How can we help the next generation to take action?
International Youth Day 2020 gives us a chance to celebrate what young people are doing to change the world. Greta Thunberg has, of course, had a profound impact upon environmentalism, and student protests inspired by her words and actions helped to put the climate crisis on the world's agenda last year.
Young people are powerful agents of change, but they need their local communities as well as national and global institutions to recognise their voices and include them in formal politics. We need to give young people the opportunity to represent the views of their generation and be empowered to participate in decision-making.
At Canon, we believe passionately in giving young people the tools, skills and access to enable them to drive change. Through our Young People Programme, we've been working with a number of EMEA charity partners and the UN to help institutions engage with more young people and help create a better future for everyone.
Connecting with community institutions
The first step in creating an inclusive and receptive environment is through the engagement of young people with their local communities where they can share and explain their concerns. Many young people, especially from sections of society that are vulnerable or who have traditionally been discriminated against, aren't used to being listened to and don't understand their voices matter.
Through our Young People Programme (YPP), we've seen that visual storytelling is an incredibly effective way of engaging local institutions to help amplify young people's voices. 'A picture paints a thousand words' might be a bit of a cliché. Still, there's some truth to it – photos are a universal language which can help young people to paint a clear picture of the issues that are impacting their daily lives and that need to be addressed on both local and national levels.
In South Africa, Canon YPP worked with local charity Wild Shots Outreach (WSO) to highlight and address the fact that many young black people living near the Kruger National Park have never visited the park and had no relationship with their natural heritage. WSO has engaged with several schools to help educate young people on the importance of wildlife conservation and tourism. The charity then took the participants on local game drives to see and photograph the iconic wildlife, capturing what wildlife conservation means in real life. The photography was exhibited in the local community to thousands of people, painting a compelling picture of the benefits the wildlife brings to the area.
Not only did this serve to raise awareness of the value of the park among the immediate community, but it allowed participants to see the value their engagement can bring. Several have gained employment in roles photographing wildlife, while others have become part of the Wild Shots Outreach programme and are continuing to engage with local institutions to bring about change.
Playing a role in the process
The second step is the engagement and inclusion of young people at a national and official levels such as in political institutions. Giving the next generation a pivotal role in formal political mechanisms is vital to ensure that institutions implement real and relevant action to support societal change. However, this is often a question of access - young people rarely have any meaningful say in the planning carried out by institutions.
To make this possible, organisations need to use their contacts and influence to build bridges for young people. In Brussels, the Canon Young People Programme worked with Plan International Belgium to help teenagers raise awareness of the sexual harassment faced by young women in public spaces by presenting their photography of unsafe environments and situations at the local parliament.
This put the topic on the agenda of local lawmakers. Two MPs proposed a resolution designed to take action against sexual harassment in the city, the first of its kind in Belgium. This was passed by the Brussels Regional Parliament, something which is unlikely to have happened if it hadn't been for the engagement of young people with a political institution.
The benefits of involving the next generation in political and public administration and planning are evident. Plan International's Safe Cities initiative calls for policies and frameworks that are receptive of adolescent girls' safety and includes them in urban planning and development. Now launched in 18 cities, the initiative, built on young girls' perspective, brings together policymakers as well as transport authorities and public, encouraging action against sexual harassment in public spaces.
The UN's final step for engaging young people is at a global level. Of course, this responsibility doesn't fall to one organisation, but every step in improving engagement at a community or national level is a step towards achieving global change.
Actions and change can be inspiring, encouraging others to do the same. The Canon Young People Programme runs in 27 countries across EMEA, and the achievements of participants have been showcased at global events such as the UN Festival of Action and Visa Pour l'Image.
Looking forwards, we hope that the Young People Programme will continue to show more organisations the value of engaging with young people so that we can plan for and encourage change towards a better world together.