CEO's blog | What happens when you put young people in charge?


Matt Hyde, Chief Executive, talks about the success of the recent YouShape event, which demonstrates how exciting our youth-shaped agenda really is.

Tough times but cause to celebrate

Anyone following the various twists and turns of the launch of our new CRM system, Compass, can probably imagine how challenging the last few months have been. Such is leadership it’s rarely about the moments when things are going swimmingly. Rather, our leadership qualities are truly tested in those challenging moments when your back is against the wall and you have to somehow find a way through a complex and testing situation.

But make no mistake, every minute of the day staff and volunteers have been working – and will continue to work – through the current difficulties; we read (and feel) every social media post, every email and listen to every conversation and we are acutely aware of the frustration on the ground; we are doing all we can to respond to these concerns.

Against that backdrop, on Saturday 7 February we held YouShape – an event for 14-25 year olds designed to consider how a National Youth Council (or equivalent) might operate, which is a key element of Scouting for All to ensure that Scouting is shaped by young people in partnership with adults. It was a triumph and a welcome respite from the difficulties of recent months. Hannah Kentish, UK Youth Commissioner, and her team put on an incredibly slick, professional, inclusive and uplifting day, which came as a timely reminder of what happens when you put young people at the helm.

From enthusiasm to action

The question now is how we build on the momentum from YouShape, converting enthusiasm into real change. It’s been great to subsequently be involved in various social media discussions about how we can make this a real success, so I thought I’d share some reflections on areas we might now consider…

Avoid the search for perfect representation:

There have been several threads about the need for fair representation for residents of the devolved nations, rural communities and liberation or equality groups. This does need proper consideration but the search for perfectly fair representation is as old as Plato and indeed there are ongoing discussions about the representativeness of the UK’s own political system. We need to avoid spending all our time on discussing process rather than on determining the issues that young people care about and the need to ensure young people actually have power and influence in The Association.   

Ensure young people make a difference to our decision-making:

For me this is the critical issue. If we end up with a structure that makes decisions that no one listens to or where nothing changes as a result, we will have failed. Should we review the composition of the AGM to ensure there are a greater number of young people involved? What about the Board? In Les Scouts Belgium, candidates for national board have to be under 26.

Should key decisions go the Youth Council for approval? In Hebrew Scouts (the largest Association in the Israeli Federation) all items of policy have to go to the Youth Council before being put to vote at the National Council. And what about external policy matters, such as whether we should support initiatives like Votes at 16? Should we, like Girlguiding UK, have an advocacy panel that agrees such external policies?

Language and inclusivity:

Is ‘youth council’ the right term, or is this the sort of language that puts people off, conjuring up old-fashioned political structures? How do we ensure we build something that is truly accessible rather than designing something that attracts the usual suspects? As Wayne has pointed out in his blog one of the successes of the event was that it was run on different lines to most of our events and so we heard from different people.  

6-14 year olds:

Some people commented that this age group is currently excluded from the national discussions. That is a fair point. It’s pretty clear to me that anyone in this age group could and should be shaping their programme locally and we need to share some creative ways in which leaders might do that. Young people in this age group will also have views on matters they want to influence at a national level. But in line with the progressive nature of our Programme, we would expect young people to take on more responsibility as they move up through the sections.

Breaking through the glass ceiling:

One of the most common concerns I hear from young people is they feel there is a glass ceiling in Scouting – that they can’t progress up the hierarchy because they get blocked or told they’re not yet ready. For me, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Is this about adult training or is it about how we give people the confidence to see the empowerment of a young leader in a supportive environment as success?

Unlocking the talent of 450,000 young people

At the end of the event, Jay Thompson, one of the Deputy Youth Commissioners talked about this being about evolution not revolution. He talked with conviction about his own experiences of where experienced adult volunteers had supported him to develop as a leader. Many of us will have had that moment where the once young person has grown up and tells us many years later that we played a vital role in their development.

And that is the alchemy that we’re striving for here. How do we unlock the talent and voices of 450, 000 young people and see it as a personal reward that we played a role in developing the next generation of the UK leaders.  


Tell us what you think on Twitter using #YouShape.

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