4 Practical Ways You Can Build Experience & Influence Change

How I got started being a youth advisor and why you'd be awesome for it too

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Zoe joined the Ripple wave early and has created a bunch of impact since then through QLD Youth Parliament, Wear it Purple, A21, Child Safe AU, the CoronaNet Research project and more! She works in government policy and is always keen to share her journey with the community. 

Advocacy 101: Why now is the best time to get involved

The world currently has the largest population of young people in human history with over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old globally. As we’ve seen from movements such as Fridays for Future, Black Lives Matter and the March for Our Lives Movement – emerging generations have opinions, passion and drive.

Through becoming more politically and civically engaged on a large scale, youth advocacy and opportunities have also increased. More than ever, it is vital that young people’s voices are not only heard but also acted upon. Whilst every youth advocacy journey is different and is shaped by each person’s interests, experience, skills and passion – this blog will provide some insight into my journey as a Youth Advocate and what steps you may be able to take if you want to become more engaged in the space. If you takeaway anything from reading this blog, I’d love it to be that: 

  • Influencing change is driven by your passion and your experiences
  • There is no set path
  • Advocacy can take many forms (I’m about to outline my 4 faves!) 
  • Literally all it takes is taking advantage of one opportunity.

🌟 TL;DR: Youth advocacy is defined as someone who advocates for the rights and best interests of young people. The space covers youth engagement and empowerment in countless areas of life and, much like youth advocacy itself, the opportunities to become involved are immensely diverse.  

How I went from wanting to volunteer in 2020 to sitting on 5 committees...

If you ask nearly any Youth Advocate about how they became involved in the youth advocacy space, they will probably tell you that they didn’t really plan to go down the path, it kind of just happened! This is no different for me. Back in 2020, whilst I was doing my Honours year at university and looking into moving into the workforce at the end of the year, I decided to increase my volunteering.

I ended up becoming involved with a few organisations including UN Youth Australia and representing my local electorate as part of the Queensland Youth Parliament. Whilst 2020 may not have turned out like I, and just about everyone else originally planned (thanks COVID!), it did make me realise something about myself. I had always been passionate about social justice but found advocating, engaging and empowering young people particularly rewarding. From there, a spark of youth advocacy was ignited.

Meeting with the (then) Member for Cooper, the Honourable Kate Jones MP, as part of my tenure as the Youth Member for Cooper in 2020’s Queensland Youth Parliament.

My top 4 ways to start out

Youth advocacy comes in many (many) forms and is really what you make it, so allow me to introduce a few types you can keep an eye out for!

1. Youth Advisory Councils

Also called YACs or Youth Action Groups (YAGs), councils or committees, these are probably the most accessible and common opportunities available to those breaking into the space. YACs are generally a group of young people who provide their viewpoints, insights and opinions to:

  • Members of Parliament,
  • non-government organisations
  • statutory and peak bodes
  • philanthropic groups
  • Local and state, government departments… the list goes on and on.

Sometimes YACs will be focused on a particular project (eg: a research study or a government’s Youth Strategy) or the experiences of a particular group of young people (eg: LGBTIQ+ people, First Nations people, young parents) whilst others seek to bring together a diverse group of young people to innovate their processes. Interest in Youth Advisor perspectives from organisations has grown in recent years so there are constantly new opportunities to join them arising.

🇺🇸 My first experience was on the U.S. Consul General Sydney’s Youth Advisory Council (which I found through Ripple!) and from there I’ve joined 5 more YACs...and counting

2. Youth Representatives

In contrast to YACs which consist wholly of young people, Youth Representatives are often one of the few young people in a room full of older people. Youth Reps are often created in an organisation, board, or steering committee to add the experience and insights of young people to their leadership groups. Recently, The Y (previously YMCA) has completed their recruitment of Youth Reps to their board committees. The Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Steering Committee also recently announced two Youth Reps. 

In my experience, these positions tend to be more competitive to secure, largely because most orgs are looking for a small number of young people with a particular set of skills. However, if you have that unique knowledge or experience, Youth Rep roles present a great opportunity to build your advocacy skills whilst making some great connections.

3. Youth-Led Organisations

Youth-led organisations are predominantly governed and staffed by young people or youth members. Some youth-led organisations include UN Youth Australia, Oaktree and Voices of Influence Australia but not all are non-profit. By virtue of being youth-led, many of these organisations are predominantly focused on advocating or empowering young people at home or abroad (however this is not inherently a requirement for a youth-led organisation).

Joining a youth-led org can offer the opportunity to work alongside equally passionate young people and gain specialised experience in the many areas that it takes to run an organisation. Can’t find an org that suits what you’re looking for? You can always connect with some like-minded young people and start your own chapter or new initiative.

The U.S Consul General Brisbane Youth Advisory Council meeting with U.S. Consul General Christine Elder on her inaugural visit to Brisbane.

4. Self-Led Youth Advocacy (and Many Other Opportunities)

To be honest, I just made up the term ‘Self-Led Youth Advocacy’ but, hopefully, you get what I mean!

Whilst the other types of involvement I’ve described are often offered by organisations, you can also lead your own. If you are passionate about advocating for emerging generations, then you’re already a youth advocate! You can use many of the means at your fingertips to advocate for the rights and best interests of young people: 

  • write blogs (like the one you’re reading! so meta!)
  • put others forward for opportunities and introduce them to helpful people or resources 
  • film videos
  • become a peer mentor 
  • advocate with your networks

There are countless opportunities out there in the youth advocacy space and it is constantly evolving (for example, youth co-research has recently started to gain prominence thanks to the work from the Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies). Find your passion, make your voice heard and remember to enjoy yourself.

🔥 My Tip: If there's an org you admire but emerging voices are lacking in their work, you can always reach out to them to establish more pathways for young people in that area. You could be involved in the process yourself, or offer to help frame it up!

You're Only Young Once (YOYO?)

Youth advocacy can be described as one form of lived experience advocacy. This is essentially what it says it on the tin- advocacy drawn from someone’s lived experiences. This could include survivors of gender-based violence drawing upon their lived experience to create better systems, someone with a disability advocating for more accessible public spaces based on the barriers they face every day or a First Nations person drawing upon their experience of discrimination shape a more inclusive society.

However, youth advocacy is unique as, at one point, you will stop being young. Whilst we are all young at some point and we can always reflect back on our experiences, part of the reason that the youth advocacy space is dominated and guided by people who are currently young is that we acknowledge that we live in a rapidly changing world and the experiences that young people go through now, just like it will be in the future, are unique. Therefore, it’s important that we are drawing on the experience of currently young people, rather than older generations drawing exclusively from their own past. 

This raises my final piece of advice when it comes to youth advocacy - make the most of it while you can (whilst not overdoing it!)

If you have a particular passion for an area, then you are what the youth advocacy space needs. You don’t need a certain degree, a certain number of years of experience or a certain background to be a Youth Advocate. You are young, you are a person living in this world, therefore you have insight and experience that is important!

My experience has offered me opportunities I never thought I would have such as:

  • Curating an art show
  • Compiling a book of young people’s poetry
  • Attending a crisis simulation with the U.S. Consulate Melbourne
  • Connecting with amazing people I never thought I’d meet!

Yourtown’s Our Pride Youth Advisory Group at our Community Art Show which showcased young LGBTIQ+ artists and their artwork. I had the unique opportunity to be the Curator for the Art Show.

Bringing it all together... do it!

I hope this article has sparked a bit of an interest in youth advocacy. If you want to keep an eye on opportunities in the space, Ripple goes a great job at collating them. I credit Ripple’s Power Up with the U.S. Consul General as the reason I got onto the US ConGen Youth Advisory Council so I’d highly recommend both orgs! 

If you can’t find any relevant opportunities, remember you can always create your own -reach out to your local Member of Parliament, advocate in your local community or start a blog on your passion. Your advocacy journey is what you make it. Don’t count yourself out, and don’t hesitate to make your voice heard- the world needs to hear it.

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