Engaging youth as leaders in poverty reduction

Posted on August 27, 2022
By Natasha Pei

In 2022, the Communities Ending Poverty network raised the following question: How can we engage youth as leaders in poverty reduction efforts?


aziz-acharki-skateboardStrategies for engaging youth

Communities Ending Poverty members reported having tried several different ways to engage young people in local poverty reduction initiatives. These included:

  • Compensating youth (with funds raised through grants or partners)
  • Focusing on issues that motivate youth (e.g., gardening and other food initiatives)
  • Incorporating fun activities (e.g., swimming or other recreation)
  • Engaging with youth where they’re already engaged (through partner organizations or local associations)

However, several challenges remain in making engagement accessible and sustained, engaging a breadth of youth, and establishing more pathways into leadership roles.


WEBINAR | Youth Leading on Issues that Matter to Them: Climate, Poverty and AffordabilityRecommendations from youth

At Tamarack Institute events on July 20 and 26, 2022, local and national youth leaders shared experiences and advice on how collaboratives could keep improving their youth engagement strategies.

Their recommendations included the following:

1. Clarify Purpose

Engage youth as valued partners and experts of today, not as the leaders of tomorrow. Clarify from the start – What makes youth essential to your initiative?

2. Ask, Don’t Assume

Ask youth how they want to be engaged and what they expect. As experts in their experience, ask for ideas and for their help co-designing the space, don’t assume. A conversation with even just one youth can reveal why they aren’t engaging.

3. Look for Champions

Start by engaging and building trust with one or two youth meaningfully; they can be champions in helping to reach more youth.

4. Build Trust

Youth need to see their elicited opinions actualized in decisions and recommendations. It encourages them to keep coming back.

5. Create Collectivity

Engage a collective of youth so that they have peers to discuss and do the work with (e.g., multiple youth staff, youth advisory group).

6. Support, Don’t Lead

Youth can’t lead if they’re always being led. Unequal power dynamics exist between adults and youth, and youth often feel there’s an adult in a leadership position with more education. Acknowledge power imbalances, mitigate them and create space where adults aren’t ‘in-charge’, but are listening for how youth want to be supported. This includes movements, such as climate change, which can often be adult dominated.

7. Equip

Equip youth with tools and skills to reach their full potential, such as ongoing mentorship opportunities and access to data to support their own advocacy initiatives.

8. Construct psychologically safe spaces

Create a culture in your organization where youth feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions/ideas and while also dissenting at times.

9. Diversify

The most involved/academic/privileged youth are often engaged over and over because they are most likely to hear about opportunities for engagement. Diversify the ways youth can provide feedback with simple methods that reach many people (e.g., frequent school surveys, art). Engagement doesn’t have to be a big commitment.

10. Offer paid pathways

The pathway towards leadership is often unattainable because it is unpaid (e.g., volunteering, co-ops, mentorship) and many youth especially those living on low income choose paid jobs over unpaid career growth opportunities.

11. Keep going

Engage youth this way at the beginning, middle and end of the initiative. It’s important for youth to be engaged throughout the project.


We heard that no matter how advanced collaboratives were in youth engagement, there were still ways they felt they could improve meaningfully engaging with youth.


Take Your Learning Further

More tips for engaging youth can be found by reading or watching the resources below:


Thank you to Webinar and Community of Practice panelists who contributed their knowledge, experience and ideas to this blog post:

Natasha Pei, Poverty Reduction, Racial Equity, Youth Engagement, CRP Blogs, Homepage Blog

Natasha Pei

By Natasha Pei

Natasha Pei brings online content to life and engages our members in the Vibrant Communities learning centre for poverty reduction. Natasha's involvement with Tamarack began with the Communities First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) project, where she worked as a Research Assistant in the Poverty Reduction Hub, studying effective ways community-campus engagement can be undertaken to have real benefits for the community.

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