Kianna Leader (22), from Leeds, is a longstanding and passionate champion of #youthvoice and participation. She is currently a volunteer member of the ‘Young People In the Lead’ Advisory Group at the National Lottery Community Fund, and is a member of the Government’s DCMS Youth Voice Steering Group. A graduate from the University of Nottingham she is employed by Getaway Girls, Leeds, as the ‘Vocal Girls Coordinator’ empowering girls and young women to facilitate change in the city. In this interview Kianna talks about her motivation, priorities and hopes for greater youth participation and reveals her new year resolutions!
What motivated you to first get involved ‘youth voice’ participation and social action?
“Amplifying youth voice and facilitating opportunities for young people to be heard has been a great passion of mine since high school. My motivation for getting involved in social action projects was that I was continually seeing the barriers and disadvantages that people were unfairly facing. However, it was not until I went to college and studied Government and Politics that I realised I did have the power to make change – politics was the way I wanted to do this. I aspire to become a MP as I see politics as the fundamental way to make national changes. I want Youth Voice to be a part of all work that is done, as young people are the future.
I recognised that I needed to do the groundwork and get involved with work that tackled issues I cared about. Therefore at 17, I got involved with my university’s student union as I felt it was very important that students’ views and voices were heard, especially during the lecturers strikes. I was then elected as the philosophy joint honours course representative, and I continued to ensure the students voices were heard.
Q. Can you describe your current ‘youth voice’ work?
I work for Getaway Girls, and volunteer for The National Lottery Community Fund. These roles complement each other so well! I am both sharing my views and opinions as a young person and also facilitating opportunities for other young people to do the same.
As the ‘Vocal Girls Coordinator’ at Getaway Girls it is my job to amplify girls and young women’s voice in Leeds and create opportunities to allow them to facilitate change. We have the overall ambition to make Leeds the first women friendly city in the UK and we are currently working on a campaign focusing on mental health.
The ‘Young People in the Lead’ team (YPIL) have created a wealth of resources including PowerPoints, checklists, and top tips on how to attract and retain young talent. We have also been a catalyst for change within funding by encouraging organisations to involve Youth Voice in their decision making and embed it within their organisations. YPIL involves young people as only young people can truly know what makes a great youth project, how to effectively engage with young people and where we need to make the changes. As a team we recognised that funders and organisation ‘leads’ need to be able to identify the difference between when organisations value young people or when they are using them in a tokenistic way. Therefore, it is our goal to change people’s perspectives on young people and give them the resources to support youth voice and youth participation.
I am also a part of the Youth Voice Steering Group which was created with the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport and partners. Within this group we advise on the salient issues for ministers and share our opinions and views at roundtables. It is very important for us as young people to have this space as many of the policies, initiatives and outcomes will directly impact young people.
Q. Why is youthvoice and participation important and what can it achieve?
‘Youth voice’ is important because young people are the future. I recognise that with age comes more experience, but this cannot be used as a reason to invalidate young people’s lived experiences. Young people need to be able to help shape the society they will be living in.
Youth participation is of mutual benefit to both the young person and the organisation they are working within.
It benefits the young person as it will open opportunities for them such as increasing their network, improving their transferable skills, and increasing their self-worth. Many young people do not feel valued or that their opinions matter but incorporating young people into your work helps to combat this feeling. Additionally, many of the opportunities I have been part of have gained, are due to word of mouth or meeting people who have recognised my potential, this was only as the organisations I am connected to value youth participation.
From the perspective of the organisation, youth participation is important as they can benefit from both the fresh takes young people have on different ideas and approaches and their views on society. It is well known that the best ideas come from diverse teams and engaging with young people is one way to diversify.
Q Do you feel youthvoice is being heard enough in society? No, I don’t think youth voice is being heard enough in society. I do think that there are changes being made but I think they have all just focused on getting young people on teams and boards etc. However, there has been little work on the inclusion front.
I think it needs to be understood that just having a young person at the table does not mean that their voice is being heard.
Q What can we all do about that? For youth voice to be effectively heard in society, more people need to recognise that practical experience is not everything. For many opportunities to influence change, practical experience is looked at rather than passion and/or lived experience and this really limits the amount of young people that are able to get involved. Also, commonly young people are expected to give their time and knowledge for free if they want to be heard. However, this means the most disadvantaged young people in the society may not be able to participate and this furthers the attainment gap.
Also, for youth voice to be effectively heard, the young person needs to be able to be seen as a person with a wide range of experiences which are all of value. Young people can share opinions on a wide range of issues and should not be limited to talk on experiences they have had solely due to their age.
What are your top five campaign / priority issues for change?
My top 5 campaign/ priority issues are:
1. More ‘girl’ and ‘young women only’ youth spaces
2. For the curriculum to be modernised so that it incorporates both modern British culture as well as providing a conclusive overview of British and international history.
3. More funding to support children from lower socioeconomic reach their potential i.e help with moving costs to attend university.
4. Eradicating the gender pay gap through Government policy
5. A stronger focus on the climate crisis by both corporations and the Government .
Q. What are the priorities for young people in a new normal world?
I think the main priority is making sure young people are consulted before any policies are implemented. Just like everyone else young people have competing priorities.
I would say employment is a huge priority though. The job market has always been very competitive but due to COVID it has been especially so. The Government need to push employers to recruit more young people during these challenging times.
Q. What advice would you give to young people starting their youth voice journey?
Find out what you care about and become part of any conversations going on in that space! Lots of the work I have been able to get involved in has been due to the connections that I have made in other projects. Once your name is out there, you’ll be able to make great changes.
But most of all just start! There are so many young people doing great things from ages as young as 12, so never think that you are too young. I have found that if you are passionate people do really want to hear what you have to say. I should also add that it is never too late either.
Q. If you were visiting or assessing an organisations youthvoice friendliness – what would you be looking for – to rate them five star?
I would be looking for them to:
- – Be rewarding the young people for their time.
- – Be giving the young people feedback so they can progress in the future.
- – Have young people on their boards and allowing space for the young person to participate.
- – Have frameworks in place to support the young people if they raise issues.
- – Connect the young person with other opportunities
- Q. Do you have a new year resolution relating to youth voice for 2021?
My new year’s resolution for youth voice in 2021 is to actively question instances where I think young people are being used in a tokenistic way.
Q. Do you have a new year challenge/hope for others?
My new year hope for others [decision-makers/Government] would be for them to reflect inwards and look how their organisation could effectively engage with young people
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