(This is a blog I originally posted with the Ontario Non-Profit Networks Blog C[ONN]ect, available at http://theonn.ca/blog/why-does-it-matter-for-youth-to-have-a-voice-2/ I thought I’d publish it here as well.)
Why should youth be involved in the non profit sector beyond front line service/management? Why should they be involved in policy shaping of the sector itself versus just working within the sector? Is youth representation even an issue? Why should youth care?
What does the sector even mean when philanthropic, social and environmentalist tenancies seem baked into all of us “young people” via culture and education?
I’d argue the non-controversial premise that the non-profit sector is changing, eroding this once stable edifice with a first push to social enterprise, giving way to social entrepreneurs. These social entrepreneurs further blur the lines between for profit and non-profit by seeing social inequalities as market opportunities to do good and create wealth.
Second we live in this time of de-centralization of everything: of power via social media and open/more transparent democracy, of information via the internet, of data via open data movements, of technology and engineering via DIY/hacker/maker movements, and even traditional capital intensive sectors like manufacturing via the additive manufacturing revolution (a.k.a. 3D printing.) We have this situation beginning where very few people can now control the production and mobilization of power that would have required hundreds of people only decades ago. The world is evolving into de-centralization from the centralization of the previous years.
But what does this have to do with the non-profit sector? What are the implications? Well, this being said, the non-profit sector at the highest level of policy shaping and advocacy retains the traditional large centralizing tendency. Us youth are growing up in a world that to us is ubiquitously de-centralized, yet the areas we want to build into remain dogmatically centralized, slow moving and closed off to people who haven’t been in the industry for long. You see the tension here.
Now the question is even more pressing; why should youth get involved with the policy level of the non-profit sector, especially when that level is so alien to what we know? Why not just do our own thing? There are three responses.
First, you should be involved at that level because it gives us more power and ability to accomplish what we want if one can say, shape Trillium’s funding mandates set by the government, rather than just trying to fit within them. That is the sort of selfish reason.
The second reason is because young people, having grown up in this totally different culture bring the possibility of new innovative ideas to the table. They can bring a lot of new creativity and innovation to policy of the sector. That is the sort of selfless, pragmatic reason.
But I think there is a more important third reason.
Someone once told me a very compelling argument for why the youth vote matters. It’s not because voting ensures they can get what they want, or that because they bring new ideas—both of which are true of course. It is because as the youth vote decreases over time we are growing a large cohort of citizens who more and more will feel disenfranchised from their government, and the longer that is allowed to fester, the greater the probability of a increasingly traumatic revolution/revolt. The reason the youth vote matters and is actually a high priority is because it’s a matter of domestic security and national sustainability- not a issue of trying to “be fair to youth.”
Some people I can imagine would say, “Yes, we need revolution!!” It’s hard to communicate how naive this is—in my opinion—because the social, cultural and economic effects of an “actual” revolution—whether bloody or not—are so tragic for a country that it sets it back for decades. Revolution is not the path for Canada.
So, likewise, a similar situation is occurring in the non-profit sector at the policy creation level, where those who shape the non-profit sector are of the centralized camp—the ones where the front line is often well integrated across age demographics. Those who are classified as youth are more and more feeling the centralized world is alien. The longer and deeper this gap exists, the greater the chance of a traumatic split within the sector. Ironic because we all want to just do good, yet in the words of James Shelley, “our arguments about how to achieve peace are usually the most violent debates we have.”
Youth need to be involved for the sake of the security of the sector itself. We need bridge builders who can speak both languages of the de-centralized younger generations and the centralized traditional ones. An analogy from chemistry is that of something called a coordination complexes. Coordination complexes are a metal ion at the centre of a molecule that brings a bunch of smaller molecules (ligands) together which traditionally want nothing to do with each other (they intensely repel each other because of their electronegativity). But the awesome thing with coordination complexes is that they are everywhere in our biology, and therefore everything that allows us to be alive. It would seem that a prerequisite for life, is the bringing together of many constituent parts who traditionally don’t get along.
Likewise, we need youth to rise as the centres which bring all these generations together, who can speak both languages, and understand we each value different things as far as policy goes. And that isn’t an insult to each other, but rather a celebration of our diversity, which we transcend for the greater good. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see things as hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. “