Scaling up youth-led social action for all young people 

22 March 2024

  • Blog

Like many youth organisations, UK Youth has been delivering youth social action programmes for quite some time, write James Found, UK Youth Research & Learning Manager, and Molly Dawson, UK Youth Research & Learning Officer. Recent examples include Inspire 2022, EmpowHER Legacy, Young Changemakers, Community Food Champions, the #iwill Movement, and Outdoor Activators.

We have loved collaborating with youth organisations and young people to create more opportunities for young people to make change in their communities. 

Both programmes were developed from lessons learned from previous social action programmes, such as the original EmpowHer programme, as well as the long-standing #iWill Movement, which has been promoting youth-led social action and finding ways to embed this across the youth sector. 

Most recently, we evaluated two key programmes: EmpowHER Legacy, a young women and girls-led social action programme; and Inspire 2022, which took an events-based approach to facilitating youth social action.

UK Youth partnered with Youth Cymru to deliver Inspire 2022.
UK Youth partnered with Youth Cymru to deliver Inspire 2022.

Through these two programmes, more than 3,000 young people have participated in unique opportunities to lead social action, often for the first time. In this series of blogs, we have shared what EmpowHER Legacy and Inspire 2022 have achieved. However, we do not want to stop here. 

Ensuring all young people are equipped to thrive and empowered to contribute at every stage of their lives remains UK Youth’s vision, and developing youth-led social action is a key part of this.  

‘Scaling up’ and ’embedding’ youth social action across communities

The good news is that through both the EmpowHer Legacy and Inspire 2022 programmes, we have tested ways to scale up and embed youth-led social action so it can become a real opportunity for all young people who want to make a positive difference across all communities. 

Taking a networked approach

At UK Youth we are fortunate to have a network of more than 8,000 members, so we can reach across diverse communities and engage young people who may never have taken part in – let alone led – youth social action before. Taking a ‘networked approach’ allowed us to direct resources where they could best be used, often engaging grassroots organisations with specific reach to work with young people looking to act within their community, but unsure where to start. 

Youth workers are the key

This would not be possible without the youth workers who support young people to bring their social action ideas to life. They inspire young people to develop their ideas, while also motivating them when they face tricky obstacles or setbacks to see things through. 

We need to ensure youth workers themselves have the support they need, as well as setting up their youth organisations for success.  

Funding that empowers youth workers and young people

Ensuring there is enough resource for youth workers and social action projects is crucial. It means giving them funds for their time, skills development, planning out their projects and buying extra equipment if needed.

By directly funding grassroots youth organisations, we can increase the chances of the money reaching all young people in the community.

Young people from Ochil Youths Community Improvement litter-picking.

Protecting funds for young people, letting them control a budget and bring their ideas to life shows they are trusted and valued to deliver social action – motivating them to do more. 

Providing sustainable funding over several years allows young people to expand their social action ideas helping them make real changes in their communities. Longer-term funding helps youth workers gain experience and confidence in running youth projects. 

Supporting projects through partnerships

We cannot expect all youth organisations to be able to immediately deliver meaningful and powerful youth-led social action with funding alone.

Some youth organisations want further partnership support, providing direction to deliver with young people so they can give the best offer available.

Training and ongoing support, paid time for peer learning from other organisations delivering youth social action, and a ‘critical friend’ approach with one-to-one support from UK Youth were all tried and tested through the programmes.

We know youth-led social action can only really come alive for all young people when we commit to empowering young people to create the change they want to see in the world.

James Found and Molly Dawson, UK Youth impact team

Supporting youth organisations to follow their own journey in youth social action, providing time and ‘lighter touch’ governance were also critical in helping youth workers engage young people over the course of the programmes without undue pressure. 

UK Youth has created guidance on youth social action for any youth organisation to use to help embed it where support is needed.

The UK Youth EmpowHer toolkit also provides specific hints, tips, session templates and activities to develop young women and girls-led youth social action, while, the #iwill movement provides a treasure trove of resources to help young people take-up their own social action initiatives, from ‘how to fundraise’ to ‘how to plan your social action idea’. 

Empowering young people beyond the youth centre

Ultimately, we know youth-led social action can only really come alive for all young people when we as communities and as a wider society commit to empowering young people to create the change they want to see in the world.

This needs commitment from both local and national organisations to share resources and decision-making powers so young people can act on their ideas and create change for good.

The #iwill Power of Youth Charter provides a set of commitments and core values for organisations to sign up to and can be used to advocate for young people to become integral members of communities. 

For more detail on our learning through EmpowHer Legacy and Inspire 2022, see the EmpowHER Legacy evaluation summary here, or the full-length report here , or the Inspire 2022 evaluation here.

About us

UK Youth is a leading charity with a vision that all young people are equipped to thrive and empowered to contribute at every stage of their lives. With an open network of more than 8,000 youth organisations and nation partners; UK Youth reaches more than four million young people across the UK and is focused on unlocking youth work as the catalyst of change that is needed now more than ever. To find out more, visit ukyouth.org

UK Youth is involved in various programmes designed to help young people thrive, such as outdoor learning, physical literacy, social action and employability, including Hatch, a youth employability programme run in partnership with KFC. For more on UK Youth’s programmes, see ukyouth.org/what-we-do/programmes 

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