What do youth volunteers want?
As part of a research interest to examine the structures of youth civic engagement in different contexts and the potential space for innovation, particularly in developing regions; several participatory engagements were held in a Middle Eastern context for over a year and in an African context more recently. These engagements reflect significant insights to consider when thinking about the future of Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC). The young volunteers believe they should be the core pillar of the movement. While they are driven to engage in community service and instil change in their surroundings, it is important that they feel appreciated and recognized. This sense of recognition could be manifested through different mechanisms.
Firstly, for volunteers to cope with a continuously changing world, it is imperative they receive capacity building trainings and refreshers that respond to their needs and cover a wide range of topics such as for example health promotion, use of social media, first aid, soft skills and life skills. Having a diverse skillset is perceived as a compensation in itself especially that many of them consider the RCRC as a stepping stone for career development. Considering that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to offer their time for free voluntary service due to challenging socio-economic realities: if RCRC is facilitating their self-development, it is a motive for them to continue volunteering. Another significant element to highlight is the notion of ‘space’. For the volunteers, having an actual youth resource center nurtures their sense of belonging to the movement. This space has to be equipped with computers, internet access, books and entertainment games. For many of the young volunteers it would be the only space they have away from an already struggling community to which they may belong. A successful example which demonstrates the value of having such a space where young volunteers can convene and use for multiple purposes, is the community space that was created in Georgia by the young volunteers themselves as they were internally displaced due to conflict in the area they were living in.
While there is a growing hype around digital innovation within different national societies across the RCRC movement; ensuring that a proper infrastructure is in place first for such an innovation is key. In some of the contexts where the national societies are operating, there isn’t even proper internet access and equipment (i.e. Laptops) on one hand and lack of proper training to use different digital mediums on the other hand. For the youth volunteers, social media platforms primarily Facebook seem to be the most relevant and easily managed if training is provided. Capitalizing on the use of these platforms would increase visibility of National Societies within communities and also help in securing funding especially that other youth organizations seem to be more invested in their digital identity. Another core purpose for having such platforms would be to create a global network linking different national societies, creating a ‘virtual space’ for experience sharing among volunteers. Finally, youth volunteers would always require attention but also involvement in different RCRC activities not just at the delivery stage but from inception. While the movement in contrast to other organizations has the added value of attracting volunteers from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds including difficult ones; creating both physical and virtual spaces for them to convene, share their skills and report their concerns are key elements to consider for the future of the movement, particularly its sustainability.