In 2005, the trustees of the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation approved a youth engagement strategy to foster innovative change at both the local and national level. This strategy was based on a vision for Canada where all people have the opportunity to develop their potential and contribute to the betterment of their communities. In 2006, with the support from the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, the United Way of Calgary and Area and a National Advisory, 5 diverse communities were selected to support the engagement of young people, especially those who have been traditionally excluded, and key community stakeholders to positively change systems and create stronger communities. The five communities are: Halifax, Rivière des Prairies, Thunder Bay, Hamilton, and Saskatoon.
YouthScape: Building Resilient Communities by Engaging Youth
A measure of community resilience is the degree to which young people participate in civic life. The continuing renewal of community institutions depends both upon developing the abilities of the next generation and upon creating spaces for their active involvement. There is a widely held perception that young people are apathetic about becoming involved in the political process, or about contributing time to help others. The Foundation’s belief, borne out by experience, is that young people can in fact be passionately engaged and make a valuable contribution to issues that they care about. When young people are provided with the opportunity to participate meaningfully, they demonstrate that they are leaders today rather than “adults in training.” The Foundation believes that engaging Canadians, particularly young people, in local decision-making is critical: it develops and draws upon the knowledge, skills and values of young people and in doing so, serves to enrich democracy in our communities.
The principal objectives of the Foundation’s youth engagement strategy are:
- to encourage young people across the country to become active and involved in civic life
- to create “youth-friendly” programs and spaces in organizations and communities
- to support national youth-led initiatives.
In the process of researching existing youth-engagement initiatives, Foundation staff drafted a set of principles that characterize effective work in this field.
YouthScape builds upon the Foundation’s experience in supporting the Vibrant Communities program, a leading example of a comprehensive community initiative approach. This is an emerging methodology for addressing complex social challenges, in which a full range of stakeholders is convened for the purpose of collaborating, innovating and sharing knowledge and resources.
The Foundation is supporting five communities’ efforts to fund local youth-driven projects and to embed promising approaches in municipal policy and practice. This initiative is expected to generate knowledge of interest to organizations trying to engage more young people, and models which may be adopted by other communities. We are interested in learning:
- how civic institutions and traditional youth-serving agencies become more accessible and relevant to young people who do not see themselves as “belonging” to a broader community;
- how municipalities can support greater youth participation in governance;
- what outstanding “youth-friendly” organizations and communities demonstrate about social inclusion and civic participation.