The Civil Society Strategy: Engaging Young People

As a young person volunteering at the IARS International Institute, it is encouraging to see the how the Civil Society Strategy has emphasised the crucial role of young people in shaping the future of our society. The Strategy outlines government’s commitment to ensuring that all young people have opportunities to develop the skills, networks and resilience that can improve their life chances, fulfil their potential and to support them to avoid negative pathways in future.

The Civil Society Strategy’s strengths certainly lie in the youth engagement and youth-led approaches. After reviewing the Strategy, it was exciting to see that the Strategy co-operates with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in developing proposals to help young people play their part. Some other highly positive aspects of the Strategy covered the youth voice commitments, the involvement of young people in policy design, and setting out three new youth voice projects, which are:

  1. A Civil Society Youth Steering Group set up within the DCMS to oversee the development and implementation of policies affecting young people, including the plans set out in the Civil Society Strategy.
  2. DCMS will also set up a national Young Commissioners and Inspectors Group to involve young people directly and meaningfully in the commissioning, monitoring and evaluation of national programmes affecting young people.
  3. With respect to future policy, the government will build systems to ensure that young people both have their views heard and are able to play a role in delivery.

As a youth-led institute and expert in youth-led research, IARS has its own youth steering group – the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) – which consists of a diverse group of young people aged 17 to 25. The YAB’s role is constitutional, and they have been steering, guiding and evaluating all our projects and organisational strategy ever since the inception. To this day, our mission remains to empower young people to participate in public life as equal citizens.

IARS ensures youth voice commitments and involvement of young people in policy design through various innovative programmes. Our 99% Campaign is a youth-led initiative and participation programme aiming to make society more inclusive, fair and responsive to young people’s views and realities. It achieves its mission by giving direct voice to the most marginalised young people and by dispelling negative stereotypes. Through a compilation of articles, news, poetry and youth photojournalism projects, the 99% Campaign provides a platform for young people to express their stories, views and experiences about issues affecting their daily lives, with the intention of stimulating social action, and influencing key public figures in the media and governments. This entirely youth -led and youth focused work represents the young people’s real voices and their aspirations to create a fairer future for themselves and for their peers from diverse backgrounds.

As an IARS volunteer, it was meaningful to see that the government takes measures in supporting charities and social enterprises, as the Strategy is determined that third sector actors should be fully confident in their right to speak in public debates and to have a strong role in shaping policy and speaking up on behalf of those they support. At IARS, we encourage the involvement of young people in all consultations, as we believe that young people should be classified as equal stakeholders in decision making, allowing them to build a better future for their own tomorrow.

IARS achieves this by providing opportunities for young people to have a meaningful role in early policy development through policy responses and monitoring and evaluation of our projects. Our unique youth-led approach provides young people with a vital tool to engage in policy making. Over the years, the young people at IARS have been able to achieve positive outcomes, including personal and social development through confidence building and increased self-efficacy. During my time at IARS I have also gained a significant amount of knowledge in policy processes and youth issues, and improved and developed my research skills. 

The Strategy supports several significant youth-led approaches and it clearly outlines through the #iwill campaign how the existing offers for young people can be improved and the need to get young people into the workforce. However, it was concerning to see how the Strategy fails to identify obstacles that hinder young people. I have been working with several IARS’ youth-led projects, including NatWest sponsored –Skill Up projectCare 2 Work and the 99 percent campaign, which all tackle the systemic roots of inequality first. This youth-led and bottom up approach is crucial in order to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage for one of the most marginalised communities of our society.

We at IARS strongly support the implementation of the Civil Society Strategy, and we are committed to engage and empower all young people from diverse backgrounds with civil society. Thus, I believe that IARS has the capacity, expertise and capability to deliver a national youth voice programme with young people. With the Youth Advisory Board and a strong team of young interns, volunteers and associates guiding the work forwards, IARS holds the voice of young people at the heart of everything they do.

Written by our Youth Projects Intern Emma

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