A genuine and empowering youth-led and youth-targeting initiative – that’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Youth in Landscapes (YIL) Initiative.
Genuine, in the sense that you feel a strong sense of belonging to, and ownership of a creative and inspiring project that is completely led by young people and targeted towards young people with the aim of real societal change.
And empowering…well just think of 50 young people from all corners of the world sharing their diverse perspectives and experiences on landscapes issues, learning together about key skills and competences for an increasingly complex work environment, and collaborating with professionals and experts on designing innovative ideas for solving landscapes challenges.
Our monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process provided interesting insight into the dynamics of interaction and collaboration between youth and more senior professionals in landscapes issues and the mutual benefits and exchanges that took place through this program. Here we describe some of the highlights we uncovered.
But first, let us briefly describe the program. It actually all began in September 2015, with four webinars aiming to help applicants understand the selection process, prepare the 50 youth innovators for the workshop in Paris and offer skill building to those who were unable to travel to Paris. The face to face workshop took place in Paris as part of the youth component of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in December 2015. A total of 50 young people (aged 18-35) from 31 countries came together in an effort to solve some of the most pertinent land-use issues that organizations are facing on the ground today. The youth participants came from a variety of professional backgrounds including governmental institutions, NGOs, universities and colleges, and the private sector.
The week-long program encompassed three main components:
- Landscapes Leaders workshop. The week-long face to face program was grounded in building skills necessary for a 2020 workforce, filling the applied learning gap that employers are demanding but that many universities are struggling to fill. The workshop focused particularly on complex problem solving skills, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, judgement, decision making, negotiation, critical thinking and active listening skills. Participants were given the time and space to practise these skills with their peers and trainers in a safe environment and landscapes experts from diverse professional backgrounds (such as academic and private sectors) acted as mentors to the youth teams working on solutions to some of the most important landscapes challenges today.
2. The Youth in GLF program, which aims to ensure young participants have take on leadership roles during the conference, such as speakers, session facilitators, translators, rapporteurs etc. Check out Salina Abraham who delivered a fantastic closing keynote on behalf of youth at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum.
A cornerstone of youth participation during GLF is the youth session, which in 2015 was a Dragon’s Den (a panel of experts) where youth presented their ideas to solve each of the 5 landscape challenges they worked on during the pre-conference workshop. This ‘pitching’ session was very lively and dynamic, and was even streamed online! Audiences at the YIL and around the globe watched as the young participants enthusiastically proposed interesting ideas and solutions that were often ‘clear, concise, and tailored to the audience’. The ‘dragons’ all responded positively, some expressed interest in taking some ideas further, and a few even challenged these ideas to test the youth’s capabilities. The impact of the capacity-building workshops was evident in the mature way that youth responded to the dragons’ questions. We, as part of the organizing team, felt proud and optimistic. This was real youth power in action!
- The Youth in Landscapes Initiative Mentoring Program, where 22 youth partnered with 20 senior delegates – a mix of business leaders, development workers, researchers and government officials, all passionate about supporting youth. Over the two days of the GLF, these senior mentors guided their mentees through sessions, plenaries, and networking opportunities. And, in turn the mentees had the opportunity to share their own knowledge and experiences of studying and working in landscapes around the world. Five mentoring pairs – carefully matched from a large pool of applicants – were selected to take part in a pilot ‘long term mentoring program’, which is now in its ninth month. This program is being evaluated separately by our friends at Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD).
OK so now on to the highlights.
The first highlight of the 2015 program was the strong influence of the capacity-building sessions on the youth participants’ confidence and competences. The wide majority of participants expressed and demonstrated enhanced skills in public speaking, tailoring their message to specific audiences, critical thinking, in addition to a better understanding of how to work and communicate within a team setting.
The thematic ‘landscapes’ sessions also allowed them to expand their knowledge regarding the landscapes approach and the different socio-cultural, political, and economic aspects that encompass it.
As one participant described it:
“It was INVALUABLE! Such a worthy experience, meeting lots of amazing people, learning so much (either through the landscape challenge or outside it, in informal talks), feeling the good energy of young people making it happen, connecting…”
Even the organisations who proposed the challenges had many wonderful things to say about the YIL program. They expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of the opportunity to interact directly with youth as they felt it provided new ways to share and exchange ideas about current landscapes issues. It also gave them the chance to discuss potential collaborations for future joint projects.
Several challenge mentors pointed out that the landscape leaders workshop enabled them to engage first-hand and in a participatory approach with young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures in order to provide guidance as well as to exchange learning on landscapes issues. For instance, one highlighted ”the connection with young professionals involved in new way of doing research and communicating with others”. Another considered that his greatest achievement was contributing to guiding a young participant’s decision regarding his internship and career choices.
While the 2015 Youth in Landscapes Initiative was a positive experience for both the participants and their mentors, the data we captured from the M&E point to certain improvements that can be made in future YIL initiatives.
The lessons learnt mainly relate to:
- better time management and communication between the mentors and participants and between the participants themselves,
- promoting the social learning process through capitalizing on the diversity of participant backgrounds and experiences
- improving the design of the landscape challenge mentoring programme for ensuring mutual benefit and gains over the long-term.
The YIL 2015 was an invaluable experience for all those who were involved, including the young participants, professional mentors, as well as the brilliant youth who designed, planned, managed, implemented, and evaluated this program.
As one young participant perfectly puts it:
“It allowed everyone to learn new tips, to open the mind to new and different perspectives, to come into different realities related to a common sector of employment/study, to enlarge the network and make new connections”.
So, what’s the next step for us as the organizing team?
As we always do, we are making sure we take all these lessons into real consideration in the planning and design of the next Youth in Landscapes Initiative program.
We are also committed to engaging more youth participants in the organizing team of the next Youth in Landscapes Initiative. After all, over half the members of this year’s ‘organizing team’ were ‘youth participants’ in last year’s event…and it keeps getting better! As we said at the beginning – genuine and empowering!
Stay tuned for announcements about the 2016 Youth in Landscapes Initiative soon!
Mona B. El Zoghbi is the National Project Coordinator of the Networks of Mediterranean Youth (Net-Med Youth) project at UNESCO-Beirut office. She plans and coordinates projects and activities that promote the active engagement and empowerment of youth in Lebanon across diverse areas including education, employment, sustainability, media, and policy dialogue. Mona holds a Master in Environmental Sciences and PhD in Sustainable Development.
Noor Nasir recently completed her Master’s at Lund University in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science. As part of her thesis and work within the Youth in Landscapes Initiative, she was allowed to explore her interests in youth engagement within sustainability and the importance of youth participation and empowerment within that realm. Noor hopes to continue promoting youth engagement in her future work to showcase how with the right tools and motivation, youth can have a meaningful and long-term impact on current global issues.