Youth participation is gathering speed in the UK: as more and more organisations appreciate the benefits of directly involving young people in decision-making, the number of youth advisory groups, panels and boards is increasing dramatically. Yet youth participation that is both meaningful for the young people involved and genuinely useful for the organisation is, I think, comparatively rare. And where many organisations have youth advisory groups, relatively few also have young representatives on their Boards of Management: some organisations are, unfortunately, still finding it difficult to stomach involving young people at the highest levels of decision-making.
With this in mind, the fact that the National Children’s Bureau has had four youth members on its Board of Management for a number of years now is particularly impressive. The level of respect and support the organisation has for the young people involved, combined with the enthusiasm of the young people themselves, makes this enterprise even more remarkable.
The four young members, all under the age of 18, are from the advisory group of Young NCB – the youth-led arm of the National Children’s Bureau – and are elected by their peers. They therefore represent the views both of Young NCB and young people more generally at NCB Board meetings.
I am now 18, and have just stepped down from being a Board member. However, I was a young member of NCB’s Board of Management for three years, from 2004 to 2007, and can testify to the success of the project. Over the entire period I have felt that my opinions have been listened to, valued and acted upon. I can distinctly remember at my first meeting, when I was 14, being amazed at finding that so many adults (around thirty were in the room) could be so passionate about improving the lives of children and young people – and that they were all genuinely interested in what I had to say.
From my first meeting to my last, I felt incredibly well-supported. Before each meeting I had a briefing from a staff member from NCB’s Participation Unit, and had an opportunity to go through the Board papers with my mentor – an adult board member – who would also sit near me during the meetings to answer any questions. This was invaluable, considering the huge number of acronyms that littered both board papers and discussions. Working with my fellow young Board members, we were able to input into policy discussions, make suggestions about new areas of work, and to report to the Board each meeting on the activities of Young NCB.
Participating in meetings has given me a unique insight into the governance of a large organisation, has expanded my knowledge of the children’s sector and has developed my listening and speaking skills, as well as enhancing my self-confidence. Being a young NCB Board member has led to other opportunities, such as speaking at the NCB Summer Reception and AGMs, which have been fantastic experiences in their own right.
I am deeply grateful to NCB for the opportunity I have had to be a part of the Board of Management for three years, and I hope that NCB’s success will inspire other organisations to take the plunge: to recruit and support young people to their Boards of Management.