Sharing Insights from Mapping the Youth Resources and Support Systems for Young Change Leaders in the Philippines
If a young person in the Philippines wants to help solve problems in their community, what kind of support do they have access to?
This is a question that we at Firetree Philanthropy wanted to explore. We were particularly interested in the support system for young people as problem-solvers or change leaders (as opposed to young people as “beneficiaries”).
This exploration builds on conversations with other members of the Youth Years Collective and is aligned with a longstanding focus that Firetree has had on supporting young people through initiatives and partners that we fund such as the Tondo Community Initiative and groups like Teach for the Philippines, HOUSE Foundation, and Ashoka Philippines. However, we also felt a sense of urgency as we consulted with ecosystem partners in 2020 and heard how the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the growth of youth-led initiatives yet many of these community-based groups are now looking for support in terms of resources and mentorship.
Over the course of three months, we recently embarked on a simple mapping exercise to identify the gaps and opportunities when it comes to the available resources for young leaders around the country. We explored a broad range of youth-focused resources, from fellowships and training programs to online resources, membership networks, volunteer groups, and awards or grants.
Our process was by no means meant to be an in-depth academic type of research. Instead, we conducted a short-term sensemaking exercise through desk research and a series of stakeholder interviews and focus group discussions. We consulted with 15 trusted stakeholders — including community-based organizations, youth networks, and NGOs — who run a diverse range of youth-focused programs. We also held 3 small interactive sessions with young people from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
We are sharing here the insights from our basic mapping with the hope that it could spark reflection and perhaps inspire deeper, more robust research as well. We are sharing these insights not as experts in this field but as ecosystem supporters who hope to learn more and we will use this to inform the future direction of our initiatives.
What Does a Young Change Leader’s Journey Look Like?
As we set out to map the available resources and support for young people involved in social change, we wanted to center our process on the journey or experience of a young person. We developed a simple framework that highlights the following (non-linear) stages for a young change leader and reflects on the different types of support each stage requires:
- DISCOVERY & INSPIRATION — A young person experiences or discovers social issues and is inspired to learn more. Who are the storytellers? Where do you go to learn more about social issues?
- PARTICIPATION — A young person decides to act by joining and supporting an existing initiative as a volunteer or team member. Who are the wayfinders? How do you figure out which groups or communities to join?
- CREATION — A young person decides to act by creating their own initiative or project. Who are the capacity-builders? Which groups do you join to build up your skills and support you as a founder or leader?
- PEER MENTORING — A young person uses their experience to mentor and support other young people. Who are the connectors? How do you connect with mentors and mentees?
Many of the young people we spoke to felt that these stages resonated well with their own personal journeys and that it was a helpful tool for self-reflection. Our conversations with them led to several insights about the framework:
- It is not linear. Not everyone goes through these stages in the same order or manages to experience all of the stages. Some go from being inspired straight to creating their own initiatives. Depending on the different advocacies and projects that you are involved in, you could feel that you are in multiple stages at the same time (e.g. still learning about one issue while mentoring peers on another issue). Some mentioned the value of always being in the Discovery & Inspiration stage and being open to learning new things. Others mentioned staying in the Participation stage.
- Your journey connects with the journeys of others. When we explored each stage more deeply, we heard many of our young interviewees say that they entered the Discovery & Inspiration stage because of their friends and peers who were already involved in social or community projects. This is where we saw how one young person’s Peer Mentorship stage could jumpstart another young person’s Discovery stage.
How We Fund Matters
During our desk research, we noticed that several of the existing youth fellowships or training programs focus on a specific set of issue areas (e.g. climate change, women’s empowerment, etc) and that their issue-area focus could change year by year. According to several stakeholders that we interviewed, this is because the available funding for youth-focused programs tends to be very niche, project-focused or issue-area focused. As youth-serving organizations fundraise, they are having to align their programming to these shifting funder-driven requirements.
When asked about funding concerns, the youth-focused organizations shared the following insights:
- There is a lack of funding support for long-term capacity-building of youth-led organizations. Available funding for youth orgs is mostly short-term, niche, project-focused or issue-area focused.
- A lot of the existing capacity-building programs focus on supporting the development of individual youth leaders but there is also a need to fund and support capacity-building for youth-led teams (such as student clubs or community-based youth orgs) so that they can sustain themselves and scale their impact beyond one-time projects.
- In our youth consultations, it was made clear what a key role student clubs and youth organizations can play in a young leader’s journey with this being the first social change experience for many young people. One of the young leaders we interviewed shared her experience of joining her first student club: “I realized that it is a lot about learning by doing… it’s not important that you have prior knowledge but the experience alone is something that will empower and equip you.” Strong and stable youth organizations can be especially pivotal support structures for young people who do not have the privilege to rely on personal resources and networks.
In a recent interactive session we hosted in partnership with UNDP’s Youth Co:Lab for The World We Want summit, our youth participants shared these as the top three types of support that they needed the most:
- Funding & Partnerships (69%)
- Organizational Development (59%)
- Mentorship (59%)
- There is a need for multi-year programs that help see young change leaders through — from inspiration and ideation to piloting and implementation of their projects.
- Small or micro-grants for youth projects are especially valuable when it comes to engaging and supporting underrepresented or marginalized youth. This way, they have the resources to be able to learn by piloting their ideas. Financial support for participation expenses like transportation, internet access, and registration fees are also crucial.
In general, many of the funding insights above are aligned with what we’ve learned from partners in other fields and drives Firetree’s commitment to centering trust, flexibility, and learning in the way that we fund. We are still far from perfect in doing this and constantly learning. We are committed to openly sharing our learning and reflections, which can be found here.
Access & Inclusion Should be Top of Mind When Designing Youth Resources
Our conversations with young people and youth-focused organizations reminded us how each young person’s reality and context is different and unique. There is the 11th grader who was curious and decided to learn about mental health issues and support through a free online EdX course. There is the college student who wants to be involved in advocacies but has to split her time between managing her academics and working to support her family. There is the elementary public school student who needs to line up behind four other siblings before he can use his parents’ mobile phone for his class modules.
We were reminded of how easy it can be to inadvertently lump young people together under the general term “youth” or make assumptions about how different age groups think, learn, or act. We spoke to youth-serving organizations about how they are trying to reach and support young people to be change leaders and the types of barriers that these young people face when it comes to accessing resources and support. These barriers include:
- Language — Many of the youth programs or resources are offered in English or sometimes Tagalog. However, some young people may not be fully comfortable with either language so our programs may only be catering to a selective group of young leaders. We also heard of some innovative practices such as volunteer groups who translated webinar transcripts into their local languages.
- Online Access — There is a need for more free, offline learning and networking opportunities. Many young people struggle with internet access and are unable to participate effectively in webinars. This challenge is amplified by the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed even more youth-focused programs to run their initiatives online.
- We asked young people how they are searching for resources and information when it comes to getting involved with social issues and initiatives. For those who have online access, they are looking for support through multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and online courses. Offline, they mentioned the following as top sources of advice and support: their friends, mentors in school, their family, and church groups.
- Across the youth groups and youth-serving organizations that we spoke to, there was a common need for some sort of comprehensive online resource map or directory that would make it easier for young people to search for the resources and support that they need. However, organizations also acknowledged the challenges of collecting and regularly updating this map in such a way that it stays useful for young people across the Philippines. As a small step, we are sharing here a list of resources we came across for young change leaders — it is by no means complete or comprehensive but perhaps it could be a starting point for collaboration. (Please do let us know if you’re aware of an already existing resource map that we can both share and contribute to!)
- Cultural Relevance / Relatable Models and Role Models — Beyond translating to local languages, there is a need to ensure that the content and materials that we use for youth are culturally relevant with models and examples that young Filipinos from different backgrounds can relate to. This was a lesson that we, at Firetree, also learned when we were developing a systems thinking guide for Filipino communities.
- Competing Concerns and Responsibilities — As we design programs and resources, we should be aware of the many responsibilities that young people also have to bear — from managing their academics and working to support their families to taking care of their family members and worrying about their own safety and wellbeing. Some young leaders raised the need for guidance during transitions: “there are a lot of things I need to consider after graduating… I need to earn money, I need to support my family… but I also need to consider my passion, which is helping other people and my community.”
There are youth programs that specifically identify their target audiences as “underrepresented” or “marginalized” youth. But the reality we heard (and have heard consistently from our wider work) is that the majority of young people in the Philippines are, to some extent, subjected to some of the barriers and challenges that we shared above. Therefore, it is important to have access and inclusion at the top of our minds as we design and implement programs and resources for young change leaders. How inclusive is our application process? Is our program design inadvertently excluding certain groups of young people?
During our stakeholder interviews there was also a common sentiment or observation that, many times, the young leaders initiating the social change projects are not necessarily experiencing the social problems themselves or are coming from outside the community that they are trying to help. Many of the youth programs and incubators that we spoke to (especially those in the social innovation field) said that they do end up mostly catering to youth from middle class and upper middle class backgrounds.
It seems that a longstanding question remains: how can we better support young leaders from within communities that are directly experiencing injustice and social problems — given the many personal challenges that they must overcome alongside the initiatives that they want to lead?
How can we Map & Support Hyper-Local Youth Ecosystems?
Because of the different access challenges that we discussed above — especially the lack of reliable internet access and limited personal networks — we found many young people in the Philippines have to rely on hyperlocal youth ecosystems. What types of resources and support are available in their city, in their barangay, in their school? How can these local ecosystems connect with each other and other national or international networks?
In a UNDP World We Want summit session that we hosted, 88% of our youth participants were either unsure of the state of their local youth ecosystems or felt that the support systems within their cities were still developing.
It may be very difficult and resource-intensive to map all the resources for young change leaders in the Philippines and to keep this map updated. But perhaps there is a demand and opportunity for youth organizations and place-based programs to collaborate and map the networks of support at their local level.
This hyperlocal nature of youth support further highlights the important role of community-based youth organizations, place-based approaches, and regional hubs based outside of Manila.
There is a Need for More “Bridging Organizations”
Finally, based on the challenges we discussed above, there seems to be a need for more “bridging organizations” within our youth ecosystem. We heard two types of “bridging” that could be very helpful and some organizations may already be equipped to do both of these well.
First are youth organizations or networks who can be a bridge between grassroots communities of young people and the organizations, companies, or institutions that want to support or work with young people. As a bridging organization in this sense, you are not necessarily implementing or delivering direct services yourself but you could be a youth-led ecosystem connector and facilitator. As one of the stakeholders we consulted said, “How can people really get engaged and work with the youth in an effective way? Because there are many groups who really want to do this but just don’t know how, it has to be the youth leading this… so that we can support and learn from them.”
The second type of bridging that we see a need for is organizations and teams who are able to “bridge” content or effectively contextualize materials and resources so that they are accessible and relevant for different youth communities. There is a need for more community leads who can facilitate effectively in different languages; who can “frame social issues in a way that they don’t feel too abstract or distant from a young person’s own daily challenges”; and can “show how the path of problem-solving or changemaking can open up opportunities even for young people who are not part of the elite.”
By understanding the nuances and realities of youth communities and helping to bridge the gaps in terms of content and networks, bridging organizations could help make youth resources in the Philippines much more inclusive and accessible.