Community programs that focus on youth-generated ideas and initiatives can give whole communities a sense of connectedness and hope through their future generations. Youth for Change (YFC) is a youth-led program started in 2008 as a pilot project that has grown rapidly. This program supports and empowers Arab youth in their community initiatives. Each of these youth applied for the program by pitching the community initiatives that they are passionate about creating. These projects range from environment, human rights and gender issues, to communication in the media, education and training – all with the focus of enhancing and creating connectedness in various aspects of their community.
Program Manager Tala Nabulsi says that the Youth for Change program is essentially “a learning experience, not just a program that offers grants.” Nabulsi also says that the program offers a cultural experience where the youth are also given the opportunity to connect from different regions and areas, sharing different views and experiences.
Youth for Change recruits 30 of the most talented youth between the ages of 18-32 from 10 different countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 60% of the Arab population are under 30 years of age in these countries, making up the largest age group. The Youth for Change program fills a crucial need for this age group, saying that “Arab societies still lack the proper structures for organizing youth activism, whether through volunteerism, youth activities, or networking opportunities.” YFC Program Assistant Bushra Nassab says that “the program is unique in this way, as studies show that empowerment, education and mobilization of youth helps a country that is fragile and unstable because these are our next leaders. Youth for Change gives them a way to push their boundaries and go against what is considered common in their countries.”
When providing support for a community, outsider influences can be well-intended but misguided on the best ways to implement positive change. In providing initiatives that are imagined and run by members of the community themselves, issues for that particular community’s needs can be brought to the forefront and solutions can become self-sustaining within that community. Nassab also says that Youth for Change’s approach “allows for these ideas to spring bottom up as opposed to top down.”
Nabulsi also says that “in terms of region, ICT is booming and we are dealing with youth who are utilizing modern tools – it connects them together and they are using the same language through technology. It makes it accessible and allows youth to share their varied experiences, so that they can be interconnected and support each other to learn together how to achieve their goals as a team.” These local and regional levels of connectedness, according to Nabulsi, provides new levels of understanding between communities that make up various parts of Arab culture. “This is what is needed now in our region, bringing the youth together and finding strengths between us in our similarities even though we have so many differences.”
As a program meant to create empowerment, Youth for Change demonstrates how it is crucial to offer support throughout the process that will in turn allow youth to continue to benefit after the program is completed. Through working with mentors, online learning, and the youth community that the program has created, Youth for Change works to allow youth to be independent while feeling supported in reaching for their goals. Country coordinators, providing a personal connection, online learning, and the creation of an ongoing network of program alumni create important tools for these youth to use during and after the program.
Programs such as Youth for Change can become key drivers of social connectedness for youth and their communities in the Arab Region. The experiences and lessons learned through programs such as this can create bonds on a local, regional and international level that have a profoundly lasting impact.
“We are working with youth directly, which gives empowerment. Working with agents of change, trying to reach out and make agents of change in their communities – it creates a platform with which they can give back to their communities from what they have experienced with us, says Nabulsi.
She adds that a lot of the youth alumni now are working in well-known organizations and working on the governmental level, and that it is “wonderful to see what the alumni are achieving personally and for their communities, and how they are connecting to each other. That’s the change we want to see, not just limited to a time frame but to the future and not restricted to the phase but throughout their lifetime and the communities.”
For additional information about Youth for Change, you can look at their Facebook page, Twitter, Youtube or Instagram. Webinars are also accessible to the public and are announced a month beforehand – check out their website homepage for these announcements.