Blog: Let’s target social action at the young people who need it most

23 Nov 2015

It is #iwill week and a celebration of social action. The concept of social action has come a long way in the past decade. In the last few years it has been talked about as the answer to everything from youth unemployment to social mobility. But can social action really bring benefits to young people whatever their background?

The government has certainly signed up to the concept. Its cornerstone youth programme, NCS, is built around social action. The programme brings young people together to share experiences, learn from one another and ultimately deliver a social action project. NYA manages NCS in the North East, in partnership with youth volunteering charity vInspired.

O2 Think Big is another successful social action programme, funded by Telefonica Foundation and Telefonica UK and managed by NYA. It works by putting cash into the hands of young people to fund their creative, imaginative ideas. They have to bring benefits for others (not just themselves) and also contain a digital element.

As well as grant giving, Think Big employs deliverers with youth work experience to help support young people and their projects. NYA also involves a host of ‘youth partners’ who work with youth groups to build confidence, self-esteem and help young people vision their ideas into tangible projects.

This support is essential and here’s why.

Professor Tony Chapman at Durham University evaluated NYA’s Social Action Journey Fund programme, which aimed to involve young disadvantaged people in social action. It was funded by the Cabinet Office and O2 Think Big. His report explains that, broadly, there are three different points of readiness for young people and social action; those closest to a long-term commitment to social action, those who are aware of the benefits and not too far away, and thirdly, those who are resistant.

Of this last group, these young people tend to have more limited experiences, be less confident and have lower self esteem than the other groups. To get these young people involved in social action requires much more intervention by youth work professionals, and is therefore longer term and more expensive. Their barriers are greater and often their progress slower. Yet development can be very significant for the individual concerned, although it is often not recognised by outsiders.

As Professor Chapman states, “Making a journey of this kind requires young people to be able to imagine a different future for themselves.” Youth work support can help young people achieve this. If social action can be as life changing as this, then we should be targeting more funding support at those who have the most to gain from it, not the people who are already converted. That’s a pledge we should all be backing.