4.10 Engage youth in your board process

There are many reasons to think strategically about how to engage youth on governance boards, bearing in mind that the process of youth engagement can sometimes take time and effort. Although youth have a lot of potential to contribute, many barriers often stand in the way of their full participation.

Despite these challenges, involving youth in governance initiatives benefits organizations and our society because it:

  • Promotes positive youth development
  • Strengthens the ability of adults and organizations to work with young people
  • Prepares the next generation of civic leaders
  • Brings new perspectives to the decision-making process

Although youth participation is important on all governance boards, it is particularly important when the not-for-profit organization is one that serves children, youth and/or families. In these organizations, the voices of youth on the governance board help to represent the needs of the communities served by the organization.

Considerations for including youth on your board[1]

  • Scheduling and transportation

Lack of transportation, busy schedules, commitments to school and work, and extra-curricular activities can be barriers to youth participation. Scheduling and transportation demands are different for youth than for adults. Adults need to be flexible and to give youth consideration in planning board meetings and activities. Here are some strategies to reduce these barriers:

    • Provide transportation or public transportation access
    • Schedule meetings and activities to accommodate youth
    • Provide child care for youth with children
    • Partner with schools so that youth can earn a credit or volunteer hours for their participation
    • Consider creating a youth advisory committee on your board.
  • Healthy youth/adult partnerships

To partner with youth, adult board members need to learn how to effectively work with youth, and youth need to learn how to build the skills they need to function and contribute as adults.  This type of learning exchange will take time and effort. Here are some ways to make it happen:

    • Adults need to be sensitive to different levels of experience, status, power, control, knowledge of resources and language between adults and youth. They can learn to build an understanding of youth culture, adopt a youth-friendly language, and develop participatory skills.
    • Youth need to be supported to develop a positive identity, and realize their potential to participate in decision making. Many young people do not recognize their right to participate in processes and decisions that affect them. Adult mentors who can “be there” for youth can support the development of their skills in areas such as communication and orientation to the organization, programs and board. They can also provide opportunities for youth to evaluate and celebrate their contributions.
    • Create a partnership model where adults and youth share roles and responsibilities. Ensure that youth have an equal opportunity to share their opinions and ideas, and set time aside to play together and team-build.
  • Meaningful contributions

Involving youth on your board must be meaningful for them:

    • Make it clear that youth are meeting a genuine need, and that their contributions are making a difference
    • Link youth participation to their own lived experience
    • Ensure that their participation offers them a challenge, adventure and new learning
    • Recognize youth contributions
  • Different youth voices

Do not assume that one youth represents the experiences of all youth. Be aware that there are many different communities of youth[2] with different identities and experiences.

  • Evaluation

Regular evaluation of youth participation helps to build evidence on the positive outcomes of youth engagement in decision-making and how to strengthen or restructure programs and practices[3].

    • Take a systemic approach to document, evaluate, integrate and replicate successful participatory processes
    • Include youth as evaluators and developers of evaluation processes

  1. Adapted from Heartwood Centre for Community Youth Development (2013). Youth Participation in Governance: Creating Youth Friendly Communities. Retrieved from Heartwood Centre
  2. A community of youth is defined as a population of youth who share backgrounds, situations, or lifestyles with common elements or concerns (this can include, but is not limited to ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic background, gender, geographic area (for example, rural, urban or neighbourhood based), LBGTQ2 or youth)
  3. United Nations Economic and Social Affairs. (2004). Youth Participation in Decision Making. In World Youth Report 2003 (pp. 270 – 288). Retrieved from United Nations Economic and Social Affairs.


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