In fact, throughout the course of this one day summit, held 17th June in Chicago, there were plenty of “T” words thrown around: time, talents, treasures, trust, transparency and ties were just some of the others. Organized by the Council on Foundations and the Council of Michigan Foundations with support from the C.S. Mott Foundation, the summit brought together more than 50 youth philanthropy practitioners and enthusiasts from 14 different countries to gain a broader understanding of innovative approaches in youth community philanthropy and to begin building links between these actors.
The morning examined the “what” of youth community philanthropy: various approaches around the world and what strategies are proving to work well (and which aren’t). During the first panel, with speakers from Brazil, Romania, and the US, it became quite clear, quite quickly that the challenges experienced in encouraging individual youth constituencies to contribute their time, talents and treasures resonated across borders. As Anderson Giovani da Silva, CEO of ICom in Florianopolis, noted: “Failures are best when they happen quickly.” But as in real life this just isn’t the case very often, Summit participants eagerly shared and listened to each other’s anecdotes and experiences from the different corners of the world represented, keenly digesting the practical learning from peers grappling with the same issues.
Digging deeper into substance, the ensuing Table Topic Talks (at which point it was impossible not to notice the alliterative pattern running throughout the day) delved into the “how” of the work. What tools are proving to be successful in day-to-day work? Giving circles, YouthBanks, Youth Advisory Councils, crowdsourcing, cash mobs were all explored by those with plenty of experience and lessons to share, and those just beginning to test the waters. A brilliant presentation from Gabriel Marmentini, a student and social entrepreneur working with ICom, succinctly expressed what matters most in online crowdsourcing: trust, transparency and ties. Drawing from his own experiences in Brazil he emphasized that one cannot overstate the importance of being clear in your goals, communicating how funds are being used throughout the process (not just at the end in a snazzy report), and using existing networks to help spread your message and reach new partners.
Challenges around terminology and language recurred throughout the day. Firstly in the use of the word “youth”, as it seemed for as many people as there were in the room there were as many understandings of who we were speaking about when we used the word. Use of the word “philanthropy” was also debated heavily: in some contexts it is somewhat off-putting as it suggests an old way of operating, and doesn’t go far enough in capturing all of the different activities that today’s youth engage in to uplift their communities. Adina Ana Cristea, from YouthBank Romania, stated that she “would rather see people doing things than stopping to define them.” In other contexts, participants noted that using a recognized word such as “philanthropy” offers legitimacy and a greater sense of trust in the value of youth voices.
Afternoon sessions focused on how the field can be advanced more coherently moving forward, and participants offered that further, more regular, efforts should be made to share youth community philanthropy models, best practices, and other information on a global level. Practitioners seem to learn best from exposure to new environments and situations, so mediums should be generated for this exchange – while additional face-to-face meetings, perhaps organized on a regional basis, would serve to keep stakeholders in contact). More difficult questions included: how to raise the profile of youth philanthropy outside of the sector, in order to draw more attention to the field and its potential; how to build greater trust in the value of youth voices (moving away from the stereotypes of troublemaking youth); and, how to ensure voices from different parts of the world, emerging economies in particular, are heard as youth philanthropy grows as a concept.
But despite the diversity of those present, differences in terminology, language, approaches, beliefs, there was one overarching theme emerging from the day: youth around the world are ready to take on the challenge of uplifting their communities. Everyone agreed that the secret ingredient to youth philanthropy, why it is so important, is that it moves away from the traditional sentiment that young people are the future but rather gets them involved in their communities, in giving, in decision-making, not in the future but here and now.