Experiences in Positive Youth Development
August 25, 2011 – 11:30 a.m.
||Rachel Surkin, IREX
Rachel Surkin discussed effective practices in Positive Youth Development (PYD) which helped provide the basis for the Youth Development Competencies Program (YDCP) IREX developed in Russia. IREX as an organization focuses on increasing youth civic engagement, rather than concentrating only on workforce preparedness. Surkin began the session by asking attendees at each table to discuss youth programs with which they have been involved, along with the programs’ successes and failures. She then presented an adapted version of “The Ladder of Participation,” a model developed by Sherry Arnstein and Roger Hart. This model depicts the range of youth involvement in programs developed for their benefit—ranging from youth-initiated programs to “manipulation” (i.e. adults forcing or coercing youth to participate).
Surkin proceeded to ask participants to locate where their program fell within this continuum. One participant from USAID/Washington noted that from a donor’s perspective, youth-initiated programs appear very risky. An attendee from the International Youth Foundation added that increasing youth involvement in program implementation also means that the program will be focused on capacity building, and therefore more labor intensive because youth have less experience and require more guidance. Surkin responded that IREX initially developed YDCP as a youth-run program, but for those reasons (donor concerns and focus on capacity building) and others, adult involvement had to be increased.
Effective PYD involves five competencies and six basic needs that youth development programs should aim to meet. The five competencies are: health, social involvement, creativity, vocational skills, and citizenship. The six basic needs provide a sense of: safety/structure, belonging/membership, self-worth/contributing, independence, closeness/relationship, and competence/mastery. Surkin also noted that while this framework emphasizes sustained involvement in youth development, there are instances where a single interaction changes the course of a child’s life.
Applying PYD, Surkin then spoke in greater detail about YDCP, a USAID-funded effort developed by IREX in Russia. YDCP recruited key members of successful youth projects throughout the country, identified best practices, and disseminated them across the nation. This program has helped youth find employment, address the basic needs of at-risk youth, and increase youth engagement in society. A YDCP impact evaluation found that nearly 98% of program participants reported involvement in community service, compared to only 50% in the comparison group. Furthermore, YDCP participants were two to four times more likely to have had interactions with local and regional government officials.
Key take away points focus on PYD meeting the basic needs and competencies that make long-term contributions to the lives of youth. Youth development programs can have many different structures; they can be entirely youth-initiated or they can be structured to force youth participation. Nevertheless, increasing youth involvement in programs helps to ensure sustainability. Overall, Surkin noted that youth development programs should “approach youth as a resource to be developed, not a problem to be solved.”