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The Youth Endowment Fund’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) recently held a productive roundtable session discussing the role of youth leadership in three key areas:

  1. Governance and decision-making
  2. Research and design
  3. Project delivery

Governance and Decision-Making

Two young speakers, one from YAB and one external, kicked off the discussion on governance and decision-making. They highlighted the importance of valuing young people’s time through proper pay, support, and mentorship. Practical considerations such as meeting times and accessibility were also emphasised to ensure inclusivity.

A key outcome was recognising the danger of the ‘usual suspects’—being young isn’t enough; relevant experience is crucial. Preparing spaces for youth involvement was also discussed, including slow introductions and encouraging leadership, with adults needing to resign some control. Another important point was the value of admitting “I don’t know,” fostering an environment where young people feel supported to express uncertainty, and adults recognise their blind spots.

It’s evident that young people work hard to be part of governance groups, and these groups must be prepared and ready for their involvement.

Research and Design

The next segment focused on the role of youth in research and design. Speakers discussed the power of youth-led research, which grants access to places and information not always open to adult-led research. If you want genuine insights from young people, it’s crucial to be present in their environments and spaces. The session emphasised that youth voices should only be requested with a genuine commitment to act on the insights.

It was noted that research, often seen as an elite field, can struggle to share power with young people. The importance of aftercare was also highlighted, reflecting on the impact of sharing stories and experiences and the rarity of support in research. A challenge was posed: if you cannot properly support young people and lack the time to incorporate their voices, do not involve them. Additionally, the challenge to involve young people end-to-end, from design to publication to solution design, was underscored.

Project Delivery

The final theme, project delivery, was introduced by another set of youth speakers. They emphasised the critical role young people play in executing projects. Examples of successful youth-led delivery were showcased, highlighting how young people can drive meaningful change. The speakers discussed the importance of controversy with civility, encouraging young people to challenge the status quo, which is vital for system and policy change.

They also pointed out that young lived experience often remains at officer or junior levels, suggesting co-CEO models and other alternative leadership structures. Challenges such as competitive funding, where organisations default to traditional methods, and the need for whole-organisation support for youth-led initiatives were discussed. This work must be deliberate and central to the organisation’s culture, addressing recruitment challenges. Another challenge highlighted was leaders not sharing power due to resistance to change, and organisations with missions to help young people not making space for them to be employed.

Interactive Sessions and Feedback

Following the introductions, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and engage in smaller, YAB member-led discussions. These breakout sessions allowed delegates to delve deeper into how youth leadership could be integrated into their own practices. The collaborative discussions provided practical insights and strategies for enhancing youth involvement in various organisational processes.


The session concluded with a feedback segment, where delegates shared their thoughts on the discussions and the value of youth leadership. The positive feedback underscored the necessity of such initiatives, reinforcing YEF’s commitment to empowering young people in meaningful ways.

By prioritising youth leadership, YEF not only enriches its projects but also fosters a new generation of leaders who are equipped to bring about positive change in their communities.