At the start of its seventh and final year the Step Up To Serve’s (SUTS) #iwill campaign has launched a “Power of Youth Challenge 2020” to organisations, decision makers and young people to come together and get involved in a year-long set of activities that will champion youth voice, action and leadership in the #iwill network across the UK. Everyone, including young people, are invited to not only see, hear and value youth voice and leadership, but to signup to promote and grow it. The ‘Challenge’ also represents a strategic call to the youth sector organisations, decision makers and young people to continue to work together into the future to ensure our collective advances are not lost’ as the SUTS charity prepares to close at the end of 2020.

The #iwill campaign’s vision is for a future society where ‘youth social action is the norm for 10-20 year-olds across the UK’, but the ‘Power of Youth’ challenge specifically focuses on the role of young leaders in taking that vision forward, that they ‘should have the power to shape and address the issues that affect their lives and the future of our country’. It acknowledges many are still not heard, particularly those on the margins, and that to effectively realise the potential of everyone, they will all need a boost from those of us with our power, to bring their power ‘online’!

When the SUTS campaign was launched in 2013 it was in response to the then Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision for all young people to offer their ‘service’ to the nation at some point, to benefit as individuals along the way, to learn skills and to be more employable. This was called the ‘double benefit’ and these principles underpinned his vision for the National Citizen Service (NCS) and subsequently Step Up To Serve. The aims for both were ambitious and targets were set. For the Step Up to Serve campaign it was to double the numbers volunteering in ‘meaningful’ youth social action and increase the proportion taking part from 40% to 50%, and for the NCS it was initially going to be for all 16 year olds, through progressively growing targets, from 10,000 in its pilot year to 360,000 by 2020. (In 2019 it was actually nearer 100,000 despite the age range being extended to include 17 year-olds too).

With hindsight both these targets look ambitious, especially in the light of subsequent public spending cuts that would impact so dramatically on both national and local youth services and schools; the ending of national youth grant programmes at the Department of Education; and the transfer of the youth policy remit to the Cabinet Office and then DCMS.

iwill ambassadorsDespite this the #iwill campaign, with cross party support and the royal patronage of HRH Prince of Wales, has been impressive in securing pledges of support and brokering partnerships and investment of £70m to help sustain participation levels at 40%. Many of the best active young citizens have been showcased by the initiative through their excellent #iwill ambassador programme. They all deserve to get some sort of an active young citizenship medal (a new addition to the Honours List?) and several have recently been recognised as Points of Light winners.

The current campaign strategy (appendix 2) has responded to the findings of its Youth Social Action Survey (IPSOS MORI) thorough annual reports and recommendations, to inform its current priorities: the long-term sustainability of youth social action; to increase quality; to narrow the socio-economic gap of those participating, to grow participation of the youngest (under 14s) and significantly, to grow ‘youth voice’.

According to the strategy framework the enablers of these priorities will be investment, partnership and communication. I am particularly excited about the potential role that communication can play in valuing, celebrating and amplifying youth voice and leadership. The target audience needs to include the broader public to challenge persistent negative stereo types about this remarkable and inspiring generation. So there is another challenge here – to the media, which has endless special correspondents for this that and the other – but none for “youth”.

Over the last 12 months #iwill has been increasingly showcasing and listening to its #iwill ambassador network as young leaders and partners of today (why wait until tomorrow?), significantly signposting the way to others, by inviting them, and all young people, to respond to the Power of Youth challenge. This demonstrates a respect for them as equal partners. Talking to them not about them, and encouraging others to do the same.

It signals a faith in young leaders to respond for real, not tokenistic, as equal participants and changemakers, regardless of age.

The consequences of meaningful power-sharing will be challenging and change-making, (otherwise whats the point)? Once we start channelling #youthvoice into positions of 5_You_Cant_Build_Socialpower and leadership, for example participation in decision-making in board-rooms, budget priorities and grant allocation, young people will themselves challenge society to live up to their expectations, contrasting that with society’s expectations of them. No longer stepping up for silent service but articulating youth voice heard leadership.

Whatever the future holds, ready or not, we will See it, Hear it, Sign it and Share it together. In the words of Barrack Obama to the Florida anti-gun campaigners “Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organising to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.”

I hope that we do this together, young and old. #Yeswecan #Wewill!

For full details of the Power of Youth Challenge follow the link  Its Time to Act

James Cathcart, Director Young Voices Heard – Youth Participation Support Service 

Appendix 1 Poem

From #SilentService to #YouthVoice leading

The Young Leader (16)

‘To be, or not to be heard, that is the challenge.

Whether tis nobler to silently serve for double benefit

Or to shout out against the sea of stereotypes

And with our youth voice in social action – end them.

All together, better than before,

Meet needs and mend them.

The Old Leader (61)

To Listen, or not to listen that is no longer the question.

Tis nobler to prepare and welcome youth to the table,

Than to resist the tide of youth empowered arising.

You’re here today, why wait until tomorrow,

Better together, we will today

Meet needs and mend them.


*inspired by Hamlet and Harland

Appendix 2

#iwill Strategy 2020

The power of one

It only takes one Great Thunberg to inspire a generation, and the #iwill campaigns flagship ambassador programme is packed with talented and vocal ‘Gretas’.

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