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Involving young people: what we’ve learnt 10 months in



With the help of Hudl, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has been working with the Involving Young People Collective (IYPC) for 10 months. But what have we learned? Thalia Papanicolaou from the IYPC interviewed Catherine Hillis (Funding Manager Lead Children and Young People) and Lulu Wright (Learning Officer) on their expectations, learning and future hopes for Esmée and the Collective.


When the IYPC began, what did you expect it to be like?

Catherine: When we first discussed the idea of involving young people at Esmée, we automatically jumped to thinking about a focus on our children and young people’s grants. However, when Phil Kerry from New Horizon Youth Centre did some work with us as part of his Clore Social Leadership programme, he really encouraged us to think more broadly about everything we did as an organisation. We were keen to co-design the process with young people and although we set out some of our ideas and expectations in the invitation to tender, we wanted our minds open to what might work best. Once we appointed Hudl and started talking more about it, Keji helped us realise the different ways we could approach youth engagement and brought lots of innovative techniques and approaches. And what became apparent really quickly once we had appointed the Collective was that we had a hugely talented, knowledgeable, creative and visionary group of young consultants who could help challenge our thinking in all aspects of Esmée’s work.

Lulu: Initially, I expected us to end up with some form of ‘youth panel’ for decision-making on grants related to youth work. I thought the testing would be about how to integrate a youth panel into our existing decision-making process, and trying to get buy-in from the whole team at Esmée. I underestimated how far we would be able to push the testing phase and the range of ways that young people could get involved at Esmée. It has been amazing to see Esmée staff across all teams getting involved and excited by the potential of the Collective. Having this buy-in early on really opened up the possibilities of what we were able to test out and helped us to think outside of our normal ways of working and listening. How has accountability been incorporated into the IYPC?

Catherine: We’ve approached this phase of working with the Collective as an opportunity to test and learn, so I think there has been a real commitment to constantly reflect and to be honest and accountable to each other about what has and hasn’t worked well. We are committed to feeding back to the Collective on how we are responding to their input, whether that’s the changes we made to our strategy or ways in which we approach grant assessment and we really need to keep focusing on ensuring we do this. I think the Collective are bringing a new level of accountability into our thinking across the board. They are often holding a mirror up to us at Esmée, challenging us to ask ourselves why we do things in certain ways or make certain decisions. This challenge is hugely important to make sure we are accountable to the young people we are here to support rather than our own processes.

Lulu: By doing blogs like this!! By sharing our intentions for the IYPC publicly and handing over control of communications to the Collective, Esmée will be publicly held to account to continue to work collaboratively and involve young people in our work following the testing period.

All of the work that has been done throughout the testing phase is tracked and updated on one shared document. I think this transparency, regular updates and clear responsibilities for the different testing strands helps keep us to hold each other to account. It means everyone has a chance to ask questions and share their thoughts at each stage. This was also helped by clearly setting out what behaviours and ways of working the IYPC expected from Esmée, and what we should expect from them at the start of this process.

Catherine: Probably the range of issues and aspects of Esmée’s work that the Collective have been able to get involved from – from helping us finalise our strategy, looking at how we approach Diversity Equity and Inclusion, looking at our investment strategy, leading an exciting event about diversity in the environment sector, as well as individual grant assessment. The Collective have really been flying – and I’ve been blown away with both the volume and range of things they have engaged with.

Lulu: Definitely the hackathon, I had never taken part in anything like that before! It was amazing, I have never been on such a long zoom call that has managed to stay at such high energy throughout. I think it was a really good lesson on how to keep people engaged, listen effectively, and encourage blue-sky thinking. By the end, I think everyone from Esmée and the Collective was feeling really excited by what we had managed to come up with and eager to start the testing phase.

Where do you see the IYPC going in the future?

Catherine: I hope for us to embed the IYPC firmly into the heart of our decision-making. Obviously, we will want to reflect on all the learning and evaluation to date before we finalise the next steps. But in my view, the model of the IYPC, where a core group of consultants can set their own agenda for areas of interest, as well as individuals working across and contributing to the different aspects of Esmée’s work has worked really well. I’m really excited about the future of the IPYC and the impact it will have on Esmée.

Lulu: During the testing phase, the IYPC have been involved in assessments and also taken on more of a consultancy role to help us improve different aspects of our work. I think the IYPC should be set up to allow for members to be involved on an ongoing basis and in a variety of capacities (developed and shaped by them). They will be an active voice for young people across everything Esmée does – not only for our funding that is directly related to supporting young people. I can see the IYPC actively helping us to achieve our strategy and continuing to hold Esmée to account.


Learn more about the team at Esmée including Catherine and Lulu.




Thalia Papanicolaou, IYPC member at Esmée Fairbairn Foundation


Thalia is currently studying International Studies at Leiden University. She co-organises the Climate Justice Collective of the Advocacy Academy’s alumni network, working on the issue of intersectional youth representation. She is a Young Trustee on the board for the Advocacy Academy, helping to steer the future of the organisation as it grows. She is also currently involved in ‘Influuenzers’, the Advocacy Academy Alumni response to the COVID-19 crisis, creating content related to the pandemic, hoping to educate her community and hold the Government to account as we come out of lockdown.

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