Many of us have ideas of what changes we’d like to see in our society, but it can be hard to know how to turn these thoughts into positive action. Young people, in particular, can feel that their voice is not represented, especially before they are old enough to vote. However, you can help encourage young people (and others in your life) to be positive contributors for change.
Step Together recently spoke to Youth Action NSW about how to harness the interests and passions of young people (be they relatives, friends or clients), and help them have their voice heard.
Step Together: What is advocacy and how do I start advising someone who wants to try and change something, or voice issues concerning them?
Youth Action NSW: Put simply, to advocate is to support someone or something you believe in. The first step is noticing when someone is really angry about something. Or really inspired. Or maybe just sad. Chances are that the something has many layers to it. Whether they’re concerned about climate change, homelessness, education or politics, it’s important to help tackle the issue in a positive way.
The first challenge for a new advocate is to work out exactly what they’re trying to change. Help them focus on the area where they can make the most difference. One thing is certain – they will feel like they’re getting nowhere if they try to tackle every single aspect of an issue. You may like to start by asking some questions, to help define the solution:
ST: What next? What practical steps can they take?
YA NSW: Advocacy requires three main things to create change; The support of people, resources (fundraising) and the backing of political powers. Most activities loosely fit into these categories, and there are many activities that go into each of these areas, such as running events, attending marches, and writing to government. But it’s important you assure a young person that they can be creative and come up with their own solutions.
ST: How do they find other people that are passionate about the same issue?
YA NSW: There are a few of different ways. One may be for them to contact the local council and see if there is a Youth Development Officer or Community Development Team that can point them in the right direction. They can of course search the web and social media, or they can contact their local youth service to see if they know of any groups addressing the issue they care about.
We’ve created a list of organisations passionate about different areas for young people that may be a good starting point.
ST: What happens if they write to their local politician or advocate on an issue but don’t see any changes?
YA NSW: Change seldom happens immediately. Assure them that there are many ways to keep addressing the issue they care about. Writing letters and emails is important, but meeting face-to-face with your local politician will ensure they feel heard. They can call their MP’s office and speak to one of their staff. Make sure they are ready to tell them why they want to meet the MP, and who else might join the meeting (e.g. if they are advocating on an issue with a group of others).
They could attend an event where the MP is speaking to learn more about their priorities and also to have a chance to ask questions. You may like to help the young person write out some talking points. Remember, MP’s may be busy and take a while to respond, but they shouldn’t feel shy about following up with a reminder or asking about a timeframe.
There have been many recent media examples of passionate young people making a positive difference in our society. It is important to help those who would like to be advocates for positive social change to find the tools, skills and connections needed to achieve their goals.
If you need advice on how best to help someone you care about, call our Step Together helpline workers on 1800 875 204, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.