Dropping In: Programs Director Talia Kaufman Chats to Disrupt and Innovate

Creating Space for Girls and Youth to Drive Change

Originally published at disrupt-and-innovate.org on February 28, 2017.

Words by Talia Kaufman.

At Skateistan I have the privilege of working in collaboration with some of the brightest young people, creating after school programming for an extremely diverse participant base. Skateistan is an award­-winning international non-­profit organisation that uses skateboarding and education for youth empowerment. Over 1600 children and youth, aged 5­-17, attend our Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. Through our innovative programmes, Skate and Create, Back­-To-­School and Youth Leadership, we aim to give youth the opportunity to become leaders for a better world. Together we create curriculum across cultures, language barriers and a generation gap. Results are always surprising and fun, and the best lessons and ideas come forward when Skateistan Educators start creating together, and as a programme’s director, I step back. This process is an exercise in making space for youth participation in civil society. Trust, training, technological platforms and a strong educational model can all play a role in making sure we make space in our programme design process for the voices of youth themselves — achieving real youth participation. This becomes especially significant for making authentic space for the voices and contributions of girls and young women, who are frequently excluded from decision making and from public life in general.

Watch “Her Story” on the Skateistan Vimeo channel.

Skateistan’s model

One of the biggest actions we have taken in order to mainstream youth and girls’ participation into our programme design was to build these into the crux of our theory of change. This gives us a basis to consistently bring our programmes back to youth empowerment. Additionally, our Youth Leadership training programme helps young people develop the skills they need to set goals and succeed in young adulthood. Many of the organisation’s leadership roles are fulfilled by individuals under 25, and we make a point of using social media platforms like our medium blog for these youth to share their perspectives. Furthermore, half of the organisation’s students and staff are female which helps to ensure their inclusion in programmes and in organisational decision making.

Youth participation

Youth Participation in civil society organisations can extend beyond these types of actions. Including youth in organisational decision making can help to keep passion for the organisational vision, and giving youth a seat at the table on a board of directors can bring valuable new perspectives, as well as skepticism over assumptions, and deeper discussion to decision making processes.

I like to think of Skateistan’s “after-school” and school re-entry programmes as learning labs, where educators and learners are free to test out new approaches for bringing about student success, but beyond that there is always room to improve and to continue challenging ourselves to achieve meaningful participation for youth at all levels, including with programme design and the governance and processes of the organisation.

Culture based education

The culture based education model provides some helpful guidelines for how to nurture rather than alienate diversity of perspective and experience in a learning environment. It has been applied with success in a wide range of multicultural settings, including with education reform in support of indigenous children and communities. For the purpose of programme design, regarding the demographics of “children”, “youth” and “girls” each as possessing a culture of their own, can help with fostering their participation and engagement with the learning process.

Within a culture-based education model:

  • Culture is never tokenized
  • Community consultation (with beneficiaries) is a cornerstone of the programme design process
  • Community consultation happens iteratively so there is a continuous feedback loop on curriculum or programme development
  • Members of the “target” community take on important roles in the classroom
  • Culture is the medium for education, instead of a subject of it.

Participation in activities such as graffiti, skateboarding, beat-boxing, or preparing art and dance for a festival can reach beyond the realm of recreational activities, to become meaningful platforms for children to learn essential life skills such as self-expression, creativity, confidence, team work and empathy.

Imagine the positive impact we would see on education and other services for children and youth, if youth were regarded as cultural communities with their own sets of values, forms of art, and traditional past times, and if their participation and consultation was made essential to the programme design process.

Originally published at disrupt-and-innovate.org on February 28, 2017.