Sunday, 25 September 2016

Giving young people a voice in the 3rd Sector

I recently helped run an event in Cardiff where we invited young people and charities involved with young people to attend, to hear from them about their views. We touched on community, on diversity, and to a lesser extent, on Brexit and the perceived repercussions. We had about thirty people attend the meeting, and of those thirty, we had about seven or eight young people. 

Whenever they spoke, the charities leaned in and furiously scribbled. I am sure if you are involved in the 3rd Sector, you have experienced something similar. 

I attended the Edinburgh Culture Summit this summer (see my blog on this here -http://rantingsandravingsofayoungone.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/get-cultural-and-die-trying-young.html), and the story was different. When the young people spoke, there was a real sense of anticipation in the room. The young people were challenged in their assertions, they were critiqued, they were not blindly listened to, and they were not tokenistic. It was brilliant. Being at the table, not being the young person in the room, but being a person in the room, was so enlivening and refreshing. 

In the past six months, I have begun to interact a lot more with charities and started to notice three major things:

1)  Young people are unaware of the role they can play in the running of a charity. 

The voices of young people, from what I have seen, are always gratefully received. The staggering number of other young people I have talked to who have no idea what a young trustee is, or does, highlights a need. If you are reading this and are curious about what a trustee is and what one does, read Leon Ward's brilliant article here - 
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 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. 

2) Charities can seem at a loss on how to engage young people

In my opinion, it is crucial for charities, especially charities with young people as key stakeholders, to be as accessible to those young people as possible. The figures betray this concept though - only 21% of charity trustees are under the age of 40. 
On top of this, as stated in Ian Joseph's blog here (http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/blogs/content/14950/its_no_wonder_young_trustees_are_hard_to_come_by?topic=&print=1), on how their trustees were recruited, "With almost half of new trustees recruited by friends of board members and existing networks, very few through work schemes and none through social media, it is little wonder that boards today lack diversity". 

Without seeming too cliché in linking young people to social media, they are key users of the platforms. Barnardo's has a brilliant social media presence, as does Oxfam, but I have seen charities relegate social media as a method of communication, in favour of newsletters. For all the effort it takes, is a tweet that difficult?

3) There needs to be a focus on effective Mentoring for Young Trustees

Once young people have found their place on the board of a charity, it is of vital importance to then give them effective support which will allow them to make the best of their talents, and evolve their ideas beyond simply that, thus making their ideas more cohesive and specific. Once in, it is no use simply allowing a young person to struggle in deeper waters than they may be used to working in, and pointing out the ineffectiveness of young trustees if they fail. 

It is important to give constructive feedback from a more experienced trustee a welcome and vocal place in the young trustee's tenure. I have been lucky enough to have several mentors, who have probed and challenged concepts and ideas. Blind nodding and inaction is no help; young people desire a place in which our ideas can be bounced off more experienced minds, that is partly the reason for this blog. 

Most importantly, it allows young people a chance to learn. It allows young people the chance to gain more experience in the often difficult waters of charity management. 

With effective mentoring in place, charities have young people who know the organisation well from having partaken in the meetings of the trustees, they have an understanding of finance and administration, they are invested, and they have a real willingness to help and work for the bettering of that charity.

And that's really the goal with young people in the 3rd Sector, isn't it?  

Joe Stockley

Monday, 19 September 2016

3 Reasons why people don't write blogs (Reason number 7 is hilarious!)

So I don't know if you've noticed, (you probably haven't) but I write blogs on a semi-regular basis, about things I enjoy, about interesting things I've read, and about opinions that I feel don't get enough air-time. I say semi-regular, I wish it was regular. But I am a strong believer in the power of blogs for the individual.

Now you might be saying "Joe, that's a load of rubbish. They're ego driven, they're a waste of time, and they just add another opinion to the maelstrom of already present, better written opinions."

Well it's good that you said that, because I have written my opinions on precisely those three points. So thanks for saying that. I appreciate it.

1) "They're ego driven"

A blog can be ego driven. When I get any more reads than just my Mum reading it 10 times out of sympathy (thanks Mum), I go out for drinks with friends to celebrate.
But firstly, the best informative blog is a culmination of other people's ideas and concepts, with your own filter and take on what they say.
Secondly, being ego driven isn't an issue. People read your blog for your take on things, not someone else's. If they didn't want your opinion, it's very easy to not pay attention to someones blog, you simply don't read it.
If in your writing you write down your exact take on something, regardless of your take on it, you are (hopefully) opening up yourself to learning about the topic you write about. In fact, writing a blog can be incredibly humbling, as people with vastly more intelligence than you weigh in on your opinion. But if you didn't put your opinion out there in the first place, the discussion would never be had. On all issues, I believe it's crucially important to get everyone's voice out and heard.

2) "They're a waste of time"

Every single time I sit down to write a blog, I finish it satisfied. They allow me to clarify my opinions in a way that just thinking about something doesn't. I can really explore the nuance of a topic, and often I find myself shocked or surprised by where my line of thought takes me.

But it's only in clarifying your opinion that you can shock or surprise yourself.

It's only in clarifying your opinion that you gain the opportunity to shape your own views on things with research. Written pieces will always be subjective, more on that later, but they allow one to add a bit of objectivity to their writing. It's a brilliant learning curve. So many blogs I have written remain in draft phase because I start writing them, and realise I don't know enough about the topic. So I talk to people and research the topic with books, and learn more about the topic than I ever would if I had simply not bothered to write one.

3) "They just add another opinion to the maelstrom of already present, better written opinions"

This one is an interesting one, maybe one people think in their heads to dissuade themselves from starting writing.
In my opinion, (see, subjective, but you're reading my blog, deal with it) no-one would ever say anything ever if they applied this filter to everyday life.
Can you imagine?
"What do you want for tea, love?"
"Well frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
What you actually wanted was fish and chips, but Rhett Butler just said it so much better that you felt inadequate.
You actually want fish and chips? Don't just quote Rhett Butler. Have fish and chips.

This has become a convoluted metaphor, I apologise.

My point is, if you shape your opinions based on better ones you have read or heard, you do yourself a disservice in stifling your opinion. You end up the sucker. The great thinkers of our time, and of previous times, became great thinkers by bouncing their ideas off similar and better minds, in a receptive environment. It allows ones opinion to take shape.

In the world of the internet where everyone has an opinion, I think it's brilliant that we have the arena to clash opinions with someone. I think it's brilliant that everyone can put their two cents in. Because someone else's opinions might just be different to yours.
And you both might learn something.