Youth Leadership - Insights from a Personal Journey

(Arti Freeman) #1

I am a 45 year old woman – but I wasn’t always that age.

Fortunately, I was young once too. I had big dreams, bold ideas, and a huge appetite for risk. I seemed invincible.

I am a huge advocate of youth leadership because I have reaped the personal and professional benefits of being engaged as a young person.

There is a lot of literature that speaks to the benefits of youth engagement and leadership, so my focus is to shed light through a personal journey.

I grew up in a densely populated Asian nation. My cultural context made it seem that young people had nothing of value to contribute or our opinions didn’t count. I mention this just to recognize that young people come with a variety of backgrounds, experiences and contexts that may be a barrier to youth leadership. If you are a young person reading this – don’t let that stop you. If you are an adult reading this – think of how you could support a young person carry out leadership activities they show interest in.

The earliest experience I remember of taking leadership was when I was in middle school. I noticed a big barrel in the hallway for a food drive but the barrel was empty. I had a sudden sense of awareness of the need for food to help provide for those that did not have. I suddenly felt responsible and wanted to do something. I walked into the principal’s office and let them know I had an idea. The heard me out and gave me permission to carry it out. It was a low-cost, low budget idea and I got the support of the school leadership. With a mirror and a sign on top of the barrel, I managed to raise awareness of the food drive in our school. That was just the beginning. This experience propelled me to try different and bigger ventures to support my community. From helping farmers set up to cooperatives to leading a large global organization. It all started with a food barrel, a mirror and a sign.

As I have been reflecting on this, I wanted to share some insights on youth leadership for both young people and adult allies.

  1. Start Somewhere, Start Anywhere - it doesn’t matter how big or small an activity is. Taking leadership means engaging in activities that will enhance the current state.

  2. Encourage young people to act on their ideas – if someone comes to you with an idea, support them in trying it out. Getting out of the way and giving up the power you hold supports youth leadership. It provides them with an opportunity to act, learn and grow. If things fail, then encourage them to reflect and adapt for the next time. Failure is part of leadership and builds resilient young people.

  3. Anyone can take leadership – think of leadership as initiative. Leadership is not only for people with titles and positions. It is open to anyone that is willing to do something.

  4. Build an ecosystem of young leaders – all young people can lead and influence different areas. I read somewhere that not everyone can be a leader and if everyone is a leader then who is following? The reality is that we all lead and follow. Capitalize on the strengths of each young person and this ecosystem will develop. One person may lead a food drive while another leads the development of a skate park.

  5. Be bold – speak your idea. Give voice to what matters. You never know where it could lead to.

Do you have additional insights to share?