Canon Ambassador Clive Booth demonstrates the power of lighting to young people at University of the Arts London

What is a voice? Four organisations helping young people to be their best selves

You’ve probably seen it on the internet, marked up with funny, hand-drawn additions, such as ‘Wi-Fi’ and ‘pumpkin spiced lattes’. But have you actually ever taken the time to look at the infamous ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’? For most of us, they’re a given. We sleep safely in our beds at night and have food to eat. We enjoy the love and companionship of family and friends. But as we get further up the pyramid, these needs become more complex and speak to who we are as people and how we are perceived by the wider world. Deep in this narrowing space is where we find the complexities of the human condition.

When we are very young, this part of the pyramid is where we explore our identities and understand our opportunities. It is also with sadness and frustration that many young minds get their first taste of how everything at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy can directly affect their chances of fully realising what’s at the top. Environmental, cultural and social factors play a huge and problematic part in creating invisible barriers to achievement, both in terms of professional success, but also personal growth. In teenage years especially, we begin to bring our sense of self into question and become keenly aware of how and where we are represented – and are not. When social disadvantage becomes amplified in this time, it’s also the point at which young people can find themselves least heard.

A ‘voice’ can be many things: representation, an opinion, a new view, an additional perspective. It’s these opportunities for self-actualisation that are central to the work of the Canon Young People Programme. Through it we have partnered with some truly powerful organisations that work with children and teenagers, supporting their work in giving them what they need to articulate their place in the world. And more, to use their ‘voice’ – however it presents itself – in achievements they may never have thought possible. These are organisations that believe in, and fight for, young people who might otherwise be unseen, unheard and unsupported. 

A diagram of the pyramid that represents Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from bottom to top: Physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs begins with the fundamental needs of society and progresses up the pyramid to motivations and fulfilment.
A little girl, wearing a dress with the word ‘love’ printed on it in a repeating pattern, stands in front of a bullet-hole riddled door.
Organisations like the ICRC are instrumental in opening the eyes of the wider world to the challenges young people face in the developing world’

The International Committee of the Red Cross

“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.” — Paul Strand

Most of us are familiar with the humanitarian aid of the ICRC and their work providing for and protecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world, in the most unstable of locations. However, as well as providing the essentials that much of the world takes for granted, they also address deeper, long-term impacts that war and civil unrest can have on vulnerable children and young people who might find themselves in detention, internally displaced or living in particularly dangerous areas. Access to education is an important part of their work and we have been privileged to support them in delivering programmes in visual storytelling that are not only educational but give the rest of the world an insight into what it means to be a child in the shadow of conflict.

Follow the work of the ICRC on their website and through social media.

The Ideas Foundation

“You are your best thing.” — Toni Morrison

‘The brightest ideas don’t come from one place. Or one type of person,’ is the mantra of this active and inspiring organisation which aims to break down barriers in creative, tech and communications industries. The Ideas Foundation discovered that 92% of creative jobs in the UK were held by the most ‘advantaged’ in society and made it their mission to connect big brands and high achieving creatives with brilliant young people based on their talent and potential – not their background – through programmes in schools, creative media camps, mentoring and scholarships. Photographers, fashion houses, artists, entrepreneurs, designers, filmmakers and more are among the creative minds who support IF in their mission: opening young minds to careers they never thought possible

Follow the work of The Ideas Foundation on their website and through social media.

Twelve young people, against black backgrounds, all wearing masks to cover their mouths and noses, with a caption of #dontholdyourbreath
Working with the Ideas Foundation, students at University of the Arts London chose to focus on SDG 13 –Climate Action for their campaign.
Three rows of people sitting with their backs to the camera in a semi-circle, facing a podium and a Plan International banner.
Plan International’s Youth Activists were at the forefront of Belgian government policy, driving change by documenting their experiences.

Plan International

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Another organisation that barely needs an introduction, Plan International has been at the forefront of driving change to advance children’s rights since 1937. Their work encompasses a world of challenges faced by children and, like the ICRC, they operate in some of the most deprived and unstable regions. But they are also instrumental in advocating for the voices of young activists who are driving change in their own communities, supporting their personal power and ability to make a difference. For example, Plan’s Youth Activists in Belgium picked up their cameras to document their experiences of sexual harassment on the streets and public transport of Brussels then used these images to lobby political leaders. They were successful in driving policy changes through their recommendations to the Brussels Regional Parliament for tackling the problem, breaking taboos and taking control of an issue that directly affected them.

Follow the work of Plan International on their website and through social media.

Teach for All/Empieza por Educar

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” — Confucius

As a result of social inequality, almost one third of all high school students in Spain drop out before graduation and Empieza por Educar wants to change this. Working with educational bodies, businesses and children’s families, they work collaboratively towards a system of equity in education, focusing on attracting and developing talent for the educational ecosystem. By bringing the power of learning into sharp focus they often literally redesign the educational experience, bringing new ways of thinking, learning and expression directly to the classrooms of disadvantaged young people.

Follow the work of Teach for All on their website and through social media.

These incredible organisations exist to provide help where none is readily available. This may look different in every community, country or situation, but the one thing they all have in common is their desire to empower the young and to ensure that the bottom half of Maslow’s pyramid is not the sole prism through which they view their future – or their future views them. Supporting them in achieving this is fundamental to our corporate philosophy of Kyosei – living and working together for the common good.

This may show itself through our global collaboration with the United Nations, where we will continue to stand with even more excellent organisations who tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges. Or in our smaller projects that sit right in the heart of communities. Both seek to give young people the loud and confident voices they need to achieve the bright futures they so rightly deserve.

Through our Young People Programme, we proudly work with many extraordinary organisations that are at the forefront of changing outcomes for young people. Our support equips students with the skills, tools and platforms necessary to share their stories with the world and create new opportunities both for themselves and others, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a foundational framework.

Written by Adam Pensotti

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