Youth advocates from the Caribbean, South Africa, Indonesia and the United States came together on our recent webinar, “Rising in their power: A showcase of young leaders changing policies around the globe,” co-hosted by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), to discuss their experiences advocating for healthy food and tobacco policies and share best practices on how civil society organizations can engage youth in their advocacy campaigns. GHAI partners from the Food Policy Program, including Danielle Walwyn, Advocacy Officer at the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) and Pierre Cooke Jr., Technical Advisor at HCC, explained how they advocate for healthy food policies.
When asked how recruitment by organizations is key to the process of working with youth advocates, Danielle explained that “HCC has always made it a point to engage young people, so a lot of our recruitment comes from just that: having events bringing in young people, ensuring that their voice is heard. We also have a number of different partners, one of them specifically being academia, and we have been able to connect with young advocates who are within the academic setting who do research across the non-communicable disease (NCD) space.” She emphasized that there have also been challenges to connecting with and recruiting young people specifically within NCD advocacy. “One of the ways that we’ve been able to manage that is actually with Healthy Caribbean Youth, which provides a space where young people can advocate for issues that they are passionate about and created a network of young people who can understand how their issue plays into this bigger, healthy Caribbean that we’re advocating for.”
But recruiting youth is only the first step – organizations need to be able to have the capacity, the network and the system to help them grow their voice. HCC knows this, which is why they provide ample opportunities for youth to share their concerns and talk about potential solutions. They take it a step further, too, by developing resources that the youth can contribute to and creating spaces for young people to amplify their voices, such as webinars or writing opportunities. Danielle noted that by providing these opportunities to youth, it allows them to “take on leadership roles within the organization, which is critical for the organization itself, and for the young people to grow.” In terms of capacity building, mentorship is one of the most valuable assets HCC offers to its youth advocates, with leadership mentoring the younger generations and providing them with opportunities to learn and grow in the public health advocacy space. As Danielle said, “once you trust young people, then you begin to find out how they can do so much.”
Youth advocates are also special because they bring in unique perspectives from their lived experiences, Pierre explained. He added that responsible advocacy is listening to different voices and stories and what they would benefit the most from, rather than creating an abstract policy derived from only one point of view. “When you’re providing or creating policies or directives or when you want to help in a specific area, especially if it’s an abstract area like health, you need to capture unique perspectives … The importance of youth getting involved in action and activism and activity means that we are able to provide and present our unique experiences. Our youth experience today is different from the youth experience that our parents or policymakers have had in their time. We must acknowledge that the world that you grew up in is not the world that I’m growing up in.” By coming to terms with that reality, and realizing that what was accessible then is inaccessible now, then one can understand why it is imperative that we look at today’s youth to get their voices engaged.
Watch our youth advocacy webinar, “Rising in their power: A showcase of young leaders changing policies around the globe,” to hear more from Danielle and Pierre and how they advocate for healthy food policies along with Gian and Sanele from CTFK and the work they’ve done mobilizing youth to support tobacco control. The webinar can be viewed in full in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Indonesian.