Young Leaders Bring Energy, Expertise to Denver Conference

15 March 2013, 10:29 AM

Hi all!

Wanted to give you a second installment of my diary from Denver!

Today was a long, busy, exhausting but life-giving day. Breakfast was served in the main exhibition area where all the NGOs, agencies and others have their information booths. Instead of just sitting around eating, there were dozens of tables hosted by different organisations. You could choose one, sit there and have a little round table discussion over your muffins, bagels, yoghurt and fruit (not so many tea options here, alas, but nothing is perfect!)

We sat with a couple of educators who were sharing about the importance of building support networks for service-learning practitioners, so that those who work in the field, with youth and in other ways - who often work in relative isolation - can feel part of something and feel the solidarity of others. It was a fascinating discussion that had particular relevance for me as a "remote worker!”

The main plenary today was about including ALL youth, with some focus on youth with special educational needs and disabilities. The testimony of two young friends sharing about the discrimination faced in schools by young people with disabilities was particularly moving, but it was wonderful to hear how they turned it around and become great activists and an inspiration to others.

We heard from a representative of the US Government Department of Education, the CEO of Youth Service America (which has just awarded  Latin America and Caribbean Region a small grant for some Young Leaders Program mini-projects) and the Governor of Colorado, who declared March 16 as the National Youth Leadership Council day to honour the organisation's 30th Anniversary. The whole thing was emcee'd by two high school age students with beaming smiles and endearing scripted compliments to each other.

The day moved into workshops (we gave one!) and there were some really interesting ones on offer. I went to one about collective impact and "unusual collaboratives" - which all sounded very URI! It was very thought-provoking, arguing for equitable, multi-sector coalitions to fully address problems in a community. The Organisation that delivered the workshop (called "Earth-force) related how it took nearly three years to iron out all the issues faced when building these collaboratives and how it was important for no one partner to have a "senior ownership" of the network's "brand.”  Interesting stuff.

Our workshop was on Youth Leadership (that's our thing!)  We didn't know how many people to expect (you could technically walk in and out of workshops) and whether it would be mostly youth, or educators, or a mix.  We were delighted when the room got packed to capacity with 60 people, almost all young people of high school (ish) age. We had what we call in the UK a "Graveyard slot" - in this case, the tired slot right after lunch - but the energy of the young people was great (helped by the highly interactive session we had designed) and they honoured us with their insights into what they valued in leadership, creating collective lists of leadership traits and functions. They reflected on how they could develop their own leadership and we asked them to think of one thing they could do right away to further that.

Fajr introduced herself along with us at the beginning and then joined one of the tables. She'd experienced a similar workshop before (Krithika works with her school) and so we asked her to take a lead in her group, stimulating discussion points as a way for her to take some responsibility and improve in confidence.  She shone, and her contributions in the following workshop (which was also great, but I'll tell you about that tomorrow) were a source of great delight to all the other participants.

It was very satisfying to get the opportunity to work with a large group of young people and also some practitioners: we got some feedback from the two teachers we had shared breakfast with that the questions we used to spark off discussions were "just spot on for this audience.”  It's good to know this stuff works!

I'll fill you in on a few other highlights tomorrow - I need to get some rest now as the high altitude of Denver (the city is one mile above sea level) really caught up with me today!

Much love to you all!

Yours Short-of-breath-due-to-less-oxygen-ingly,


Matthew Youde

Global Youth Leadership Program Coordinator

Written By

Associate Director of Global Programs for Youth Leadership Development