In their own words: How youth-led initiatives practice constituent accountability

Youth leaders from India and South Africa share how they have been practicing accountability to the individuals, communities and groups that their work serves and supports (otherwise known as their constituents). They have each done this by highlighting one of the three dimensions of constituent accountability: giving account (sharing information about who they are and what they do); taking account (continuously listening to and acting on feedback from their constituents); being held to account (including the role of constituents in organisational decision making). 

ConstituentAccountabilit RRYouth Blog0921

Giving Account

Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth Action Lab - Johannesburg, South Africa 
How the CIVICUS Youth team has worked to clearly explain the process and reasons for selecting its Youth Action Lab participants, thereby boosting transparency, inclusivity, and the strength of the youth network.  

At CIVICUS, the Youth workstream gathers all members of the alliance under 30. To date, they represent 32% of CIVICUS membership coming from 145 countries. The main means of communication with members are quarterly newsletters, periodic social media posts on the CIVICUS youth united! Facebook group and updates on the website with blog posts, learning stories, or outcomes reports. Since 2020, CIVICUS Youth has been testing a pilot project that was co-created with a group of young grassroots members in 2019 - the Youth Action Lab. In this project we have published the design process, the research and feedback that informed the creation of the prototype and the criteria on why we recruited the 20 activists that we have recruited so far. For this we used the multiple platforms available like the website, social media, webinars and newsletters to make all the announcements in an inclusive manner for members and partners from English, Spanish and French-speaking communities. As a result, over 900 people applied to be part of the Youth Action Lab cohort in 2020 and almost 600 in 2021. When the call for applications closed, all applicants received an email announcing the decision of the youth co-design team who selected the two cohorts and the reasons why they were or were not successful candidates for that round. Additionally, during the course of the pilot project, the coordination team shares learnings, results reports and learning blog posts about the progress the Youth Action Lab is making and the challenges it is encountering. This transparent way of working has allowed the organisation to increase its number of youth members and has allowed the organisation to reach and fund inspiring young human rights defenders and movement builders, especially young activists who are outside of traditional funders circles and generally would not be able to be part of this group had the information not have been clearly explained and disseminated.

The song that makes me think of this project is “We are young”.

Taking Account

Sanaya Patel, One future collective - Bombay, India
How the One Future Collective uses continuous feedback from both team members and training participants to secure buy-in, adapt activities to changing contexts and expand its reach. 

We are a social purpose organisation that leverages knowledge, advocacy and community building towards a world built on social justice and led by communities of care. I’m going to talk about taking account, which means actively listening to community needs and adapting your work accordingly. For us, community begins within the team, so the first thing that we do is that for all our team members, we have a two-way annual review, which means that at the end of the year, just like you would in any other job of yours, you have a review about your work with your supervisor, but the cool part is that you get to review the supervisor and the organization based on parameters shared prior the review. So we do listen to what people in the organization feel about how we function, about team members, whether they have had any issues and how they have been able to resolve them. The second thing we do is that we have feedback for all of our training programs. We conduct a lot of training based on our core work themes around gender, justice, health and feminist leadership, and it’s often helpful to have feedback mechanisms built into your training, which means that as you conduct your programs and as you work with your stakeholders you are able to incorporate your feedback into your work going forward even if the project hasn’t ended yet. And what this helps with is it helps with the buy-in from the communities that you work in because they understand that you are committed to making the changes that they need because you are actively listening to them. I think that one of the best examples of this within our work is our flagship program called the One future fellowship which is a program to develop social justice lense and just Feminist leadership within young members of the society that we live in. Last year was the first year that we went virtual because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and we realized that having an 8-hour day of training was very exhausting, and by the end of it several people were experiencing zoom fatigue, so what we did for this years cohort is that we first took it to the community that had already been part of the fellowship. We had an Idea’s Lab, and asked them what could work. We went to the previous fellowship and asked if they would prefer a different model of functioning and then eventually came up with a system where we have two cohorts of fellows, break down the hours and have fewer hours on screen. The result was amazing because we got to choose not 20 like we usually do but 40 fellows and we expanded our reach from within India to the whole of South Asia because we were able to adjust timings. This worked well because we have a more diverse group with us. This is an example of how we took account from our community to build better systems.

The song that reminds me of our experience here is Stand Up For Something by Andra Day and Common, because I feel we need to give our communities the power to speak and when we do, transformative things happen.

Being held to account

Kejal Savla, Blue Ribbon Movement - Bombay, India
How the Blue Ribbon Movement is using consent-based decision-making to give young people more direct control about the leadership programmes it runs with them. 

Blue Ribbon Movement works with young people to build their leadership skills since 2013, which is almost 8 years now. Around 4 years after doing our work with around 200-300 young people, we were wondering what are these youth leaders doing next, and how can we be sure that the program worked and after the program how can young people really take leadership where they can decide for themselves and there can be spaces which are really youth-led and youth decided. So rather than anybody else deciding and designing programs, and empowering young people, can young people step up to build what empowerment means for them. And let them decide what they would like to learn, how they would like to learn to contribute to society and how they would like to engage in their own learnings in what society would expect in all of them or what they would like to contribute back. So that brought us to the process of designing a youth-led movement and when a movement comes in, movements are citizen-led, so we were wondering how do we make this space youth-led and how do we make decision making open and inclusive because even in young people, there can be hierarchies and there can be a lot of social-economic backgrounds that may be playing out and inclusion may not be really true. We discovered this senior Mohanbhai from Mendhalekha in India who is practicing with 100% consent-based decision making in a tribal village and we learned from him, spoke to him a number of times and we decided to take a better approach. All the key decisions of the movement happen with 100% consent, which means even if 1 person says that they do not agree to what’s happening, all of us are forced to listen to dialogue and then find out what’s a workable solution from them. Of course, when this started, all of us were super nervous and felt that this would take forever. But as times progressed, it helped us learn a lot about each other, so next time we already know what this person will be expecting in this situation and next time we already decide based on their preferences. All in all, this approach has really helped us build ownership in youth leaders. These youth leaders are volunteers and are not full-time employees paid to do this. They decide, they own their decisions, implement their decisions with a lot of ease, and more and more, they own the movement. Anything that happens there happens because they want it to happen, and each of them easily contributes 10-25 hours a week, so it’s been a wonderful experience for us doing this, and I hope some of this can be experimented in different ways at other places.

The following piece of music by Aao Hum Sab Haath Milayein by Kalangan Baalswar and  Varsha Bhave reminds me of the importance of listening and learning from the feedback of communities and using that to improve the way we do our work.



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