A young person’s perspective on social action

The National Lottery and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport are each investing £20 million seed funding over four years to create the #iwill Fund, alongside a group of funders and organisations who all contribute funding to embed meaningful social action into the lives of young people. The #iwill Fund supports the aims of the #iwill campaign - to make involvement in social action a part of life for young people, by recognising the benefit for both young people and their communities. The #iwill Fund brings together a group of organisations who all contribute funding to embed meaningful social action into the lives of young people. The #iwill Fund is overseen by a Leadership Board who agree partnerships with funders & partners.

Jenny Raw has been one of the young people on the Leadership Board since September 2018.

We so often talk about the double benefit of social action; offering opportunities for young people to develop their abilities and personalities, while simultaneously helping those young people invest in their own community. The impact social action has on the young people participating in social action and their personal development is evident – we need only look at the exceptional number of #iwill ambassadors to see a cross-section of the talent, commitment and enthusiasm young people have for social action across the UK.

Sometimes, though, it is more challenging to quantify the impact those young people have on their own communities. This #iwill week is a chance to stop and look at the sometimes evident, and sometimes intangible, impact young people are having around the UK. It is something we can all be very proud of.

My introduction to social action

My own experiences of social action have shown me the way that it can build communities. Aged 16, I wasn’t really sure what social action meant. When I joined an NGO, the National Council of Women GB, I started thinking about issues which affected young women and girls – issues like FGM, period poverty and domestic violence. At first, that was all it was – thinking about issues, wondering if we could make a change. We live in a world in which most people would be aware of the problems our society has but there is a general level of cynicism about enacting real change. As a young person, I felt unsure if this was something I could really do.

It didn’t take long for my mind to change. My moment of realisation that I could be part of real change was the day I had an opportunity to speak to a group of Junior school girls about gender stereotyping. A few of us, as older students, ran an assembly for younger girls. We showed them a number of photos of typically “male” jobs and asked if they thought these jobs were for girls or for boys. Seeing the gendered nature of their responses broke my heart a little bit – these were confident girls who had evidently been limited by gender stereotypes through no fault of their own. So, we started running a workshop in which we showed the girls that these jobs were as much for women as they were for men. Little by little, we saw their opinions change. There was little I had ever found more satisfying; it was only a small change we had made – but a real one.

The group of us that fostered that change felt a community, suddenly we had a link with the girls we had worked with. Inexplicable though it can be, when young people unite to make change, bonds are formed that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Today, as a trustee of the National Council of Women, I have the pleasure of working with colleagues from all ages and all over the country. The diversity of people that I have met through social action is stunning. Before volunteering, perhaps we would have lacked something to connect over.

Joining the #iwill board

I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to join the #iwill Fund Board. Since day one, I have been struck by how valued my opinions are as a young person. Without feeling like a “token” figure, the young trustees, board members and I are clearly valued; we have all engaged in the kind of meaningful, embedded youth social action we are trying to create in the UK and so we have a say in what is funded in the future. Not only does this allow us to sense what truly is authentically youth-led, but it allows us to meet some of the truly inspiring people and organisations the #iwill Fund have funded in the past and may do in the future.

I feel very lucky to see the number of strong communities the Big Lottery Fund and the #iwill Fund are helping to create.

Social action brings people together

Building communities does not happen overnight. It takes time. Sometimes it is difficult to see from the outside, sometimes we can only see a community in a crisis. My experience is that community is conversation; a shared smile, a sense of mutual support, so often fostered on the principle of compassion. Communities come together to make the change they want to see and this culture is created on the basis of engaging in social action.

In a country that feels increasingly divided, where we are separated on numerous partisan issues, in the midst of a loneliness crisis, many of us lacking real human interaction on a daily basis – social action is a way of bringing people together. Age, social background, gender – these things seem irrelevant when you are all engaging to change something for someone else. Focusing on someone else’s issue, or a community’s challenge, helps you improve your own wellbeing and forge ties that form the foundation of civil society.