Youth, tech and charities

It’s been a few months since the NCVO/ BWB Trustee Conference but some of the things I learned there remain relevant to the work of our small international team. Aside from our main Building Bridges programme, we also run smaller projects working with young leaders in the UK and MENA region.

Working with young people has many benefits, especially within the charity sector and I love hearing what they think about charities and how they operate.

I was impressed by Chloe Donovan’s thoughts on becoming a charity trustee at the frightfully young age of 19. She claimed that the passion and commitment of young people can help charities get more under 25s involved in social action. But getting them involved isn’t easy. Young people should be able to find valuable roles in the sector – a view shared by a range of organisations other than NCVO who have discussed these matters at events across the globe (the British Councils Annual Hammamet Conference and the CIVICUS 2014 International Civil Society Week to name but two).

While Chloe may have a point about the energy of youth, surely the biggest benefit that young people could bring to charities is more related to the use of technology and social media. Research is beginning to suggest that members of Generation Y  are displaying increasingly liberal attitudes to social and cultural differences and are more likely to feel as though they belong to part of a global community.

I have to admit I’m a little biased: the use of social media is a key element of our International Building Bridges project. We know that the role of social media during the Arab Spring was critical, and, following consultations in the region, we are trying to extend the use of similar methods even further. We want organisations to embrace these platforms and use them as regularly as their email. We also want to develop a well-connected global civil society – it seems obvious that these two ideas go hand in hand.

Looking beyond social media

During our 2013 Young Leaders Exchange with the British Council, we met with organisations that had developed their own applications to tie into their social media strategies. Al Bawsala for example, developed a web-based application that tracks votes within the Tunisian parliament to highlight the need for transparency from their new parliament.

Many Arab organisations also harnessed the power of these networks (and the energy of youth) through informal movements and protests, mostly organised through young online users and supporters.

We’re seeing similar trends in Japan, and our UK delegates will be exploring how technology can facilitate global collaboration while they are in Tokyo next month. The international team are also planning our own smaller project harnessing the power of web based technology so be sure to watch this space.

Many UK based charities have attempted similar projects, although results have been hit and miss. While there are lots of new-fangled apps that aim to help young people engage with charity campaigning, is it possible that we’re simply looking at this wrong? Familiar (and already popular) platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have all helped launch a huge range of viral campaigns. Perhaps UK charities could learn from the Arab Spring by looking towards technologies that piggy-back on these mediums rather than attempting to build their own. Examples of these apps already exist; Do-It for example launched a web app earlier this year that finds and recommends volunteering opportunities based on your web use. A new mapping application called Momentous was also recently developed as a way of finding new live local events and is being partially marketed to non-profit campaign and event organisers.

Although the use of technology is becoming widespread across all age groups, perhaps organisations could think of new ways of bringing youth into the sector. With their unrivalled familiarity and confidence using social media and other web based applications, organisations would be able to use their skills with little need for training and support. It’s an exciting time, and we can’t wait to see how technology makes the sector even more accessible for all.

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Verity Buckley supported NCVO's EU and international team, working on various projects and flagship events.

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