What is youth leadership?
What do we mean by young? We could consider a definition with two parts:
- An objective definition, based only on the age of a person and
- A subjective definition, which take into account the attitude of these people to life and situations in general.
In Costa Rica, our law defines young people as “any person between 12 and 35 years of age”. However, I believe we must take other aspects into account in our definition, such as those we received in basic training in Youth Red Cross. We always remember the phrase “Young is a person who has more dreams than memories”. This is interpreted as a dynamic person who dreams, who believes, and that is constantly engaged in personal growth, with new challenges faced every day.
Therefore, we could define young people as those between 12 and 35 years old with a positive attitude to life, able to innovate, create, develop projects and solve problems. Young people are full of energy that brings fresh ideas. And we could say that we have a different vision of life.
So, what do we mean by a leader? A leader from my perspective is a person able to lead others toward specific behaviors and actions. Guide others beyond speeches as it does through actions and examples. Be followed by others, those who believe and trust in him or her. The leader opens opportunities for participation in decision-making through teamwork. Listen and learn from others, admit mistakes and learn from them. Constantly innovate and create.
Then, the combination of both terms gives: YOUNG + LEADER = YOUTH LEADERS:
“A young leader is a person between 12 and 35 years old, with a positive attitude to life, with constant challenges, with a universal vision. A leader is a young person committed to the cause, responsible for their actions and able to take projects without fear. The young leaders are full of energy, full of ideas and solutions. We know and understand the problems that exist around us, but we are not satisfied with lament and complain, because we are constantly looking to improve our environment. We easily find solutions to the problems we face, we create “blue oceans” and are also able to get ahead in the middle of “red oceans”. We build partnerships and create networks with technology as our ally. We work together as natural behavior, share our knowledge and influence those around us, always looking for a culture of peace.”
What is youth engagement?
Engagement, responsibilities and obligations are required to be a youth leader. The youth leader must be prepared to take on new tasks, new challenges and greater responsibilities, and shall be a person that moves forward with his or her team, encouraging change, breaking paradigms and allowing participation.
Young people have to educate themselves and be able to acquire new tools to cross barriers regardless of existing limitations. A young leader is able to produce and achieve results even with few resources. The task is never going to be easy, as we will find followers, we will always find opposition to our ideas, and we must have the courage to defend our thoughts and beliefs. To take on team leadership requires strong commitment, monitoring the projects that he or she has initiated, maintaining continuity in work, being at all times a person able to smile and enjoy life, with the ability to deal seriously with any situation. He or she must have the ability to optimize the resources around us to guide and engage more youth and to train new leaders.
Young people are able to communicate as peers, generating synergies highly effective: youth-to-youth. We also have the ability to generate assertive communication: youth – children and youth – adults. We need to develop strategic thinking, to know when to move and when to retreat. As youth and youth leaders, we must show results, prove with facts what we say with words. A young leader should have consistency between what we say and what we do, to gain respect and trust. If we believe we are leaders, we must prove it. We must spread the good deeds we do, with growing confidence through accomplishments and goals achieved, not just with speeches and words.
Spaces that nurtures youth leadership and engagement
The young leader creates opportunities for participation and involvement, does not sit to wait for leadership to knock on the door. Leadership comes from within. The young leader should be integrally formed in all areas. The young leader through specific actions and results will be recognized for his or her accomplishments.
However, not all of them have the same opportunities, so those who are in positions of power have to open new spaces that allow other young people to be involved, generating peer dialogue. Those with more experience have to share their knowledge with others, generating a chain of knowledge. This exchange of experiences and knowledge will serve as a tool for those just starting the race and will give them a solid foundation to start their own journey.
Youth must manage knowledge. With knowledge management, it is very likely that those who were once recipients or “students” of the first in the chain, will grow from the beginnings founded by other young individuals with more experience.
This combination of knowledge and experience will give them new and better tools to undertake their own journey. Finally, in an ideal space and environment for the development of leadership skills and youth engagement, this process becomes a continuous cycle, a spiral in which all will be sending and receiving their own experiences and knowledge acquired. This will generate a collective teaching – learning process that will let them strengthen their own space for participation and involvement. During the exchange, it is essential to have the presence of new youth at all times, so that they can make their own development tools for youth leadership.
To become a young leader they must want to do it. That requires having the attitude and — just as essential — to have the capacity to do it, requiring having the ability.
Youth should not only participate. They must create spaces to be involved, because it is the perfect opportunity to learn and create. Youth Red Cross provides solid spaces for participation and involvement, and seeks to train children, adolescents and youth, to provide tools and capabilities to undertake its own flight. We reach out to other young people with positive attitudes, promoting the sense of humanity that guides our work in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
In conclusion, let me emphasize that young people are not just small seeds for the future. Young people have years of experience, knowledge and new ideas. We are the PRESENT AND THE FUTURE of this world. Starting today, we can generate positive changes in our societies, each one in his or own area of participation or involvement: in school, college, university, work, community and even in our homes. It doesn’t matter if we have 12, 20 or 30 years old, still young, and WE HAVE TO KEEP MOVING, DOING MORE, DOING BETTER TO REACH FURTHER. This is the only way we’re going to change minds.