Volunteering New Zealand board member Corrine Coombe challenges us to create space for young people at all levels of our organisations.

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been reflecting on this above quote quite a bit recently and thinking about how we as community leaders face the challenge of change. Over this last year we have seen more and more of our young people engage in civics through climate, social and political change initiatives. This brings with it a new challenge to turn feet on the street into volunteers that see value in being involved beyond a moment and onto long term commitment to change their communities for the better. The ways we can do this is to create space for young people at all levels of our organisations. Think beyond a token teenager that you use for photo opportunities or the youth worker running a youth initiative. Is your organisation brave enough to open a seat at the board table? If your idea is of a youth rep is a young professional in their late twenties, then possibly not.

Opening your organisation to a young person may feel like a risky move, but the value of a board member isn’t simply measured in the amount of experience it brings to the table but is also in their passion for the cause. Despite media telling us the everyone under 25 is a self involved millennial that only care about posting on tiktok, the truth is that there a many youth out there that are passionate about their environment, their communities and what is happening in the world around them. If we value this passion and energy and make a space at the table our organisations and the communities we support will be richer for it and our organisations having greater longevity to reach the generations to come.

The counter-reality that community organisations face is that if we do not make space for the youth then they will make their own spaces, form their own groups and have their own committees and they will become our competition for resources not our partners. We may find it challenging to change our pre-existing expectations of what a board member looks like or in that case what a young person would offer the board if given the opportunity, but now is the time to be lifting our young onto our shoulders not stomping down their dreams of a better tomorrow.

Youth on boards– Corrine Coombe, VNZ Board Member