of my home in Cardiff. I travelled to London, waking up at 4AM (I had fallen asleep next to my rucksack a few hours before) in order to make it to the British Youth Council Annual Council Meeting in time, to find out if I was to be voted in to join their board of trustees. It was one of the most stressful periods of my life. And with my successful election, it launched one of the most rewarding.

I’m Joe, I’ve just graduated from Cardiff University, and I’ve been involved in the charity sector here in Wales for the duration of my degree. I have just become a trustee of the British Youth Council, a nationwide organisation who give a voice to young people, and works toward a world where young people are respected, and able to really influence and inform decisions that affect their lives. We’ve just finished Make Your Mark 2017, a vote of over 950,000 young people, with a House of Commons sitting for our Youth Parliament, for young representatives from across the UK. I know Cardiff’s own MYP got the chance to speak, which I was very pleased to see. I am incredibly passionate about our cause, and I think we fill a niche and support a demographic that deserves excellent support.

I find being a trustee immensely challenging, and rewarding.

For the bulk of this blog, I’ll spell out the three biggest challenges unique to being a young trustee (which I haven’t experienced at BYC, just to be clear):

Number 1: “You’re 18-25, what do you know?”

It should be no surprise to know that the average age of a trustee is 57. Many organisations who represent and support young people won’t have a young person within several miles of the board room, where decisions are made that matter, decisions which really affect the lives of those young people. As a young person who has represented Wales at an international level, there are three main bodies of response when a young person talks in a room of older people. Either heads lean forward and pay attention, people ignore you, or people say “Ooh isn’t it nice that we’ve got the young person to do something”. I’ve put those in order of my preference to receive, because there is nothing as demeaning as tokenism. I’ll order in big foam hands for my next speech, for the best patronising hair ruffles. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a huge body of people who care, and who listen, and who challenge. And I love that, and it leads into my next point.

Number 2 – “I don’t agree with you, and here’s why”.

This is subjective, but there is nothing I enjoy more than being disagreed with. (“Yes there is, Joe” etc) I get bored as a young person of being treated like ‘a really really great young person’, because you don’t get listened to when you’re a ‘really really great young person’. No-one challenges your opinion. It is by getting young people into positions where they can vocalise the issues of other young people fairly, without special treatment, in which we learn firstly our importance, and secondly we learn to find our place. As someone once told me when discussing charity roles, we learn "when to shut up". And that is also crucial. Making young people not 'special voices who are beyond reproach'. 

I think that might be why sometimes there is less appetite from charities for appointing a young person to their board, this idea of young people + soapbox = obnoxiousness.  And I am sure that is a true formula. But if the box is removed from day one, and young people are on equal footing, there is no temptation towards the end result. 

Number 3 – The deep end

As a young person in a governance position, I am hugely lucky in that I have friends who are experts in their respective fields who I can quiz. A close friend works for Barclays, she broke down a balance sheet for me, taught me how to read it. A kind soul at WCVA talked through charity finances, another kind soul at WCVA ran through data protection and GDPR implementation tips with me. I am also lucky that on the board of the British Youth Council is an amazing network of skills and abilities which I can tap into, and learn from. I didn’t come from a youth politics or a finance background, I come from a youth work/social action/Comms background. They are my specialties. But I can lean on those in the board who have other abilities to myself. And that is really important when you work with young people in governance like this. In Leon Ward’s words, “it’s about nurturing and harnessing the talent of future givers, philanthropists, thought leaders, chief executives and charity staff”.  

We as young people are the future of all sectors, the charity sector isn’t exempt from that. If you as an organisation are looking to get young people involved where it matters, able to get their hands dirty, to learn, and to eventually take the reins one day, I loudly encourage you to do so. If you are an organisation that works with young people, I encourage you doubly so. There are young people that really want to get involved in charity governance, a whole lot of us.

Give us a chance.

Inspire change.


Helpful resources:

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

#IWill week: November 20th- 24th 2017

Social action is practical action in the service of others that creates positive change”

#IWill week is upon us. This week we celebrate the thousands upon thousands of young people across the United Kingdom who lead social action, who inspire others, and who create positive change in their communities. Hundreds of organisations will be holding events to shine a light on these young people, Social Action Awards will be held, there will be workshops, and there will be cake. By the end of the 2016 #IWill week, 670 organisations had made a pledge to support the #IWill campaign and to support young people, by the end of the 2017 #IWill week, I hope even more organisations make a pledge, and get involved.

What is an #IWill pledge? How can I get involved?

This pledge is a promise, made by an organisation, to young people. This pledge can offer a variety of things, some examples include:
·         To inspire and empower young people to get involved in social action
·         To put social action at the heart of my school, college or university
·         To develop new, youth-friendly social action opportunities
·         To ensure young people have a voice and are represented in decision-making.
All of these examples centre around one thing, and that is enabling young people to engage in meaningful, positive change.
An organisation signs up to a pledge, and then holds itself to that pledge, with support from the IWill team, and the IWill ambassadors, signing itself up to a campaign backed by leaders from across UK society, led by HRH Prince of Wales, with support from all major political parties.

Why get involved?

Simply put, it’s worth it.

42% of 10-20 year olds took part in meaningful social action in 2016. The Office for National Statistics puts this age range (10-20 year olds) at roughly 19% of the population of the UK.  What a huge demographic. What a charitably involved demographic. Organisations ranging from Comic Relief to o2 to the Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner for Surrey support that demographic in what they do. These 670 organisations are putting their deeds where their words are, and committing to creating a more socially engaged group of young people. That benefits everyone in society, all the way up the scale. The Scouts have made an #IWill pledge – they run the “A Million Hands” project, looking to support those suffering dementia, among other groups.

I for one wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t get involved in Social Action work in my second year of University. I went from being inherently shy and lacking confidence to knowing my strengths, to knowing the good I could do, and to knowing how I could do that good for the benefit of others. That’s the most powerful reason to me for supporting the #IWill campaign. It gave me direction and it connected me to organisations who wanted to do good for the benefit of others. Knowing you are not alone in what you do is an inherent human need, #IWill connects and supports through its work.

I cannot encourage enough participation in its work, I cannot encourage enough the change in young people’s lives it creates. I am a trustee for one of the UK’s biggest youth organisations, and I do a lot of charity work across Wales. I’ve worked for WCVA (A Welsh umbrella charity that looks after thousands of Welsh organisations) for several months. I’m not saying this for brownie points, I’m saying this to make the point that 2 years of involvement with #IWill organisations changed my life. I also mention my trusteeship for a reason, it is crucial that young people are on charity boards, especially those with a youth focus. In 2010, 0.5% of trustees were aged 18-24, a tiny number. Pledge to change that. Pledge to support. Because with support, #IWill can be that touch-paper that other young people can light, and take part in, and change their lives too, for the benefit of all in society.

Get involved.

Change lives.