Historically, the majority of the Foundation’s youth initiatives have focused on developing the leadership capacities of students or on strengthening youth-led organizations. By contrast, YouthScape was part of the Foundation’s inclusion strategy, focusing on young people who feel disconnected from school and other mainstream organizations led by adults. Engaging young people in local decision-making develops and draws upon their knowledge, skills, and values, and in doing so, it serves to enrich democracy in our communities.
The Foundation’s Youthscape program encompasses six communities’ efforts to fund local youth-led projects and to influence local youth policy and practice. In addition to generating useful knowledge for organizations trying to involve more young people, this initiative is also developing engagement models for adoption by other communities across Canada.
The Foundation invited coalitions of community partners, including youth, to address opportunities or challenges of particular interest to youth (e.g., improving recreation programs, reducing tension among racial groups, finding voice through art and music, improving relations between homeless youth and the police, etc.).
In six communities across Canada (Victoria, Calgary Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Rivières des Prairies – near Montreal, and Halifax) community partners tested models for engaging marginalized young people in line with some of the most promising practices in the field.
Under the leadership of the International Institute for Child Rights and Development (IICRD), local convening agencies have, in turn, supported dozens of local youth-led projects over the past three years. They have created support networks around the projects that include local social service agencies, schools, businesses, police, artists and parents. By mentoring young people, these adults and institutions learn to create space for youth perspectives and encourage their participation.
- While a competitive “Request for Proposals” may generate the most coherent proposals, some organizations doing the most innovative work with youth may remain below the radar screen or be less experienced at writing proposals.
- A well-run small grants fund can successfully nourish the dreams and talents of young people to initiate a project. In order to change municipal and organizational policies, adult mentors can be useful allies to help them navigate the dynamics of complex systems.
- Civic institutions and traditional youth-serving agencies may have a successful track record in attracting previously engaged young people (students, athletes, etc.). However, it is much more challenging to be accessible and relevant to young people who do not see themselves as “belonging” to a broader community. Organizations that are serious about including marginalized youth often need to start by reviewing their own values, structures and behaviour in light of where these youth are at.
- We are learning about the approach that outstanding “youth-friendly” organizations embrace to promote authentic civic participation by young people: youth engagement is not a discrete project, but rather, a way of living. It begins by listening to the young people and affirms their rights and skills rather than focusing exclusively on their needs.
- There is no coherent “youth engagement” field; leadership, networks and funding opportunities tend to be organized around specific issues such as education, recreation, health, job skills training, crime prevention, etc. People are most easily engaged by working on a specific issue in their community such as building a skate board park, initiating an after-school music program or improving relations between street-involved youth and the police.
- Developmental evaluation was extremely useful in this initiative, particularly in the early stages when the design was still evolving and the communication channels in this multi-site project were emerging.
Visit YouthScape.ca for more information
- General Funding
- Youth and Education