Today, we are consider the issues of sustainable development, it is necessary to understand and integrate different perspectives to move forward. Addressing the two issues of development and the youth condition, also means a willingness to address all of the interrelated pieces of the puzzle, attending to the systemic nature of problems of sustainable development while addressing a variety of components from both an economic and social perspective.
Sustainable development in the macro and “classic” sense is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition also at the macro level is primarily focused on economics: the use of resources and creation of wealth that is environmentally friendly. It is concerned to a larger extent at the broad picture with “trickle down” as an element of the concept. If we analyze this definition further and interpret it at a more basic level, it is about development through the use of all resources and the creation of a society in which people have enough to be more fully human with a capacity to enhance well-being with consideration to public wealth and the common good. Looking at sustainable development from this viewpoint, implies that development needs to also be from the “bottom up” or “grass roots”. It implies development of the most valuable of all resources, the people of a nation. At the most basic level, sustainable development is about human as well as economic development. Human development is concerned with developing a resilient population, people who have the ability to weather adverse conditions and conjure up images of strength and durability. From a social and behavioural perspective, a “resilient” individual is one who is able to cope with problems and misfortunes. To put it plainly, resiliency means being able to handle life’s problems without getting overwhelmed by them.
A broader view of development is concerned with the need for providing for the positive development of young people, no matter where they live. For although young people are a part of the total population, they are 100 percent of the future. Many of the world’s problems today are complicated, interdependent and global in nature. It is difficult and frustrating to pull apart their interwoven roots to isolate causes and develop solutions. Most often we lack even a common language to express concerns, issues and problems. We certainly lack common will and available resources as we work independently in our own countries. The complexity of the world with its ambiguity and challenge is faced by societies at every level as they seek to provide for positive development for youth, their most basic resource. It is especially important to view young people as part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
The role of youth in sustainable development
Youth have a role in sustainable development for they are the future. They can be and are, part of the solution. Young people can develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes that enable them to take an active role in society. Indeed, the concept of social role taking is an important part of development. Young people can become central actors around the issues that directly affect their lives. This means that young people can be a force for grassroots or community development. Development in the broad context needs to be community based because people in communities essentially know what is needed and why. Community-based development acknowledges that people have the solutions to their own problems – that sustainable programmes evolve out of the experiences of ordinary people and their perceptions of what problems should be addressed. Young people can develop the skills and knowledge to work as partners with adults in their community to determine critical issues and responses to solving community problems.
Too often, the missing ingredient in strategies to address severe problems facing communities and societies, whether rural and urban, is the active solicitation and engagement of young people in problem-solving, leadership and advocacy and direct service. Young people have a role in building and rebuilding themselves, their families, their communities, and the larger institutions that shape the quality of life. They can be enthusiastic, energetic, creative, and interested in solving problems and concerned about their future and the future of their communities. There are several reasons why we want youth to be involved in community development. Educationally we want to increase student learning; involving youth as volunteers helps to decrease programme costs and untapped community resources; in the public sector, involving youth is a way to increase their connection to their community, to adult institutions, adult life and to reaffirm their value; and finally we want to recruit and develop young people as key players in problem-solving for organizational functioning, community development and larger social change. The goals of involving youth in development should be to teach and change young people; to define and articulate concerns of interest to them; and to design, negotiate and implement solutions to those concerns. The challenge to involving young people in development is to create the opportunities, experiences and settings in which they develop the knowledge and skills to be catalysts for change.
Positive youth development: a process for preparing youth
The process for preparing youth for their role in sustainable development is positive youth development. Through a programme of youth development education, young people can develop the skills and knowledge to work as partners with adults in their community to determine critical issues and responses to solving community problems.
Youth development is the process of growing up and developing one’s capacities in positive ways. It has been defined as an “ongoing, inevitable process in which all youth are engaged and all youth are invested.” (Pittman, 1991). This typically takes place in the context of the family, peer group, school, and neighbourhood and community. Youth development is concerned with family systems theory which says that young people do not develop in isolation but are part of a system including family, community, nation, and world. Positive youth development education provides opportunities that promote development; cognitive, social, emotional, physical and moral domains of human development.
Youth development education was described by the Youth Development Committee of the Lily Endowment as something that “… ought not to be viewed as a happenstance matter. While children can, and often do, make the best of difficult circumstances, they cannot be sustained and helped to grow by chance arrangements and makeshift events. Something far more intentional is required: a place, a league, a form of association, a gathering where value is placed on continuity, predictability, history, tradition, and a chance to test out new behaviours.” The intentionality of youth development can be derived from a definition of developmental education from Mosher (1979). “Developmental education is education of the whole person that stimulates cognitive or intellectual growth, moral reasoning and action, emotional growth, social skills, vocational competencies, aesthetic development and a sound body.” Adding the descriptor education to youth development in a non-formal setting implies intentionality. Education is intentional with objectives and outcomes for programme development and implementation. It is therefore intentional rather than merely a process, focused on personal growth and development as well as knowledge and skill development.
Youth development has as it’s mission, the socialization of young people – to provide the challenges, experiences, support and help young people need to develop to their fullest potential, mind, heart, hands, and body. Youth development education encourages long term involvement and provides a progression of activities promoting developmental growth. It emphasizes learning strategies based on fun, play, action, and group and individual challenges, teaching life skills rather than academic lessons.
Youth development programmes that are intentional, provide the means for youth to: first, meet their basic physical and social needs (some of which change considerably during the course of adolescence); and secondly, build the individual assets or competencies (knowledge, skills, relationships, values) they feel are needed to participate successfully in adolescence and adult life.
Outcomes can be determined in terms of competencies and empowerment, developmental needs and individual assets. We want young people to be problem free and need them to develop in both these areas in order to succeed as adults. Needs and competencies are interactive (for example: young people who feel competent are more likely to seek new tasks than those who do not feel competent) and that needs can be met and competencies used in socially acceptable ways. Needs and competencies can be further derived from the literature on human development.
The basic human needs derived from literature that are fundamental for survival and healthy development include: a sense of safety and structure; a sense of belonging/group membership; a sense of self worth/contributing; a sense of independence/control over one’s life; a sense of closeness/relationships; and a sense of competency/mastery.
Five basic competency areas which define the range of behaviour and skills needed for adult success have been identified. They are:
· Health or physical competence, which includes good current health status plus evidence of appropriate knowledge, attitudes and behaviour that will ensure future health (e.g. exercise, good diet/nutrition)
· Personal or social competence: including intrapersonal skills (ability to understand personal emotions, have self discipline); interpersonal skills (ability to work with others, develop friendships through communication, cooperation, empathizing, negotiating); coping/system skills (ability to adapt, be flexible, assume responsibility); judgement skills (ability to plan, evaluate, make decisions, solve problems)
· Cognitive or creative competence: which includes a broad base of knowledge, ability to appreciate and participate in areas of creative expression; good oral, written language skills; problem solving and analytical skills, ability to learn/interest in learning and achieving.
· Vocational competence: including a broad understanding/awareness of vocational and avocational options and of steps needed to act on choices; adequate preparation for chosen career, understanding of value and function of work and leisure.
· Citizenship and ethical competence and participation: which includes an understanding of the history and values of one’s nation and community and the desire to be involved in efforts that contribute to the nation and community.
The outcomes or personal assets and basic competencies have been described in a variety of ways by a number of authors. They can be defined as non-academic skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour which must be learned for future success and happiness. They are the skills by which people adapt to and master their life situations; are indispensable; give individuals a frame of reference for perceiving and responding to life situations; and enable them to achieve an inner contentment to get joy out of life (Cisek and George, 1985; Rubin, 1969).
In summary, then, we can develop programmes and opportunities that prepare youth for their role in sustainable development and as nation and world citizens through the process of positive youth development. Youth development programmes, where personal assets are developed more efficiently in an educational environment through systematic planning. Skills can be identified that can appropriately be enhanced in the non-formal educational settings that can prepare young people for an unpredictable and challenging world. A listing of life skills can be derived from the literature on youth development, including the resources mentioned above and include Havighurst’s developmental tasks to the latest articles on youth at risk. They can include: understanding self; communicating; relating with others; acquiring, analyzing and using information; problem solving and decision making; managing resources; and working in/with groups.
Key factors in youth development
The mission of maximizing youth potential can be carried out through the efforts of professional staff, a cadre of volunteer adults and youth and a mix of institutions and organizations, public and private. Programmes designed to offer educational experiences to youth in a variety of settings and using a variety of activities are based on factors grounded in research, theory and practice. These concepts include: relationships, context, social role taking, experiential learning and community.
In a variety of relationships, young people find meaning in experiences through interaction with people, ideas and things. Youth development provides young people with a learning environment in which they interact with a wide range of people, across age from young and old to peers. It also provides opportunities for young people to interact with people with varied experiences and from different backgrounds. The variety of relationships that young people are exposed to provide opportunities for modelling and observational learning. Both are relevant to learning complex social behaviours and learning basic perceptual-motor skills (Muss, 1982). Bandura makes a strong case for considering how children learn through example (Crain, 1985). Young people are vulnerable to positive influences and in particular look to adults and older youth for role models. The context for learning is a social setting or relationships which include the attitudes and behaviour of both the adult and young person (Kohl, 1982) that contribute to development. Staff and volunteer leaders provide healthy, youth/adult relationships, teach skills, guide and encourage youth. Youth learn from others, working with, learning from and sharing with adults, junior leaders, young members, senior citizens and peers. Young people have opportunities to draw conclusions and make connections in relationships through exposure to ideas, role models and new ways of looking at things that may be different from their own. Adult/youth relationships provide an opportunity for caring, trusting relationships between youth and adults. This relationship can be characterized by situational leadership with a progression from adult direction to youth initiative. Such relationships provide opportunities for a wide variety and range of adult/youth relationships. The development of youth competence and confidence over a period of time means that youth initiative increases and adult direction decreases and youth become empowered as resource to their community. Relationships and opportunities to interact with a variety of people are relevant to learning complex social behaviour.
Context or educational environment
The context or educational environment is a key factor in helping young people develop life skills and become self-reliant. The educational environment consists of the various learning experiences. Implications for appropriate environments are drawn from the literature to define broad learning strategies to create context for youth development education. Experiences need to be designed that are developmentally appropriate and meet the needs of young people. Responsive and relevant curriculum planning and programme implementation are dependent on the recognition of the uniqueness of individuals and their different needs, interests and abilities (Combs, 1981; McCloskey and Kleinbard, 1974; Sprinthall and Mosher, 1979). Designing learning experiences for developmental level illustrates a child-centred approach which has been advocated by educational notables including Rousseau, Dewey, Tyler and other progressives. Educational design needs also to consider the cultural environment and background of the individual. Programme design must be sensitive to the varied backgrounds and experiences of youth which affect their interests, needs, values, attitudes and aspirations. An understanding and use of the principles of learning theory are important in developing educational programmes and activities that meet the need and learning styles of young people. An environment that is child centred provides opportunities for young people to acquire the skills that expand personal competence and confidence which are based on the personal characteristics, traits, needs and interests of each young person (Coleman, 1972; Mayhew and Ford, 1971; Bradekamp, 1988).
The concept of designing programmes based on developmental level, cultural heritage and learning style rests in teaching what is of use and interest to them when they are capable of understanding and using it (Elkind, 1976). Havighurst’s “teachable moment” illustrates this point. The “teachable moment” is when the body is ready, when society requires it and the self is ready to achieve a certain task. Planning programmes that promote youth development must involve understanding young people as unique individuals in unique settings. Youth development education must be sensitive to and accepting of, individual differences and worth and must assist young people in making meaning from experiences. It means designing programmes that talk to them in their own language and build on their strengths and interests.
Social role taking or youth participation
Social role taking or youth participation is an important aspect of youth development education. It provides a balance between self fulfilment and service and includes a range for interaction between adults and youth. Youth take on social roles in their communities contributing to the well being of others. Youth development programmes provide supportive environments that offer realistic expectations of young people. They provide a structure that enables young people to initiate, choose and discover from a variety of options to be involved in every issue from family to community. This supportive environment provides opportunities for young people to be accepted and integrated into the organization and community as resources. They have an opportunity to try out different roles and other adult activities in a safe and supportive environment. Young people serve their communities and are seen as capable, significant and that they can achieve. This is achieved through an important part of the learning environment, the opportunity for caring, trusting relationships between youth and adults. The development of youth competence and confidence over time means that youth initiative increase and adult direction decrease. Youth become empowered as resources to their community and see themselves connected to the larger society.
Experiential learning a basic tenet of non-formal youth development education. It is a relevant and viable educational strategy for youth development. A review of the research over the past twenty-five years in experiential education shows that these programmes develop positive personal attitudes among participants (Conrad and Hedin, 1981). In addition there is a fairly substantial body of evidence that well constructed experiential learning programmes can stimulate moral and ego development (Mosher, 1977) enhance self esteem and increase social responsibility (Conrad and Hedin, 1982). Involvement of young people in learning through actual performance at early ages provides the concrete experiences that they need for learning and development. The elements of experiential learning are: personal involvement, self initiation, relates to the life of the learner and evaluation by the learner so it becomes part of his/her whole experience (Rogers, 1969). A motto frequently used in 4-H “Learn by doing” is an expression of the commitment to experiential learning.
Finally, youth development education is seen as a community affair. It is based on the old African saying, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” A key element in the concept of community is family systems theory as espoused by Urie Bronfenbrenner. It comes from general systems theory, which says a system is a set of units with relationships among themselves. In this theory, the units are individuals, families, societies, governments, organizations, and other identifiable groups of people such as school, neighbourhoods and club. The systems aspect in the interrelatedness of the relationships between and among the units and the dynamic process of using communication to define their relationship. This social-ecological theory adds to our perspective of youth. It describes a multiple societal system; when visually depicted is a series of concentric circles. The innermost circle is the child. The next is the family. Next is the community where the most direct day-to-day reality for youth is found in the schools, workplace and neighbourhoods. Youth interact in these multiple settings and are exposed to a range of values. The last circle represents the macrosystem, the environment. The family and community exist in the environment, beliefs, culture, values, and the societal policies of this largest system. Youth learn about the multiple social systems through their interaction with their family and the community
This theory provides us with an opportunity to understand the complexity of the world in which children live. Understanding the concept of community as a key factor in youth development provides a wide angle view of youth and their development. It provides an opportunity to examine how whole communities have an impact on youth, both positively and negatively. Placing young people in a larger context helps shift the focus from problem youth to problem communities, from being the problem to being part of the solution. In systems theory, relationships are a key to defining existence. The relationships between families, schools, peers, media, businesses, religious organizations, and other forces and their influence on the lives of children. Not only does this broad perspective remind us that everyone in a community has a role to play in helping young people grow up healthy, but it also challenges us to work together to address common concerns, share resources and learn from each other to re-create communities that support and care for the young. Communities cannot long survive if their young people fail to thrive and young people will fail without the support of the community. It is through collaboration and cooperation between all the organizations and institutions in the community that the supportive environment for positive youth development can be created. In this way, programme development takes on a “grass roots” aspect with a commitment to participant and community involvement in planning and implementation.
Positive youth development is a commitment to meet the needs of the youth of today for socialization. Youth learn skills needed to cope with everyday life. Enhancing these life skills has a significant impact in the lives of young people, their families and communities. Positive youth development aims to provide an environment where youth become empowered through the acquisition and development of skills that expand their personal resources. It provides opportunities for responsibility for activities that affect others. This responsibility moves youth toward mutually responsible and mutually rewarding involvement with others that constitutes social maturity (Coleman, 1972). It helps young people develop skills and fill roles that helps them develop the characteristics of adulthood as well as self-reliance. These characteristics include: a sense of competence, feeling that one is capable, productive and unique; a sense of usefulness, feeling that one can make a contribution and what is done is of value to other people; a sense of belonging – a feeling that one has a place where one knows one belongs; a sense of power or potency – feeling that one can exercise some control over persons, organizations and institutions that control or try to control ones lives (Bird et al, 1978; Bandura, 1966; Cisek and George, 1985; Pittman, 1990, 1991). From another perspective, youth development education is directly related to freedom when freedom is defined as the number of options available to people and their right to express them. Personal freedom can be defined as: options available through skills and knowledge, belief in personal ability and confidence, and a balance of appropriate internal standards and sanctions of society (Bandura, 1986). As stated in the beginning, the goal of the 4-H Youth Development Education programme is to create environments where young people and adults can maximize their potential. In short, it provides educational opportunities for young people where they can recognize and develop their potential with a vision of a positive future.
Designing youth development education programmes
In designing learning environments for young people, we must begin with a philosophical base then move to specifics. A positive youth development programme is arranged for youth to learn skills needed to cope with everyday life.
A positive youth development education programme is based on the needs and interests of young people at various age levels. This includes developmental needs derived from human development literature in all five domains: physical, cognitive, social, emotional and moral and includes: development of physical, mental, social competence; self confidence, independence, and a personal philosophy of life. In addition are the needs for safe, supportive environments, and challenge, responsibility, and opportunity to feel useful.
The next programmatic consideration is an enabling structure composed of educational activities. This educational environment is made up of experiences and relationships. The experiences should be based on the interests of young people, if a voluntary programme, this is extremely important. The broad learning strategies that make up experiences should provide: a variety of opportunities based on developmental needs, levels and interests; learn-by-doing or experiential learning including both content and process; a balance between individual, cooperative and competitive activities; a safe and supportive environment for trying out new things; a balance between self-fulfilment and service; adult mentors or models; some responsibility for others; involvement in decision making and implementation; and based on learning theory.
The educational environment is also made up of relationships, relationships between the young person and the adult leader. However, as young people participate in the programme and as they develop their own skills and knowledge, the relationship between youth and adult changes from one of leader/director, member/follower to mentor/support, co-worker/leader.
The outcomes of positive youth development is a self reliant individual who perceives him or herself as competent and valued.
Potential for contribution to communities
The most significant outcome of positive youth development is young people who have the skills and knowledge and confidence to take responsibility for solving problems in their community and country. Outcomes of youth development education are leadership and citizenship development. As youth grow and develop, they acquire competencies and knowledge that builds their capacity to relate to the broader community. Positive youth development is a building block for leadership and community involvement. Each individual develops individual competencies that they can apply in a variety of situations and are empowering. Empowerment in this instance means that people do not assume they are powerless, but believe deeply in the power of visioning, the power of the individual to determine his or her own destiny and that through responsible participation they can empower each other and ultimately their institutions and society, thereby creating a life that is meaningful and satisfying for everyone.
Leadership development is characterized by a spiral of learning and action that includes: skill and knowledge development, participation where young people apply their knowledge and skills in leadership roles and situations and finally empowerment where they take responsibility for executing programmes. Youth development is leadership development. It can provide a safe environment for changing this belief to the emerging belief “We can collectively envision and create the society we want.”
Youth development as leadership development involves learning and practising leadership skills that include personal development, interpersonal development, group process and public life. It provides a flexible variety of learning experiences that allow youth to choose to develop those skills in which they are most interested. It provides youth with the opportunity to become leaders in their community.
Taking the concept of youth development and leadership development to the broader community is what sustainable development is all about. It is about involving youth in public life, in community service, as partners and resources, and in governance.
Youth in public life
Communities all over are finding themselves with serious problems. Many people feel powerless to make a difference. Many young people are alienated from the community. Groups that are supposed to be helping often are duplicating effort, worried about “turf”, trying to play the “numbers game” and in general working at cross purposes. Communities that tap the creativity of its members and get people to start cooperating are in the best position to rebuild and in the long run provide safe, supportive environments in which all people are valued and are productive.
Leadership development is a lead-in to citizenship. The skills of effective, responsible citizenship are the skills of leadership taken to the broader community. Citizenship is not a defined civics course or understanding government. It provides a practical application of the principles of government by which individuals and groups learn the meaning of social interdependence and become empowered in public life and the democratic arts. Liberty is learned: civic responsibility is an integral part of freedom. It is a product of taking action in the public life of the community – family, club, community, school, county, state, nation. Youth development provides the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour that increase individual capacity as citizen. It provides young people with the ability to act with effectiveness and public spirit in a world made up of many communities and large institutions.
Youth Development programmes can provide settings that tie the everyday lives of young people to the larger world and help them feel that they can contribute to building a better community. Involving young people in finding and implementing solutions to problems that are meaningful to them where their decisions can be translated into some form of action can help young people develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage their confidence that they can make a difference. Youth involvement in public life can encourage an openness to new ideas, the ability to reflect on issues, an interest in contributing to help others and to improve society and the courage to think through the most difficult and complex problems.
The goal of leadership development in public life is to teach citizenship as a generalist, practical, broad gauged, many sided capacity to act in the world as public leaders.
Youth development programmes can provide environments where young people are challenged to “fix” problems which can engage them and their energies. It can help them see themselves as capable, competent and significant and develop their capacity for effective, public spirited work in the world, embedded in everyday institutions and having a larger reach.
Youth in community service
Youth development programmes can lead youth to involvement in community service. It can provide links to opportunities where young people can provide a service to their community, thus building a sense of social responsibility – a personal investment in the well-being of others and of the planet. This aspect of leadership development takes intention, attention and time. Youth development programmes can use the most effective means of helping young people develop a relationship with society providing for political socialization by providing opportunities to enter and engage in working with and for others in their community. Community service in youth development provides for prosocial behaviour development, psycho-social development and moral development leading to social responsibility
Community service in youth development programmes can take on many forms providing opportunities for young people to do something significant in their community. This is a characteristic of community service – it is rooted in the community, responsive to community needs and open to new ideas large and small. Community service in this sense is “different” from youth in public life. In this arena, youth provide a direct service to others and their community, contributing to the lives of others, filling a real need and improving the world around them. Service provides an opportunity to learn how best to help others, how to be patient and how to tolerate the slow pace of change. Discussions related to community service provide arenas for developing the concept of interdependence developing social skills, appreciation for cultural diversity and a sense of community through group process.
Community service is an empowering activity and its goals is to enable those who serve to become strong enough to lead full lives and offer services in exchange. Learning to act for others provides a confirmation of one’s own strength that can renew a commitment to live decently and vigorously at all times when one is tired of the competitive ground all of us are exposed to no matter what our intent. Indeed, Martin Luther King said, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
Participation is an essential component of youth development and leadership development. Youth participation can be defined as: “programmes in which youth are involved in responsible challenging action that meets genuine needs with opportunities for planning and/or decision making as co-workers with adults in an activity whose impact or consequences extend to others” (Bird et al, 1978). It is the active solicitation and engagement of young people in programme development and implementation. According to Karen Pittman, “youth participation is a term used to describe a wide range of structures and processes. Perception of youth participation varies according to who is speaking and ranges from – we have two youth on our board to youth make all the decisions. Neither of these may be ideal forms of youth participation – the first smacks of tokenism, the second suggests adult anarchy” (Pittman, 1991).
Youth participation recognizes the abilities of young people to serve as resources and partners in their communities. It is an extension or next step in leadership development, providing opportunities for young people in planning, decision making, conducting and evaluating projects, programmes, activities and events.
Through participation, young people find the opportunity to fill significant roles in a safe, supportive environment where they can experiment with roles, tasks and responsibilities. Adults can provide this environment by understanding young people, their developmental stages, and their needs and interests. Adults also must be willing to let young people take the lead. A youth participation programme should allow for increasing leadership by youth and decreasing direction from adults.
As young people develop leadership ability, a natural progression is to become actively involved “in the building and rebuilding of themselves, their families, their communities and the larger institutions that shape the quality of life” (Pittman, 1991). In developing new programmes or improving one which already exists, appropriate and carefully designed youth involvement in the governance of the programme can be challenging. It does provide an opportunity for an organization to be more responsive to the needs and concerns of youth and moving toward building environments that support and maintain positive growth and development.
Youth involvement in the governance of programmes stimulates their sense of ownership, participation and creativity. When young people feel ownership, they are more apt to take the programme seriously and involve their peers. The involvement of youth in programme governance positively impacts the other participants. They develop a greater sense of attachment to programmes when their peers are involved in making programmatic decisions. Participants further hone their leadership skills by observing and emulating people involved in governance. Working with adults, young people learn how to make organizations work, they learn about meetings and committees and how to work as part of a group and a variety of skills important as they move into the workforce.
A benefit of youth and adult interaction in governance is that both groups gain from the exchange. Youth help adults who may fail to understand their perspective on current trends and issues. Because of age and experience, youth are often not affected by past concerns and are open to new ideas and perspectives. Youth begin to understand the complexity of programming and evaluation making them more patient and understanding of programme issues. It is critical to define the role of young people in governance clearly defining the responsibilities of the adults and young people involved. Both young people and adults must be trained to communicate with each other. There are many complex elements in youth programmes and youth must be oriented as to how they affect programme operations. Meaningful involvement of youth in governance cannot be left to chance or accomplished in a haphazard manner. It takes careful planning and preparation to structure effective, empowering leadership opportunities. It may take patience and understanding to successfully implement and maintain these opportunities.
By participating in governance, youth gain self-confidence, develop leadership and communication skills, increase understanding of the programme and the complexity of coordinating programmes. They become more responsible and accountable to the programme. As a result, youth become better prepared to take these skills and use them effectively throughout their lives.
What does this mean for us? Every community, every society, every nation needs a significant number of people who are willing to risk change, to change the status quo, to garner support for innovation and support and advocate for young people. Not everyone will agree on specifics for each community and the situation is different but, we must have a shared vision or direction for sustainable development and for youth development. The diversity of contexts and experiences of young people around the world is so great that an analysis of their situation based solely on age would be incorrect. As youth workers analyzing the needs of rural youth and devising strategies for improving their situation, we must consider other factors such as behaviour, opportunity, gender, ethnic background, socio-economic position, and age. It is necessary to also think in terms of systems and the environment in which young people are growing and developing.
In the emerging world of the twenty first century, we need to be fully prepared for our work. We all need to understand fully the concepts of sustainable development in the long term with youth development as part of the solution. We are all learners, for the future is still unknown. We all need access to emerging fields of knowledge, new skills and new understanding to help not only the young, but also ourselves with the process of growing and developing. This means applying theory and research to practice and letting practice inform research and theory. It means bringing knowledge to bear on questions and challenges to development and creating forums such as this where people from differing backgrounds and experiences can work together to solve problems and design solutions. It also means creating networks where people can connect with each other to share and learn.