Building young people’s power

“The power our Movement is building is not about feeling ‘confident’ or ‘courageous’: power is the ability to act.” The Advocacy Academy

Young people can build and understand their power in order to tackle the injustices they experience, and there are practical ways to support this. Youth power means that young people should be as involved and resourced as we would want for adults in our social and political spheres, actively encouraged to imagine and articulate a better world, and to use changemaking means – such as lobbying, organising, dreaming, campaigning, mobilising, learning and community building – to do that.

Generous sharing of networks of power and influence

Devolved money to fund what they want and run own campaigns

Alternative or parallel routes to power for young people who are marginalised

Near peers who provide insight and expertise

Recognition and remuneration for their time, expertise and value to organisations

Youth power needs to be thought about in its own right

Young Women Earphones

Generous sharing of networks of power and influence

Adults working with young people need to share their influential contacts and help to connect them to those who are in power. Key question: who do young people need to be able to reach? Making change isn’t only about young people developing key technical or social skills – important though these are too. Sharing contact books and leveraging institutional connections, making introductions and using their networks are key.

The School Exclusion Projects at Just for Kids Law brings the organisation’s legal and campaigning expertise, authority and connections to the service of young people working to address the injustices of school exclusion. This has enabled the young campaigners to meet with parliamentarians, members of the London General Assembly and other organisations in the sector. The young campaigners have also recently secured a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education to talk about their experiences of school exclusion and what they would like to see changed.

Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC), in Northern Ireland, brought young people with a lived experience of care directly together with Northern Ireland Executive Department of Health and Education officials and ministers. Young people’s feedback on the language around care was implemented in official documents used in Northern Ireland, with the Minister of Health instructing their staff to use the terms around care that care-experienced young people prefer.

Devolved money to fund what they want and run own campaigns

Making change costs money, and this is often what young people with experience of injustice lack. Too often we expect young people to lead change without financial resources. Funders can support initiatives where funds are subgranted to young people – or where young people make grants to other young people. This centres young people’s views about what is important to fund, and is a missing link in young people’s experience of change.

Beatfreeks in Birmingham has set up ‘Fuel’ grants, where young people make grants to other young people for their social action for change projects – using Whatsapp.


Alternative or parallel routes into power for young people who are marginalised

The classic routes into UK politics and other positions of power are hard to access – or sometimes entirely shut off – to young people who experience injustice.  It’s not a coincidence that the history of UK governments, and other powerful institutions, is often characterised by men, and sometimes women, from the same schools and universities. Many of the institutions of the past where young people organised for change have unravelled over the last 40 years.

Through its Fellowship programme for young activists whose lives have been directly shaped by injustice, The Advocacy Academy in South London works with over 250 expert campaigners who work with young people to build their power.

Near peers who provide insight and expertise

Across many of the organisations we’ve funded, young people become experienced leaders who support other young people, drawing on their skills and knowledge, as well as their experience of the issues they are challenging. These roles are also  experience and meaningful pathways into the world of work.

West End Women and Girls Centre have employed Gender Equality Peer Educators to raise the consciousness of young women aged 11-25 and support and train them to become Domestic Violence Champions. The Gender Equality Peer Educators and Domestic Violence Champions work together to develop campaigns that aim to change the world, end misogyny, and create a fairer and more just society for all. They are trained and supported by the centre which has over 40 years of experience in this work.

MIAHC with Girls

Recognition and remuneration for their time, expertise and value to organisations

Young people experiencing injustice and inequalities may not be able to volunteer time for free for all kinds of reasons: they are much more likely to lack the kinds of resources that make possible to give up time for free. While not everyone wants to be paid for changemaking, many organisations feel that recognition and payment is important, depending on the level of engagement, tasks and deployment of experience. Funders who draw on the expertise of young activists should expect to pay them.

At Peer Power, Young Experts are always paid for their time and involvement in designing and delivering training on Coproduction and Empathy for professionals employed in the secure estate, social services and beyond.

Youth power needs to be thought about in its own right, alongside youth voice.

Youth voice means that young people are heard by and influence institutions that are generally created by and run by adults. Youth power is about equipping young people to build their own power, and be able to take action for change. Youth voice and youth power are both important, and can work together, but they are distinct from each other.

Voices That Shake! bring together young people, artists and campaigners to develop creative responses to social injustice. Young people at Shake! have researched, curated and codified ten years’ of their groundbreaking work as a resource for other young people of colour who want to lead change, putting into practice the world they want to see.