Happy International Youth Day!

When I first started as the Youth Outreach and Marketing Coordinator at Plan, I thought that I was going to have to work hard to get teenagers interested in global issues. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was wrong — that is, I was wrong to think that teenagers weren’t interested. They were. They told me, though, that they just didn’t see what they could do in order to really (honestly, seriously) make a difference. How could they make a dent in something as big and complex as global poverty, gender equality, or clean water? It was, and still is, pretty daunting.

WashDC_ES Visit_Group Shot

That’s me with youth activists and Plan staff from El Salvador in Washington, D.C., who participated in the 2012 InterAction Conference.

They also told me that they get a lot of messages that discouraged them from contributing solutions to world problems. For example, they heard that they are too young. Or told that they are naïve. Or that teenagers—their entire generation—were lazy and apathetic, so why bother?

Those messages are wrong, too. As Plan’s youth programs have proven to me, there’s no reason why teenagers cannot, or should not, be a part of our work to create a world where all people live in just and sustainable societies. They have extraordinary vision, skills and voices to offer the world. They are powerful—if only we don’t discourage them from speaking up and taking action. That’s why we offer them steps to take, and ways to get involved, so that they can see themselves as changemakers.


Me again, with the youth leaders nominated by Mayor Angel Taveras to attend the 2012 YUGA Leadership Summit–as well as their teachers and guidance counselors who were there to support them!

I’m honored to have worked alongside young people at Plan. I got to collaborate with them in many ways, from helping them share their stories on our blog to strategizing with them for their awareness-raising campaigns in their schools. I’ve found that they have a unique perspective on our world—a perspective that’s more flexible, more optimistic, and more oriented towards justice than many of the adults I know.

I admire the energy and enthusiasm of the activists in our programs, as well as their earnestness. It’s not that they’re ignorant of what they’re up against; it’s just that they refuse to give up in the face of challenges. Once they know that others believe in them—organizations like Plan and the Youth Engagement and Action Team that I’m a part of—then they can believe in themselves, too. And the results are amazing.

I loved to see a young man planning a Walk4Wells campaign with his YUGA-affiliated student group in Connecticut. I smiled when I had a long conversation with a young woman in Texas who’s passionate about fair trade and who wants to connect with students in El Salvador through the School-2-School Linking program. And I got even more pride when I think of all the activists who took part in our YUGA Summit in previous years, and the great things that they have yet to do in their communities all across the United States.


With Plan Staff at an elementary school in Washington, D.C. that was putting on a Walk4Wells for the National Day of Service!

It can be hard to look beyond a young person’s doubts and insecurities to see his or her potential. I know this from experience. But we want others to see the potential in us, too, and so we owe it to them.

And so, in honor of International Youth Day on August 12, I encourage you to grant more power and more responsibility to the young people in your life. Trust them. If you’re a little uncomfortable, that’s okay. It’s just your adultism slipping away. Offer them opportunities for empowerment, and support them as you do, and I guarantee that they will surprise you, delight you, and inspire you.

Nadyah: Empowering Youth Through YUGA

Youth can be a dynamic and creative source of innovation. Throughout history, youth have contributed to, participated in, and even catalyzed important changes in political systems, economic advancements, and social opportunities.

Youth are a tremendous source of power and inspiration, which is why youth empowerment and inclusion is essential. Plan International USA recognizes this valuable idea, and through its Youth United for Global Action and Awareness (YUGA) program, the organization has empowered hundreds of young people over the past decade.

YUGA is a nationwide network of ambitious young people who take action on world issues. Through campaigns and awareness-raising activities, YUGA members educate their schools and communities on global challenges and engage them in finding solutions.

Through workshops, campaigns, toolkits, and the annual YUGA Leadership Summit, Plan has educated hundreds of young people on important global issues including water insecurity, girls’ rights, humanitarian law, and climate change. YUGA has fostered global-mindedness and international awareness among its members. Participating in these educational activities has led many YUGA members to become passionate about international development and awareness-raising for important causes.

With the support of Plan, YUGA members have pursued their passions by gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to take action and make a difference in their schools and communities. YUGA members have started chapters throughout the country, held Walk for Wells events, led Because I Am a Girl campaigns, and organized documentary screenings. In this process, members have gained valuable leadership skills such as communication, organization, and determination. They have become a part of a global network of young leaders, and they have had unique opportunities to attend conferences where they have met global leaders.

The result is that dozens of communities and schools have gained a new perspective on the world and have benefited from the actions of YUGA members. These emerging leaders are paying it forward in their communities, while also taking on numerous other leadership positions.

Through YUGA, Plan has sparked a sense of service, passion, leadership, and persistence within youth participants. Over the past 10 years, YUGA has impacted hundreds of young people, empowered them to give back to their communities, and helped train them to become part of the next generation of global leaders.

Marisa: For Youth, Now is the Time

I kind of have a problem with the phrase “Youth are the future.” I mean, we are tomorrow’s doctors and teachers and politicians and CEOs, but if we’re “the future,” then what does that make us right now? Yes, of course it’s important to invest in youth to help secure their futures and strengthen society, but sometimes I think we fail to remember and encourage the contributions that a young person can make now.

To me, implying that youth are our future diminishes the importance of the impact that we can have today.

For over 10 years now, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with an organization that not only believes in the potential of young people, but also in our present capabilities. Plan International invests millions of dollars each year in the well being of children and young people around the world to ensure that they have the opportunities and resources to meet their full potential. And, this isn’t just so that we can make a difference in the future. Plan invests in empowering young people so that they can have a voice today. Two years ago, I was elected to Plan International USA’s Board of Directors as their first ever youth trustee. The Board of Directors meets with the Executive Team and members of the senior staff four times a year to give input into strategic, budgetary, and other high-level decisions. This incredible opportunity not only gave me a chance to give back to an organization that I care so deeply about, but also showed that Plan “walks the walk” when it comes to youth participation in governance.

So why is it even important for youth to participate in governance?

Especially for an organization like Plan that was founded to improve the lives of young people, I really think it’s essential to involve youth in decisions that affect them. The idea of community-centered development, or development that involves community members in decisions and projects that affect their own lives, is thought to produce more sustainable development outcomes because there is more community ownership and buy-in. Young people are a significant population in any community, even more so in the developing world, so it makes sense that they should also be included in the process. The organization benefits too – having a young person involved in any decision-making process can provide another perspective. Having diversity in any group is generally encouraged – people from different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders see the world differently, which allows the group to consider more sides to a problem or decision. Age diversity is no different. Young people might bring curiosity, creativity, energy, and passion that is both refreshing and engaging. We might ask the questions that adults shy away from.

So now back to that phrase: Youth are the future. That’s true, we are. But that’s not all we are. We are over 1 billion voices around the world, and we deserve not only to be heard, but to be made partners in decisions that affect our lives. We deserve to be empowered. Since this month is Youth Empowerment Month at Plan, I want to challenge you to walk the walk. If you’re a young person, try to see if there are organizations or groups that you care about that could benefit from your perspective. Adults, try and meaningfully engage a young person in conversation about a decision you’re making or get his or her input in a work-related or other organizational discussion. We might surprise each other.