Compare & Contrast – Or – How Not To Do Youth Training

September 23, 2010 § 4 Comments

UPDATE: David and I have been tweeting back and forth and are now arranging to meet when I’m in New York next month to discuss how to improve One Young World next year. All credit to him for being so open to critical voices and engaging me in finding solutions.

Earlier this year, young people from all over the world came together in London for the One Young World summit. They’ve just had a second one in Zurich.

Watch this first video to get a sense of what it was like.

Ask yourself while watching-

  • Who has the power?
  • Who has the knowledge, expertise and solutions?
  • What are the next steps that these young people are being encouraged to take?

The answers to those questions reveal the problems with this model of training for young people. This isn’t about video editing – it’s about an entire approach to political and cultural change and the role young people play within that.

For example, we see Kofi Annan tell participants, ‘You are the leaders of tomorrow’. A more disempowering statement I cannot think of. Young people can be leaders today – right now. Many of us already are. Suggesting that one day we can become copies of today’s figureheads is setting the bar pretty low. If we want peace, justice between North and South, and better global institutions – we need new ways of organising, new narratives for human development – and we should get started now.

Another case in point – Bob Geldoff (GROAN) challenges the participants to be ‘unreasable’ for the upcoming three days. And hey – what better place to be ‘unreasonable’ than in London’s largest corporate exhibition center – the ExCel center?

When I was 18, I went to a similar global youth forum – The World Youth Congress (organised by PeaceChild) held in Scotland. Compare this short video with the one above.

2005-era video production and hilariously over-the-top introduction aside – it is clear that the knowledge and expertise lies amongst the youth present. The actions taken are practical as well as educational – we all volunteered at local charities for 3 of the 10 days we were at the conference. Older people were there as a resource for youth, not as leaders to tell them how to do things. The outcome wasn’t just a deceleration of nothingness for some far-off UN agency which will use the hours of work as recycling-fodder (though we did that too!), but a practical tool-kit on how to do youth-led development, filled with experiences from the 600 young people present. I still refer to that document every time I’m designing a workshop.

One Young World obviously has it’s heart in the right place. It is always wonderful to see people coming together to support the Millennium Development Goals. I’m sure that each participant came away inspired, energised and connected – heck, if you’ve got Desmond Tutu in the house, how could you not be?! But the way in which this summit is run limits its potential enormously. A quick check-list;

  • Hosting it in corporate conference centers takes youth out of ‘their’ world and into a new power dynamic – this immediately impacts confidence levels and who has authority. (See Saul Alinsky’s third rule of organising for more info on this)
  • Charging €3000 per delegate – I mean seriously? And the idea that corporations will sponsor delegates as part of their CSR package should get all your alarm bells ringing.
  • Calling itself a ‘movement’. This reveals the fact that both founders are marketing professionals, not social movement builders.
  • Who’s on the front-page of the website? Who features predominantly in the video content? Who ‘owns’ this space? The two founders – David Jones & Kate Robertson (both associated with the British Conservative Party incidentally).

One Young World calls itself a Young Davos – I think that’s probably fair. But to suggest that it ‘connects and brings together the youngest and brightest and ensures that their concerns, opinions and solutions are heard and taken into account by those in power, whether in government, business or any other sector’ as their website does – is a fallacy.

Imagine – with this sort of access, with this sort of money – what could actually be done? That’s why I’m angry about this – because it is wasting such a huge opportunity to get it right.

PS. I’ll be sending this blog post to their organising team – to see if we can open a conversation about how to improve on it next year. I’d also love to hear any thoughts and comments you have.


§ 4 Responses to Compare & Contrast – Or – How Not To Do Youth Training

  • shobana says:

    I was at the One Young World Summit, and I couldn’t agree more. There was no real action, and a lot of money was wasted.

  • […] Paul is also the founder of The Big Lunch (which was viciously attacked in a meeting I was in recently by a leading public engagement practitioner and a former employee…). It seems to me he genuinely wants a better society. But listening to him, his vision sounds more like the 1950′s, with milkmen who had electric milk-floats and churches where the Vicar knew your name. Naturally, before The Big Lunch/Society he was in communications (ring any bells anyone?). […]

  • “Suggesting that one day we can become copies of today’s figureheads is setting the bar pretty low.”


    Great stuff Casper. Love your points about ‘the leaders of tomorrow’, and the space itself being a barrier to empowerment. How did it go with David Jones?

  • cterkuile says:

    Still waiting to meet him… we’re planning for London this time..

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