July 8, 2022
—By Dr. Sabine Simmons—
Leadership involves inspiring people to build, create, achieve and accomplish a common goal. Cultivating leadership will ensure that any municipality or neighborhood thrives and can meet challenges. But leaders do not just appear out of thin air. Leaders must be trained, and qualities such as emotional intelligence and empathy must be instilled in those that will lead.
Luckily, this training can start early. Giving our youth leadership opportunities is important because it is a chance to instill these important traits into our community’s aspiring leaders. Building leadership capacity into our future leadership brings a fresh, innovative and technologically-savvy perspective to current issues. Plus, they’ll be the ones making all the decisions someday.
Including youth in community planning is an excellent way to build leadership capacity into the leaders of tomorrow. Municipalities should establish youth leadership that teaches youth leadership theory and allows them to practice by involving them in the city planning and problem-solving process.
By including youth in community planning and problem-solving, the planning team can get a new perspective that considers the unique needs of youth. Youth needs can often center around safe places for recreation, improved education and school facilities and events and opportunities that assist them in planning for the future.
Children add a unique perspective that can bring ideas to the next level.
Children make up a quarter of the population, which means they are citizens of today, not the future. A group in Boulder, Colorado recognized this and decided to give children a chance to build better cities for themselves (and the rest of us). They believe that children should be incorporated into aspects of the design process of the cities in which they live. City planners used the thoughts and ideas of children to remodel aspects of the city such as parks and neighborhoods. The video linked earlier asks: what would happen if we asked children to help design child-friendly cities?
The answer is surprising. When children were incorporated, they came up with ideas such as adding alternative methods to travel, trash removal, beautification with flowers and color, improved biking and walking paths for safety and an ice-skating rink in the largest city park. The city has realized that incorporating these end-users (children) in the design phase can increase creativity because children’s minds are rich in creativity. After all, their minds are still in the developmental phase. Their ideas are useful to the overall health and emotional wellness of the total population when incorporated into civil engineering.
Leadership development starts as early as childhood. When children are incorporated in projects such as city planning and civil engineering, creativity is engaged, and the results benefit citizens of all ages for ages to come.
Let the next generation inspire each other.
When our youth work together, they are capable of brilliance. In Norway, a group of youth with a shared vision created a company to combat the effect of Dementia on families. This youth group set out to inspire and give, but they learned some important lessons about the power of youth leadership along the way.
- They learned that creative passion and shared vision are needed on all levels of an organization. Shared leadership and shared responsibility for outcomes are necessary for any organization to be successful.
- They learned that allowing each team member to use their strengths and interests can create a passion that drives their goals and visions further than they could imagine.
The product they created is a card game and a series of songs that can be used to engage those with dementia. But the byproduct is young leaders with vision and passion that inspire each other and work together to change the world for the better.
Where to start?
Building capacity for youth leadership starts with a youth leadership council. Several cities in Alabama have already started something similar, including the Fayette Junior City Council and the Montevallo Junior City Council.
If your community does not have a youth leadership council, consider creating one as part of the city council or county commission. There are many templates that you can find on the internet that will help you design a youth council that fits the needs of your municipality.