Youth Social Action Campaign –  #iwill Pledge update 2018,

Voices Heard, Action taken, Difference made.

I’m proud to still be backing the #iwill social action campaign to make ‘youth social action’ part of life for 10-20 year-olds in the UK, particularly calling on all stakeholders to demonstrate how they are truly youth-led as enshrined in the core principles of the campaign.  Research indicated that whilst 4 in 10 young people are already engaged in ‘meaningful’ regular volunteering, many more would be if they had the opportunities or were empowered to do so. So lets listen to them about how best to do that, address the challenges they face to make it easier, and celebrate their youth-led successes and supporters who help them.

The #iwill campaign aims to increase opportunities, incentives and resources to enable more young people to be socially active volunteers in their communities, making a difference to themselves and others. Activities include campaigning, fundraising, volunteering all of which create the double benefit for both the young volunteers personal development and CV, as well as to their causes. Since the campaign began in 2013, more than 700 organisations or individuals have made pledges to increase the number of opportunities, and the campaign has levered matching resources and grants to provide these.

Personal Experience

I’ve been a supporter of youth social action my whole life – based on personal experience – both as a young volunteer (decades ago!) and a provider of volunteering opportunities in the charities I ve worked for. When I was in my last year of school I was inspired by role models and supported by mentors to take action by, and through, short-term volunteering, which eventually grew into a fulltime one year placement organised by the charity Volunteering Matters (then Community Service Volunteers). Since then and throughout my career I have always remembered the benefits of this experience, to me as well as to those I was hoping to help. Consequently I have always tried to encourage and support the use of young volunteers, hoping that in taking action, they are empowering themselves and liberating their own potential in ways that paid employment could never do. I gained work experience as well as satisfaction through achievement. I could see a tangible real-time benefit.

Later in my career I was involved in the 2006 Russell Commission review of youth action and engagement which set a target of recruiting 1 million new young volunteers, and created V-Inspired which is still providing meaningful volunteer opportunities.

So it was an easy choice to get involved in the #iwill campaigns, both in the pre-campaign review of youth social action commissioned by the Cameron Government in 2012, and to support the subsequent new campaigning charity, Step Up To Serve, launched by HRH Prince of Wales in 2013.

Youth-led Social Action

At the time of the launch I was the CEO of the British Youth Council (BYC) which has a history of supporting young volunteers to have a voice and campaign on social issues that mattered to them in the UK. Given that BYC was set up by young people and is still youth-led (The Board of Trustees are all under 26) it was a natural fit that we particularly promoted the view that such social action volunteering was more effective and owned when it is youth-led, and that this principle ] be embedded and supported into everyday expectations and recognition of young people. [It was formerly adopted as one of the six principles of quality youth social action]

Our #iwill pledge was to support the campaign itself – Step Up To Serve – to be informed and influenced by young voices, particularly on its board. This they did, and it remains a good practice example of a charity board having two reserved spaces, of equal status, for young trustees.

Young people have always had something to say – not only about what they care about, but about what to do – through their campaign and social action ideas. In my experience they have so much to offer if given the chance and opportunity to do so. Lets listen and empower them. Let our social action pledges as organisations release their potential to benefit us all going forward.

Pledge update 2017/18

Since leaving BYC in 2017 I made a new ‘personal’ pledge to the campaign. This was more focused on getting young leaders into positions of influence to shape youth social action projects and their delivery, and targeting key organisations where young people could also lead change, and particularly reaching out to young changemakers who would not otherwise have the opportunity – to be young voices heard.

“I will support the #iwill campaign in 2017’18 by using my experience as a former CEO of the British Youth Council to embed the #iwill campaign’s principle of youth-led social action into practice by empowering young people to become Trustees, Directors, Campaigners and Leaders of social action – through mentoring and training. This offer includes the #iwill Ambassadors and representatives of the #iwill campaign itself but also targets organisations and partners who want to empower young people in their decision-making at all levels. I also pledge to work voluntarily as an informal ambassador for the #iwill campaign – encouraging more opportunities to be pledged, recognising those who do, and celebrating the achievements of young people in their communities”

To take forward this campaign (and other work I was getting involved in) I founded a not-for-profit organisation called Young Voices Heard, which is inspired and advised by many of the young people (and their supporters) that I had the privilege to serve over the last 30 years at the Prince’s Trust, the British Youth Council, and many local and national youth councils, parliaments and individual young leaders the UK.

This has led to a number of separate but interwoven ideas and initiatives over the last 18 months which have:

• Campaigned for and supported the inclusion of youth people into Boardrooms e.g. the National Citizen Service
• Supported #youthled social action campaigns e.g. UK Youth Parliament: Votes at 16, Curriculum for Life / Make Your Mark annual ballot and debates.
• Submitted written evidence to YouthSocial Action review on FT volunteering and the Lords Committee on Citizenship 2018
• Provided advice to the #iwill campaign team to enable increased #youthled input into its campaign actions
• Provided one-to-one support to several individual #youthsocialaction ambassadors/champions – including Daniel Lawes (founder of Youth Politics) and Craig Bateman (founder of Model Westminster Society)

What Next?

The #iwill Step Up To Serve campaign was given seven years (2013-2020) to increase the number and percentage of young people taking part in youth social action, by stimulating new opportunities and changing the culture of expectation and recognition of young people as volunteers. This has proved challenging given that we have experienced a sustained period of recession and low public expenditure, where there is considerable pressure on young people to be earning money in their spare time to set against debt or offset a predicted lower standard of living than their parents. Its remarkable and fantastic that so many are still giving of themselves because they want to make a difference to the world around them.

I have therefore been planning to focus on empowering those who want to make a difference independently of networks and unaware of available support, for those who are mad about something, but need help to get organised, who will so much more if they are connected to like-minded peers, supported by mentors and resources. They are essentially off-road self-starting changemakers, leaders and multipliers who would benefit from a map and service stations to help them on their journey of social action and enterprise.

Increasingly, in the last 12 months, I have come across social action start-ups that are not connected or sponsored by anyone. They have a cause but do not know how to go about getting help. These are similar to business start-ups who drive invention, innovation, growth and employment opportunities,  who can similarly drive social change and improvement through youth leadership, not tomorrow but today. I believe they can inspire others to get involved, and will increase participation in youth social action rates –  and whom Id like to see get access to grants and support direct through a social action youth bank model. (more on this in a future blog!). If you are interested or know of existing ways in which young people can get access to support direct and free – get in touch.

Yet I’m very aware that since leaving BYC I am no longer accountable to a youth-led (and elected) Board of Trustees at the British Youth Council – so I have to work twice as hard to ensure that I’m still listening to my young advisors as equals to ensure I’m also embedding the youth-led principle in the support I offer, and plan to recruit an Advisory Youth Council to sustain that we are also #youth-inspired advised and accountable. So, if you are reading this and under 25 and you want to have a say, or if you are a supporter (Any age!) who knows of new ways in which young people can get access to support direct and free – get in touch.

And if you are a fellow traveller on the Youth Social Action Campaign – considering or renewing your pledge – I would invite you to review how you are empowering young people to be leading, informing and influencing youth social action – and invite their feedback, and if you need help in how best to do this – you can always get in touch with ‘Young Voices Heard’.

Finally – remember to guard against behaviours that will undermine effective and genuine youth-led participation – such as tokenism without action. We need to explore and celebrate, shared, delegated and transferred power, decision-making – more on this in a future blog!


The six principles of quality youth social action (from the #iwill campaign website)

A key goal of the #iwill campaign is to enable organisations to understand and recognise high quality in youth social action. Before the launch of the campaign in 2013, Cabinet Office, The Young Foundation and Institute of Voluntary Research consulted with many organisations across the youth, voluntary, education, business and faith communities. They established an agreed set of six principles that underpin high quality, meaningful youth social action. They are laid out below and you can download more details about these principles from the #iwill website as well as the full report:

  1. Youthled: Led, owned and shaped by young people’s needs, ideas and decision-making.
  2. Challenging: Stretching and Ambitious as well as enjoyable and enabling.
  3. Embedded: Accessible to all, and well-integrated to existing pathways to become a habit for life.
  4. Reflective: Recognising contributions as well as valuing critical reflection and learning
  5. Progressive: Sustained, and providing links to other activities and opportunities.
  6. Socially Impactful: Have a clear intended benefit to a community, cause or social problem.

We know that youth social action takes place in a range of contexts and can mean formal or informal activities, in any setting; for example online, extracurricular, in clubs and groups, informally, or as part of structured programmes.

In all these contexts, we expect that youth social action which applies the above principles, will be able to demonstrate a clear double benefit – to the young person who takes part by developing their skills, character and life opportunities as well as to a community, cause or social problem. The six principles also help promote inclusive practices so that all young people are able to participate and benefit.


James Cathcart is the founder/Director of Young Voices Heard – which aims to support young people with something to say, action to take, difference to make, who would not otherwise get the opportunity and backing from decision makers, to do so.

If you d like to support or work in partnership with YVH – we d love to hear from you!

We offer a range of services from ‘strategy’ to ‘evaluation’




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