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Youth participation

An Interview with Oaktree's Director of Youth Participation

By Isabel Stewart

Last week I sat down for a chat with Annie Douglas to discuss her role here at Oaktree. Annie works with a team of young people who are really passionate about the unique role that young people can play in development practice and the contribution that they can make to the programs and policies that affect them.

Annie in the Oaktree office

How did you get involved in the organisation?

Coming out of high school, I knew that I wanted to do something social justice related for my career. When I started university, I wanted to compliment my study with something practical and do some volunteering to pursue my passion for social justice. I rocked up at the Melbourne uni clubs and societies day and I found myself at Oaktree. It just felt like the place to be and since then I’ve felt like Oaktree is home.

What is Youth Participation?

From Oaktree’s perspective, youth participation is not just about engaging young people as beneficiaries, but taking it to a level where young people are actively engaged in processes and programs. It’s about getting young people to actually make the decisions and not just play passive roles.

Do you think young people are engaged with poverty?

I think that young people are currently involved in programs as beneficiaries, and this is great because a lot of those programs are about building capacity and providing young people with skills so that one day they will be able to take action.

However, I think being effectively engaged looks like empowering them and having them make the decisions, and I don't think participation at those higher levels exists as much as it should right now.

Why is it important to engage young people?

The world now has the largest generation of young people in history with 90% of this population living in the Global South. If young people aren't properly engaged, then they’ll start to feel disenfranchised and there's a risk that we will have disengagement on a generational scale.

I think something that’s also important to stress is that young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today, and given the opportunity they can make an incredible impact. There are certainly risks that need to be mitigated but there are also so many opportunities. Young people are really adaptable and willing to challenge the status quo and that means that they can come up with different ways of doing things that can be really effective.


How does youth participation fit into the work we do here at Oaktree?

Oaktree is a youth run non-for-profit that has been running for 13 years now, so for over a decade we’ve had experience engaging young people both domestically and internationally.

It’s something that we’ve been good at for years now and we’ve said to ourselves, we’re great at this, how can we share what we’ve learnt about youth engagement with the development sector throughout Australia and also in the Asia Pacific, where much of our work is.

We see the potential that young people have and if we can properly share what we’ve learnt, there’s potential for that to be mainstreamed across all the work that is done in the region.

How can Youth Participation be effectively implemented?

I think it begins with shifting the way that an organisation or a group who engages with young people, think about young people. That might look like applying particular frameworks to the work that’s being done, or using a resource like the youth participation audit that we’ve developed. It’s a youth participation survey that allows an organisation to look at how they’re currently engaging youth and how they could potentially be doing it better.

In 2016, Oaktree wrote a Practice Note entitled ‘Youth Participation in Development’, which was published by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID). This Practice Note was intended as a reference for NGOs and other actors in the development sector to improve their youth participation and engagement.

Click to get access to the Practice Note.