SUMMARY: Youth Mainstreaming is a strategy for integrating youth into every aspect of your organization or community, including the individual perspectives, shared cultures, and throughout the systems and structures affecting young people everyday.
Youth Mainstreaming is a strategy that engages youth as partners throughout every part of an organization to promote efficacy, equity and empowerment for everyone involved. It’s the active, visible engagement of youth throughout the entirety of a defined institution.
Melding the best strategies from across the youth-serving sector, Youth Mainstreaming empowers youth voice through youth involvement to infuse youth throughout society. The outcomes of each of these strategies can be maximized through Youth Mainstreaming while streamlining and stopping unnecessary replication. Perhaps most importantly, Youth Mainstreaming moves young people and communities from passive to active by creating space for the ability, knowledge, wisdom and power of everyone to come through all the time.
For a long time, in both youth-serving and community-wide organizations, young people have been sidelined. Sure, they may be the target demographics for programs or your organization might host a youth voice activity, but children and youth are not actual partners within nonprofits, government agencies, schools, philanthropies, or local issue-oriented advocacy groups.
The strategy of Youth Mainstreaming emerged when some of these organizations began recognizing the hypocrisy of the old ways of doing business. Rather than seeing youth as passive recipients of adult decision-making, they wanted to engage youth as active partners. Between 1970 and 2000, countless organizations around the world began teasing the idea of involving youth as partners in programming. New practices emerged about youth action councils, youth forums, youth summits, youth as funders, and youth on boards.
However, with the emergence of new technologies and experience from 30 years work, youth workers recognized they need new approaches too. Working with these field leaders, we have devised a model that moves youth from being active partners towards being recognized and treated like integral, equitable and full members of every organization and community. Because of that commitment, Youth Mainstreaming embodies the deepest, most transformative work happening today.
What Youth Mainstreaming Can Do
Looking at the way your organization or community operates can help you understand exactly what youth mainstreaming is.
- Top Down: If your organization has a single leader who delegates decisions, sees people as their subordinates and/or treats young people as objects instead of people, Youth Mainstreaming can be a democratizing activity. By positioning children and youth as meaningful contributors throughout the organization, training adults how to make Youth Mainstreaming successful, and providing the right support, your organization will become more democratic.
- Bottom Up: If the people who drive your organization are the ones who make the decisions, your organization is bottom up. However, if your organization serves young people but your organization is driven by parents or staff or adult volunteers, then it is not bottom up. Youth Mainstreaming can be an effectiveness-building strategy designed to position the real recipients of your services as more than the motivators of action, but actually as the drivers and leaders of your organization, and more. It will be more successful.
- Equitable Roles: If your organization equitably positions everyone to have a substantive role in every activity throughout your organization, Youth Mainstreaming can help fulfill your mission. It does that by increasing the pool of talent, energy and knowledge the organization can draw on for all purposes.
- Representative Roles: If a few people are carefully chosen to participate in cautiously selected activities, Youth Mainstreaming can help prepare clients, constituents and others in healthy, appropriate and sustainable ways. Creating meaningful training opportunities; developing fulfilling feedback loops; and fostering youth/adult partnerships can be a few ways this happens.
Making Youth Mainstreaming Successful
While you know what youth voice is, what youth participation can do, and what youth engagement looks like, it might be challenging to see how they are all separate, and yet interdependent, within Youth Mainstreaming.
However, you wonder what to do or where to go next. In order to be successful, Youth Mainstreaming has to infuse with three components of an organization: Individuals; Cultures, and; Systems. In this book, we’ll show you how that happens
You’ve begun the right way by reading The Freechild Institute Youth Mainstreaming Toolkit. In the next section of this book we’ll uncover what the strategy of Youth Mainstreaming is and the main elements you should understand.
Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Institute can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.