By Julie Toskan, MSM, OMC, founder and board chair of Youth and Philanthropy Initiative Canada
Across Canada, students are returning to school amid a pandemic and the real possibility of a second wave that could further disrupt the school year. Back-to-school is usually about getting back to normal but there will be little normal for students, parents, educators, and their support networks this year.
This is a generation-defining time, with young people among the hardest hit by the disruptions, and we have yet to see the full impact of the closures on their wellbeing. At the same time, the local charities and non-profits that step up all year to support young people and their communities with everything from housing and harm reduction to food security and mental health are facing a double jeopardy of increasing demand for services and dramatically decreasing donations. Charities are losing revenue and, according to Imagine Canada, one in five anticipate that they will be forced to close their doors later this year.
Compounding this, the CSSG/WE Charity controversy has made more Canadians suspicious of the value and accountability of the hard work of charities in our communities. Through our work at YPI, we’ve learned that youth philanthropy is a unique field in which adult allies contribute in authentic youth civic engagement work to transfer real power and resources to young people, listen to their voices and invite their critical perspectives, without the agenda of adults getting in the way. We’ve seen how authentic youth civic engagement supports young people to develop their skills, their social conscience, their sense of community, as well as their self-confidence and self-reflection. How authentic youth civic engagement encourages young people to seek out and value the wisdom, expertise, and experience of charities and leaders already working in their community. And how authentic youth civic engagement motivates adult allies to be accountable to young people and to build intergenerational solidarity and mutual advocacy.
We urge Canadians not to take cynical view of youth civic engagement and the work of charities in our communities: both need our support and solidarity more than ever. We cannot afford to pause or scale back our efforts to engage young people in critically engaging with the issues our communities are facing, and listen to them about the services, charities, and ideas that matter to them, and the systems that need to change.
In May, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs put forward ten policy recommendations for member states to best support young people (15-24) during and post- pandemic, and in support of broader community development goals. The third underscores the sustained and critical role that skill-building, youth-centered civic education programs: Maintain or increase funding and investments in young people’s health, education and skills development, entrepreneurship, and expand their employment opportunities, improve work conditions, and enhance their civic participation.
Youth and Philanthropy Initiative Canada wholeheartedly supports this recommendation now more than ever. We contribute, in a big way, to authentic youth civic engagement through a unique participatory grant-making process. We’ve seen first-hand the impact that we’ve had with over 500,000 teenagers worldwide who were encouraged to deeply understand a social issue of their choice, and to advocate for the vital work of charities doing exceptional work their own communities.
As the UN has stated; “Now is not the time to dial back investments in youth. The future economic recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will rely on skilled and healthy young people contributing with their labour, ideas and expertise.” The year ahead will no doubt be challenging as we adapt and recover and find ways to “build back better”. Like other organizations in the non-profit sector, we have had be more resourceful and creative in our approach while prioritizing the health and safety of our participants and community members, all while staying focused on our commitment to young people, educators, and local charities. We encourage all Canadians to show your support for young people and offer them opportunities to engage in their communities. We also urge you to support your local charitable sector – during these unprecedented times, and always.