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“The sector needs young people”: Why NFPs need to adjust attitudes to survive

Due to the scope of young people, organisations are needing to revolutionise tactics to remain relevant to the community in order to succeed.

Young people are a majority of those affected by the world’s injustices, from education and unemployment through to the refugee crisis. Oaktree CEO, Sashenka Worsman, spoke to Third Sector about the importance of adjusting organisations for youth.

“Youth participation is not just a right but an essential to creating a more just world and if the progressive sector wants to continue to be effective and relevant to this generation, they need to engage young people,” Worsman said.

Oaktree is Australia’s largest youth-run international development organisation that has had significant impact on the world’s young people. Engaging programs have run globally, resulting in education reforms and empowering young advocates.

Worsman grew up in war-torn Sri Lanka where she saw what it is like when a country’s people are trapped in poverty and injustice, but also the impact of opportunities and hope that comes from projects and programs aimed at vulnerable youths.

She started volunteering at World Vision and Australian Youth Climate Coalition at 16 and is the youngest ever Board member of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID). Worsman started as CEO at youth-led Oaktree in 2017.

“Oaktree is an incredibly unique organisation where young, talented people come to create a world they believe in, free from poverty and injustice. It’s a place where young people can meaningfully contribute and grow their skills and capacity and where they can realise more progressive ways of thinking and working,” Worsman said.

“From the work we do operationalising it to leading it, young people are at the core of everything we do. We are who we are because we are led by young people.”

Oaktree uniquely understands what drives young people and know the language that it takes to inspire confidence, which speaks to the values that exist at its core. Worsman said the people who work for Oaktree are there to see through meaningful work.

“People stay at Oaktree because they are constantly surrounded by likeminded people who are passionate about the same things and are driven and willing to take risks and will be innovative and question the status quo,” Worsman said.

Worsman said there is a stereotype that young people are naïve or apathetic, which is something that Oaktree is trying to overcome: “I wouldn’t say we’re trying to break it to present a different reality, but because the truth spoken is not a reality.”

“At Oaktree, we believe that young people need to be engaged, at a minimum, as consultants and if we truly want to do our best, we need to partner with young people as equal in decision making or have young people lead programs themselves.”

Oaktree and ACFID have created a practice note on youth participation that highlights how and why organisations should be working with young people at management levels, rather than internship or volunteer roles. This requires the removal of barriers to youth participation in organisational governance to ensure youth are respected.

“The sector needs young people. We need to be relevant and keep up with changing attitudes and changing lifestyles and changing life perspectives and if we don’t, we will cease to exist and that will be a real shame. Young people want to help, so ask us.”

To hear more from Sashenka Worsman on working with young people and for young people, register for Third Sector Live.

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