My involvement in social action has focused on youth engagement and been based around three strands:
1) Supporting Social Action
Bottom-up change is the most genuine and responsive to the needs of communities, as well as being an excellent opportunity for personal development. While young people may shy away from engaging with formal political structures, involvement in social action is significant – an estimated 5 million young people in the UK regularly volunteer. This energy for change must be harnessed and supported, and careers in social change, whether a charity or a multi-national ethical bank, need to be shown to be a realistic choice.
* Communication skills for social action - as a director of Vibrant Futures, a small social enterprise based in the North East, I have run training workshops on public speaking and media skills for young activists and social entrepreneurs. For more information see http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/node/view/215
* Encouraging responsible careers – organiser of Spark it!, a networking event for young social entrepreneurs at Oxford University held in 2004 in partnership with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Oxford Entrepreneurs. The event included insights from Jane Buckley (CEO, Changemakers), Charles Middleton (MD, Triodos) and Jonathan Robinson (Co-founder, The Hub) to inspire and motivate further social action demonstrating than an ethical career can be a very rewarding and realistic option.
* Making global connections between local action - Chair of Young People Change the World! Ltd until 2006, an organisation which organises the annual International Summer School for Young Activists. YPCtW adds a valuable international perspective to social change and creates a global support network for those trying to improve their communities. For more details see page 13 of http://www.unltd.org.uk/download/No_Limits_Spring_2004.pdf
2) Grounding politics in reality
Young activists know what problems are facing society, because it’s being affected by them which often inspires action in the first place and through experimenting with different projects, have valuable experience of what will work to tackle them. It’s important that these voices, rooted in communities and grounded in the reality of what actually works, are linked to policy makers, to ensure social policy is developed and implemented effectively.
* National voice for young activists - as a Changemakers consultant I worked to develop a national project, backed by five major partners and worth £1m over three years, to network community activists and ensure that their voice reaches policy makers.
* Regional voice for young activists - In 2002/3 I was a member and facilitator of the Changemakers North East and Department for Education and Skills project 'ECCO' which organised a two-day event bringing together 100 young people and 80 decision makers to chat informally about problems facing the North East and ways of working together to tackle them. Funded by DfES http://www.dfes.gov.uk/communitychampions/index.cfm
* I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to make student politics more engaging, as JCR President of Merton College Oxford and from June 2006 as President of Oxford University Student Union. For more information see http://www.qeliz.ac.uk/news/2006/11-01-2006.html
3) Encouraging inclusive education
I’ve always felt that the education system fails a lot of young people a lot of the time. I’ve been a passionate supporter of Changemakers work in encouraging the use of social action as a practical addition to more conventional methods of learning.
* Advocacy - advocated Changemakers’ progressive approach to education by speaking at the Learning and Skills Development Agency on skills education, Department for Education on young person led learning, an Institute for Global Ethics consultation on personal responsibility and the Royal Society of Arts on young social enterprise with Margaret Hodge MP and Dame Anita Roddick.
* Facilitation – worked for Changemakers, Millennium Volunteers and Investing in Children as a facilitator, supporting young people in schools and youth groups in the North East with the organisation of community projects. For more information see http://www.changemakers.org.uk/learning_programmes.html
alan (at) vibrantfutures . org . uk
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