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Mirror, mirror on the wall… Part 2
By Marcel Stefanik, Global Coordinator Youth Engagement, IFRC
Previously, I explored the WHYs and HOWs for meaningful youth engagement. In Part 2, I shall put forward some implications for rethinking engagement of youth, and make provocations for the overall RCRC engagement strategies, statements of our intent towards volunteers, communities we work with, decision-makers, and our allies overall.
As the Red Cross Red Crescent, we are present before, during, and after humanitarian crises. But there is a question that is often missed in all these situations related to youth engagement:
“What is the missing piece in my puzzle?”
And in my work, the usual missing piece is about young people’s access (to opportunities, services, decision-making tables, shaping the world they are born in, etc.) in the adult-driven and shaped world.
It is therefore crucial for the success of the RCRC to ask ourselves the “What IF” question e.g. a girl from an underprivileged background would approach us to help her start a soup kitchen for abused girls. What IF with us this project could grow from a psycho-social support project to a competency-centred intervention with income-generation element. And finally, What IF with us this project could reach its potential to shift mindsets in the local community where this brave girl lives.
Unleashing and catalysing the transformative potential of young people is conditioned by adult-led transformation “from within”. To achieve this within the RCRC, we should strive to scale-up our effort in making ourselves approachable and our work-places, and services accessible to young people. Becoming more “youth-friendly” is the “free” yet powerful way of how to encourage the competency, goodness, and drive veiled within young people.
In my vision, all staff engaged with the RCRC Movement would pursue and nurture genuine inter-generational partnerships. In my vision, this is how to expand the global RCRC reach and local presence today and in the future. And finally, in my vision, this is how to ensure that children, adolescents and young adults are better prepared, empowered, enabled, and recognised as agents of change for themselves and their communities.
From Vision to Success
If we want to inspire the next generations to create a better world, we need to redefine success and how we measure it, as these dictate our relationship with volunteers, communities we work with and our statements of intent towards our stakeholders and partners.
But how do we redefine success? I am convinced that the future success of the RCRC work will link to both individual and institutional-demonstrated abilities along these three pillars: 1.) Accepting human imperfections such as fear from losing control (I encourage people to read Letter to a Young Poet #8 by Rainer Maria Rilke), 2.) Championing power-sharing, and 3.) Nurturing relational leadership. A relational leader will always go for action over position and relationship over attainment.
Today, we recognise that engagement of people with organisations is increasingly driven by a cause and impact rather than a brand. Undoubtedly, there are many worthy causes and still not all organisations manage to mobilise as many resources and people to join them as they would wish for. So, is it possible that people “massively” contribute to causes championed and pioneered by those who are relatable and trustworthy? Yes, by elevating meaningful youth engagement in our strategic frameworks, we indeed have a unique chance to reinforce our role of an enabler of, vs conduit for community resilience strengthening.
Working alongside young people can help us work on the core of our human imperfections and boost our collective potential to become a trustworthy, and cause-driven enabler of community resilience, a partner of choice fitted to address the needs of humanity in this changing world.
If the RCRC processes human imperfections in a healthy way, champions power-sharing, and excels at relational leadership while meaningfully engaging girls, boys, adolescents, and young adults, then the engagement of other constituencies will be much easier and more successful. Why? Because young people will become the RCRC voice echoing our institutional intent to wider communities, donors, governments, decision-makers, and overall our future allies.
Be Like a Roman
In conclusion, I would like to borrow the words of Marcus Aurelius which I believe are universally true and valid for whatever future we as a humanitarian network will happen to live:
“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man— on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions.”