Young Idahoans want to engage, but not the same old way
2016 was my wakeup call.
After the election (you know, that one that brought us Trump…), I found myself thinking repeatedly, “WTF just happened?!”
I felt like some sort of terrible line had been crossed. I became chronically concerned about what’s happening in public spheres — locally, regionally, and nationally.
I decided I wanted to get more involved.
But I didn’t really know how to do it. I started trying out everything that looked somewhat relevant. I went to events about nonprofits, city issues, neighborhoods, social enterprises, civic discourse, and government policies.
A few things became abundantly clear.
A few millennials in a sea of retirees.
Almost everything I attended had an average age of 60, and I was routinely the only person in the room under 40, as far as I could tell. Even the most diverse groups had less than 20% of attendees in that “under 40” group.
Action rarely ever happens.
I had a friend refer to most of these community engagement opportunities as “black hole contributions.” They seem more oriented around the appearance of giving a shit than on active listening, learning, and doing something about it.
This bothered me.
I’ve blogged about this, and it’s one of the main reasons I started Make Idaho Better. I don’t believe that just because young people aren’t showing up to these old people events means that they don’t want to engage. I think it’s because the current ways to engage don’t appeal to them.
Some organizations are aware.
Some are at least a little concerned about their lack of appeal to younger folks. If they’re honest with themselves, they know they’re at risk of “dying off” and becoming irrelevant as generational shifts progress.
Some wonder what young people want.
Some organizations transcend the fatalist viewpoint and decide to do something to broaden their appeal to younger people. To “modernize,” if you will.
And this usually involves a group of oldies speculating about what it is that young people want. And they may try some half-baked experiments resting on some shoddy assumptions. The success rate isn’t great.
Stop guessing and start giving away power.
Inclusivity can be hard to do, and it’s often complicated, but it’s never successful if it resembles lip service. If you really want to become more relevant, you need to give away power.
Put your influence where your mouth is.
Carve out a significant proportion of the seats on your board of directors for young people. Change your programming based on what they advise. Give them ownership in solutions, and let them run with their ideas.
Get out of their way. You’re going to be uncomfortable sooner or later, and you need to get over that.
Easier said than done, I know.
What can we do now?
Some friends and I have been talking about this recently. We were spitballing ideas about how to advocate for shared ownership and involvement of young people in our institutions. Eventually, we converged on an Instagram idea.
The purpose of the account would be to advocate for civic engagement of young people, by young people. And it’d be authentic to our voices and points of view. It could involve rants, rationales, and opportunities.
If someone’s patronized or treated as a “token” by an institution, they could post a short video saying how messed up it was. And when young people find meaningful opportunities to contribute, they could share with the rest of us why they do it. Lastly, we could inform followers of opportunities to get involved — so no one’s as lost as I was at first.
A matchmaker for board of directors seats
Besides providing great information and cultivating interest in civic involvement, the organizers of the account could be a focal point for institutions that want help appealing to younger audiences.
They could contact us, explain their situation, and we could advocate for them empowering young people. We could build the “one stop shop” infrastructure for getting young people plugged into positions that make a difference.
Like it? Want to get involved?
Here’s the Instagram account (currently bare bones). Follow it.
Want to help us manage this project? Send me an email at email@example.com.