Living our youth-led values

Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to find ways to better involve young people in our funding decisions and wider strategic work.  

We believe this is the most effective and authentic way to make decisions that impact on young people. It builds on the youth activism projects we already fund and our recent youth focus groups to build a new Co-op Foundation vision. Read more on this from our CEO Nick. 

Below we share some of what we’ve learned, including feedback from a recent panel we ran with young people to help decide on grants from our £5m #iwill Fund. This panel was held at our office in Manchester on 15 June. 

You can read what our young experts said about this experience directly in this brilliant blog from Louis and Meera. Get in touch with us if you’d like to chat more about youth voice and youth activism. 

 What we did well 

  • Improved outcomes for young people: The young people we worked with developed a sense of confidence as they realised they were the experts in the room through their lived experience. We made them feel a part of the team and trusted them with decision-making, encouraging them to take ownership of their ideas. This highlighted the importance of communicating the value they bring to the team, and supporting them to learn.  
  • Different perspectives are valued: The young people felt that different perspectives were listened to, which allowed them to be confident disagreeing with us and offering alternative ideas. It’s important for funders to create an environment where young people can speak up, rather than looking for confirmation of our own ideas.  
  • Preparation is key: We needed to make sure that the young people felt prepared for our conversations. We found it helpful to send out information packs about what was going to be discussed ahead of time and this is something we recommend other organisations do too.  
  • Clarity: We were clear around what was expected of the young people and processes involved and structured our time with them appropriately, which was important to them. Laying out expectations at the very beginning, and having a clear facilitation plan is integral to getting the best out of these sessions.  

Things we would do better next time 

  • Be mindful of workloads: Although the young people appreciated information packs ahead of time, we should be mindful to only send out what is necessary. We also need to be clear about exactly what we were asking of young people and prep them in advance, with as much lead-in time as possible. 
  • Unconscious bias: We also need to be aware of ‘expecting’ certain answers and allowing that to influence our reactions to young people’s suggestions. Along these lines as well, we should look at implementing unconscious bias training for young people. 
  • Being more accessible and understandable: We should work to hold meetings with young people in a hybrid way, both online and in-person. Timing of meetings is important, so they do not run too long for young people who might not be as used to them.  
  • How to measure success: We need to take into account different ways we might measure success in the future, especially as we integrate young people’s input from the start of a fund. For example, how do we measure whether new organisations have decided to apply for funding specifically due to young people’s input into the fund? This is something we are discussing as we work towards our new strategy. 

Next steps 

We’re committed to amplifying young voices and learning how we can be a more co-operative funder. This will help us to deliver programmes that have the most impact so we can build fairer and more co-operative communities and deliver on Co-op’s vision of ‘Co-operating for a Fairer World’. 

We are looking to embed a participatory approach to funding from the earliest stage. This would mean that application forms and associated questions would be designed to take into account a young person’s presence on any decision-making panel. We hope that this would mean our process of involving young people becomes more integrated and streamlined across the Foundation.  

You can keep up to date with our work with young people by subscribing to our blog below.  

About the #iwill Fund 

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The #iwill Fund is made possible thanks to £54 million joint investment from The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities.  

The Co-op Foundation acts as a match funder and awards grants on behalf of the #iwill Fund. We currently support 47 projects through our £5m fund. The #iwill Fund supports the aims of the #iwill movement – to make involvement in social action a part of life for young people. 

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