Future Leaders programme (Spotlight Project)

Lesley Philippson and Arwyn Thomas are working with Changemakers to run its Future Leaders programme. Future Leaders involves a young person working within a host organisation, helping it to develop its youth participation strategy. The National Trust and RoSPA are just two of the organisations that are involved in the programme. The young people have six months to create, develop and implement a project that will continue to be used as part of the organisation’s strategy after the project has finished. 

What is your project about? How long has it been running?
LP: Future Leaders is a programme for young people aged between 18-25. It was created specifically by Changemakers to develop young people's leadership skills, within organisations. The young people have a strategic role and have to work within the confines of the organisation’s aims and objectives. The young people work with the organisation to challenge it, and bring fresh young eyes to its youth participation strategy.

AT: The programme has been running for the last 18 months and it is a revamped project. Lesley and I were involved in the design of Future Leaders.

Describe your role on the project?
AT: Lesley and I are facilitators, working with the young people, the organisational Champions and the organisation.

What is the aim of your project?
AT: Future Leaders is about personal development and youth participation. What we are trying to do is engage young people to help organisations to take a young person's perspective. They work with the young person for six months to create a tangible change, so there is a legacy of their impact on the organisation. It does require high level buy-in from the outset. 

LP: On a superficial level it is great for the CV, it gives opportunities to develop a range of communication skills, including presentations, public speaking report writing, administrative skills, organisation of meetings, project management skills and managing people etc.

However the opportunity to participate in something that might fundamentally change or challenge the way an organisation listens to and interacts with young people is much more important. Working within an organisation offers tremendous insight into the way organisations work and make decisions and the opportunity to meet the decision makers face to face as an equal partner is very powerful and the ramifications of that are huge.

How are children and young people involved in your project?
AT: There is nothing tokenistic about this level of youth participation. This is true youth-led learning. The young people work directly within and with the organisation, designing strategies, implementing projects and feeding back on changes.

LP: I think that it is important to remember the range and diversity of the young people and the organisations. Future Leaders are drawn from a wide range of educational backgrounds from Oxbridge graduates to NEET young people with little formal education, or a refugee who hasn’t been in the country very long and many of the young people have some pretty amazing life stories. What the young person gains is unique to each person but for some it can be quite life transforming.

What has been the key outcomes/ learning from the project so far?
LP: For me it has been that young people come with very idealistic expectations, which is wonderful and what you want on one level. I love that idea that you can change the world. Part of our job is to enable them to bring it down to something that is realistic, and tangible, so that they can go away at the end and say "I did that". The Champions (staff within the organisation that work with the young person) have proved to be so important; the gulf between what is needed to develop the project and what is provided can be enormous.

What are the key success factors of the project?
LP: A legacy of change for the organisation and a sense of achievement for the Champion, the young person and the organisation.

What have been the key benefits of the project to young people?
AT: You can see the young people growing in confidence. They have to do a lot of presentations.  During the residential they have to design the project and also present to their peers, who critique them. It’s quite challenging and nerve-wracking for the young people. Making them accountable and the leader of the project takes any risk of it being seen as lip service to youth participation.  The other outcome is that youth participation is better understood.

LP: The empowering of young people to influence the decision makers will hopefully have a more long term spin off with regard to political engagement and active citizenship.

What barriers have you experienced when setting up and delivering the project and how were they overcome?

LP: Helping the organisation to fully understand what their commitment to the programme would mean. One of them said to me “Oh – this isn’t just a bit of mentoring, is it?”

AT: Some of the young people find it difficult to focus, but Lesley and I breathe down their necks to keep them going! Our role is very important in nudging them along. We had a group on a residential where they had to pitch their project to the others. There were some fabulously ambitious ideas and I had to remind them that in six months time they were going to be questioned on how near that ideal they had actually got!

In your opinion, what has been the most significant thing about this project in terms of engaging children and young people to participate in decision-making / have their say?
AT: Because the young people are working as an individual within a host organisation, and within a bigger group of young people, they have a sense of team around them but they are also working as individuals. Their thoughts and opinions are acted on, not in a tokenistic way, but as useful and beneficial factors that will go on to change the structure of an organisation. 

If you could give your top tip to anyone who wants to develop a project in this area what would it be?
LP: The idea that they come up with has to be something that the organisation recognises will take them forward. You can't grab a project out of the air. Relevance to the organisation is key. 

AT: Plan, plan and plan again. Once you crystallise your thoughts as to what your project is about, commit it to one side of A4 and stick to it. Every week or every meeting brings a new idea and if you get dragged around by new ideas all the time your final project may not come off as you have been unfocussed.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB