Lunch with youth-led orgs

Over the last few years, youth-led organisations have been making a growing impact upon advocacy and activism in Australia. It is important that the resources we develop reflect the experiences and needs of these groups, so I invited several representatives of youth-led organisations to join me for lunch on 17 May, to discuss the project.

I was very pleased to welcome Belle Jackson, volunteer and presenter, and Jonathon Brown, Education and Training Manager, at SYN Media; Cynthia Vasanthanathan, Marketing and Partnerships Director, and David Wood,  Marketing and Partnerships Officer, at Impetus Consulting Group; Lizzie Seares, Victorian Manager of the Oaktree Foundation‘s ‘Generate’ program; Nej Llugici, Chairperson of Western Young People’s Independent Network; and Robbie Nyaguy,  President of UN Youth Victoria .

Representatives from youth-led organisations sat around the meeting table

From left to right: Cynthia Vasanthanathan & David Wood, Impetus Consulting Group; Jonathon Brown & Belle Jackson, SYN Media; Lizzie Seares, Oaktree Foundation; Nej Llugici, Western Young People’s Independent Network; Robbie Nyaguy, UN Youth Victoria.

Excerpts from our discussion are below:

How are young people engaged in your organisations?

“We’re pretty bottom up, so it’s membership-based… Firstly you’re just asking young people for their opinion, then you’re asking them to participate… then you’re saying ‘you’ve had this ideas or you think we should go in this direction, why don’t you actually come on board and coordinate or direct a program?’… so you’re not just doing the strategic ideas stuff, you’re also doing the action stuff. I think that’s often the disconnect… ‘let’s listen to young people but we don’t actually want you to do anything!’”

“The main way we incorporate youth participation is through campaigning, getting young people to be the drivers in their own communities. And hopefully we can help their professional development and personal development along that journey as well”

“We can have young people who are engaged with us but don’t really participate, but we can also have young people who participate but who aren’t really engaged with the overall vision of the organisation at all… We have some young people who see what we do as more of a service, as something to help them get what they want… then we can have people who are engaged with the community by consumption… they just kind of, take it in”

What are the challenges to engagement facing youth-led organisations?

“We don’t have challenges in terms of numbers… diversity is our challenge. For many years we were getting the same type of young person, we have always wanted to be a platform that any young person can come towards”

“Diversity… covers a number of levels. There’s the level of CALD [culturally and linguistically diverse] but also other groups don’t feel they’re as welcome…”

“With us it’s the opposite, we have quite a lot of young people from diverse backgrounds… but the challenge that comes with it is skills: they are afraid of participating in the project… so we try and train them – offer simple training, like chairing meetings, funding and budget management… We give them certificates so they’ve gained something and can put it on their resumes”

“You’re not usually getting paid so you have to balance it with other commitments, you have to balance that with work, with study, and for a lot of people that can be really difficult”

“We’ve recently started focusing on rural engagement, focusing on setting up university clubs in rural towns. That’s a big challenge”

How can you tell if what you’re doing is successful? How can you tell if young people are actively engaged and enjoying what’s going on?

“Through conversations with people and real, face-to-face meetings and getting together with volunteers… that’s more valuable than reading through two years of survey results”

“We have meet-and-greets often, which are social events, so we can informally gauge how they feel about the organisation”

“A mix of informal and formal ways is best, some people will only say what they feel about things in a formal things, whereas other people will need a more relaxed setting to discuss how they really feel about an organisation”

How do you make an organisation ‘youth-friendly’?

“We don’t hide under the fact that you’re making a big social impact. Once you focus on why you’re doing something, people are more attracted to do it”

“A really communal set-up… There’s no closed doors… If you rock up, you are there to engage with everyone else”

“We keep the food in the middle! If someone bakes something, we put it in the middle”

“Have a social event just before the meeting… rather than getting them to come to two things in a week”

“Creating a really great community – people want to go into the office , because there’s this place with great energy, great vibe, that they’re going to gain something from in their personal life”

“Making sure that everyone comes on board, is team minded and really cares about everyone else. Little things like making sure that you know what’s happening in your team members’ lives. Making an atmosphere where everyone’s friends” “People keep coming back if they feel like there’s friendships there for them”

“Make sure that the social activities are cheap… accessible things, that aren’t a big barrier”

A whiteboard showing key points from our discussion

Some key points from our discussion

What are your ideas for the youth engagement resources?

“Make it simpler and concise”


“You could have different segments – smaller brochures – online , so people, if they need a specific type of information, they can know exactly where to look, they don’t need to have a whole book”.

“2 or 3 pages per bit, people would be more inclined to download them”

“I also would definitely wouldn’t be trying to target adult and young people in the same brochure”

“I would suggest that you have definitions of all the words you use, becasue someone from a CALD background might not know what the word means”

“Don’t have any government jargon, make it all relatable”

“I think the problem with apps is that the amount of effort and money you invest in it doesn’t justify the means. Using that money to invest in a really engaging website is a lot more beneficial”

“I would download an app… if there was something interactive about it…” “An app really has to have some killer function that people need to be drawn to, otherwise if it’s mostly resources and information it’s pretty pointless. With a website now, you can… make it format well to a phone anyway” “Yeah, a responsive design”

“Not just have it as a website, but have it as an exclusive resource they would get access to.” “Yeah, exclusivity kind of flies with the young”

How can we design them to make them attractive to young people?

“Less formal” “I feel like this is the Government speaking to me”

“Print is much better for stories and online is much better for resources. Because resources are always going to change over time to adapt to what people need, so if you print resources, they’ll go out of date within a week. Whereas you can print stories and stories will live forever”

“Small chunks… more user friendly”

“Lots of dot points and graphs”

“If you do too colourful though, people will think it’s a kids’ book…. The design has to be really clean, not too professional. If you look at infographics on line, whenever they do posters and stuff it’s so visual”.

“A poster that explains youth participation”

“Give examples… templates”

“Social media is missing… Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram…”

What about videos?

 “Animations…  like ‘Minute physics’ and ‘RSA Animates’, the way they explain everything through animation, it just keeps people on board”

“Video is a great way to tell a story to then lead people to other resources they can practically use, but you don’t use the videos as the resources themselves”

“You’ve got a minute and a half, two minutes maximum, you can’t say a great deal in that time… and more than half of its entertainment, you can’t just do content, content, content, because people will tune out”

“Real, documentary-style footage of youth groups/meetings” “so you don’t just read it, you see it in action”.

As you can see, there was plenty of food for thought. Thanks to everyone for their time and their fantastic contributions.

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