Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change

At the National Junior/Youth Seminar in Rupandehi there were representatives from more than 50 out of Nepal’s 75 districts present. Many from the staff at Headquarter came to show their support to the programme, including the President and Secretary General of Nepal Red Cross Society. The first day begun with an opening ceremony that lasted for three hours, one hour more than planned because all of the important people, different sponsors and contributors were given a chance to speak. The junior and youth volunteers participated mainly with entertainment, through performing cultural dance and music and helped distribute tea and snacks to participants. After the opening ceremony it was scheduled for sessions on different topics in one of the classrooms.

We were invited to hold a presentation on the topic of “Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change” and talk about our experiences from the Norwegian Red Cross. Our session was scheduled for 30 min the first day, but due to the fact that everything were delayed we did not get a chance to finish our speech. This was quite disappointing for us, as we had been working hard on it. Still we believe we managed to get our message across, as the response from the youth was overwhelmingly positive. In our speech we introduced “The Ladder of Participation” which is a tool made by sociologist Roger Hart, to analyse the degree of youth participation in a project, program and in decisions.

This is the ladder shortly described:
8) Projects or programs are initiated by young people and decision-making is shared between young people and adults. These projects empower young people while at the same time enabling them to access and learn from the life experience and expertise of adults. We can describe this rung of the ladder as youth/adult partnership.
7) Young people initiate and direct a project or program. Adults are involved in a supportive role. This rung of the ladder can be called youth led activism.
6) Occurs when projects or programs are initiated by adults, but the decision-making is shared with the young people.
5) Young people give advice on projects or programs designed and run by adults. The young people are informed about how their input will be used and the other outcomes of the decisions made by adults. Youth advisory councils are used here.  
4) Young people are assigned a specific role and informed about how and why they are being involved. Community youth boards can be used for this.
3) Young people appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice about what they do or how they participate. This rung of the ladder reflects adultism, which means a situation where adults are fully in charge and unmotivated by young influence.
2) Young people are used to help or “strengthen” a cause in a relatively indirect way. Here the adults are not pretending that the cause is inspired by young people. This ladder also reflects adultism.
1) Adults use young people to support causes and pretend that the causes are inspired by young people. This is the lowest step of the ladder which also reflects adultism.

Hart's Ladder of Participation shows young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults (8) as the top form of young people's participation. This is then followed immediately by young people-initiated and directed participation (7 & 6). This is a somewhat controversial issue for many people working with and around young people. Essentially, the debate is which of these levels of participation is actually the most meaningful? Many believe that shared decision-making is most beneficial to both young people and adults. Others believe that young people are most empowered when they are making decisions without the influence of adults. Most often, this does not exclude adults but reduces their role to that of support. Both arguments have valuable points. Ultimately, it is up to each group to determine which form of decision-making that best fits with the groups' needs.

To demonstrate, we opened up for discussion in the audience. Both teachers and youth volunteers participated and offered their opinions. They told us about their experience in their local Red Cross communities and ranged their participation according to the ladder. Many felt that the youths participation in their local Red Cross were on rung 5 of the ladder. Bringing up this topic in a crowd like this, sparked an interesting discussion on NRCS ability to utilize and acknowledge youth initiative. Several youth volunteers from different districts came to us after the presentation to discuss the topic further and asking us to send them the presentation. The Secretary General of NRCS contributed in our speech and translated the ladder of participation in Nepali, emphasising its importance and thanking us for introducing it. Unfortunately, he had to leave right after the translation and did not get a chance to sit through the rest of our presentation.

We have all heard many times that it is important to empower the youth because they are the future. But youth are more importantly our present.  The freshness, hope and energy of our present time. How can we utilize this energy and make sure that youth are seen, heard and acknowledged? How can we empower youth and youthfulness in the Red Cross? To empower means to give power, to enable and to give authority to someone.

In Red Cross we are guided by our seven fundamental principles. The first one of them is humanity. The principle of humanity teaches us respect for human beings. It compels us to alleviate human suffering and to treat everyone humanly no matter who they are. Through empathy, we can help others who are suffering from both physical and psychosocial pain.

For youth to be empowered and to lead this process, the Red Cross suggests to use non-formal ways of learning. Education is usually associated with formal ways of teaching. But to educate actually means to guide out the knowledge that is already inside. Real learning does not happen by dictation or imposing. We do not want to just convey knowledge to youth. We want to create a habit of questioning things and searching for alternatives together with peers. If you can feel something and connect to it, the learning is much more powerful and it can lead to action. We change minds by touching the heart. A peer is someone who is your equal, a friend, a fellow mate of about the same age. Peer Education means teaching between peers, using each other as resources for new understanding, ideas and learning. Together youth can find ways of influencing change in society.

Red Cross wants to aim at empowerment of youth, by having youth at the core and in the front of the projects, as learners, as peer educators and as agents of change. Change is a process, not an event. It takes time to make change. What do young people need in order to be empowered? They need training, inspiration and credit. The Youth Delegate Exchange Programme is one of many ways the Red Cross uses to strive to fulfil these needs. For more information about this topic, please visit We would also recommend everyone to watch Katrien Beeckman, Head of the Principles and Values Department in IFRC, talk about Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change:

Thank you for reading!

Much love from Lise and Liv :)