‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’.
When cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said this, she wasn't kidding.
These widely quoted words hold as much proverbial weight, now as they did when she first uttered them, particularly because we are living in such uncertain and challenging times. From our political landscape to relations between the different generations to the environment – to say things are a little bumpy would be an understatement. However, as easy as it is to feel disheartened, disillusioned and tired, it’s also vital that we don’t lose faith in what a collective of thoughtful, committed and organised individuals can do when they put their minds to something.
It’s even easier to keep the faith when you’re working with vibrant, switched on, and passionate young people - and the 100 Young Green Ambassadors that make up the Groundwork Youth Network are all that and more. Almost 4 weeks ago – following a highly successful recruitment drive - we gathered together in Birmingham for our inaugural Youth Summit. Ambassadors, practitioners, trusts, partners and friends alike spent the day at The Studio participating in masterclasses in public speaking by Speakers Trust, Responsible Internet Citizenship by Child Net, video making and editing by our very own in-house Communications team and of course, an introduction to campaigning by Friends of the Earth. Our jam-packed programme also included a youth panel featuring inspirational young speakers - Tom Boon, Aliyah Hasinah, Sarah Adesikun, Emily Long, Lili Sarkadi, and Hamaad Akhtar – representing organisations and initiatives such as Advocacy Academy, Re-Think Mental Illness, Reclaim Project, and Friends of the Earth. The focus of our discussions was addressing the big and topical question: ‘What are the key issues affecting young people in 2017?’
We launched a poll on Twitter the day before the Summit and also during to see what the consensus would be – if there even was one. Although issues concerning identity, social mobility, education and the environment were of concern and focus for our young people, overwhelmingly youth mental health and wellness scored highly in our opinion poll as an area of worry. As well as exploring this throughout the day, in our staff sessions, young people again took the lead; activists like Regina Adeleke emotively and eloquently told us why they were so passionate about the work they were doing for initiatives like Reclaim project in Manchester. Practitioners, partners and young people put their heads together to explore the issues affecting the youth, green space, and charity sectors and what could be done to overcome these.
Contrary to the constant and grating mainstream narrative denouncing young people and claiming they are not interested in their local, offline communities, the young people working with Groundwork and all those we’ve met along the way as we’ve developed the Groundwork Youth programme are interested and want their voices to be part of the conversation. When asked why she applied to join the Groundwork Youth Network, Bianca Drotleff (now a member of our youth board) said:
‘This was the chance for me to go a step forward in changing young people’s behaviour and perceptions about environmental sustainability. And this is one of my main aims as part of this group; I am looking to make students aware (and young people in general) about the negative aspects of climate change and how we can tackle it by making small changes in our lives and influencing our communities.’
Indeed, the challenges are great and the threats are grave: cuts in funding, disengagement, lack of resources, time, and people power are just some examples of the hurdles to overcome. However, the will to be part of meaningful change is just as great, if not greater. Change cannot come from just one summit, or just one campaign, this is true. But moving towards compartmentalising the challenges ahead so that the hurdles are not as overwhelming (the impetus behind our ongoing #JustOneThing social media campaign) and emphasising that it’s a communal effort, will mean more people, especially those most on society’s margins like young people, will feel empowered to get involved and make a change in their local community.
Our young people have already rolled their sleeves up and got to work: after a brilliant inaugural Youth Advisory Board meeting our board – now with roles allocated – will be deciding on and designing their national campaign shortly and will work with our network of Young Green Ambassadors to ensure they are acting locally. Our Youth Summit brought together a group of thoughtful and committed people and our programme aims to provide the resources and support this group needs to make a difference. Empowering young people to tap into and unlock their leadership potential is vital because young people are the leaders of today as well as tomorrow.
Post by Siana Bangura – Campaigns Officer, Groundwork UK