Vernon Ringland has spent 20 years developing a simple, flexible and transferable approach to promote young people as decision makers in their communities.
How did you get here?
I was employed in a grant making organisation where no one under 30 years old was a decision maker. It seemed an obvious gap and a contribution to the opportunites provided by the peace process in Northern Ireland .
What was the inspiration behind YouthBank Model?
An American, an Englishman and an Irishman met after a youth philanthropy seminar hosted by Gaynor Humphries from the UK Community Foundation Network. This was back in 1998 and at a time when the participation of young people in decision making and governance was only of limited interest to policy makers. The concept was to be a simple, adaptable and flexible contribution to the debate on meaningful participation, relevant to young people and intuitively understandable. Young people would run their own fund, determine priorities, raise funding and decide what ideas and activism would be supported.
Why the name YouthBank?
The name YouthBank was nominated by a young Bengali man from the Tower Hamlets area of London and agreed by representatives of 7 pilot YouthBank initiatives in 1999. I remember there was alot of discussion about the millenium and the high hopes and intentions for the 21st century. There was an overwhelming support for the name and the associated metaphor of taking the unrestricted interest accrued and putting it into the hands of young people to determine how it would best be spent
What was your inspiration for creating YouthBank International?
YouthBank International came along much later in the overall journey. International interest from youth serving organisations and foundations emerged from countries of the Western Balkans in 2001 and then later in Central and Eastern Europe and onto the South Caucasus. Even with increasing interest there was no strategic intention to connect together the strings and knots of a network. I had friends gently nudging and then provoking me to follow my passion or someone else would do it for me. Things changed in 2012 with the results of a survey and the responses from those involved in country networks that a network builder was needed. So in 2014, YouthBank International was founded as a simple structure and its practice of using grant making as a tool to increase participatory, grass root, youth led activism. The experience of the underdog has always resonated with me. The YouthBank story is first and foremost a young people’s story: how they see their communities, what they understand to be the key issues they face, how they believe these should be tackled and what they can do to effectively make a positive change in their communities.
What have been your biggest challenges till now?
An underwhelming appreciation of the value of civil society groups and organisations who are prepared to challenge fixed positions and set ways of doing things.
What is your biggest learning?
Not everyone that you hope will, believes in the concept of young people giving of their time and energy to run their own fund and contribute to moments of change.
The best thing that happened along the way
A former trustee of what was formerly known as The Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, now The Community Foundation, made a proposal to the Board that I be given £25,000 to test out the assumptions of a fund to be run by young people. I was given a year to come back with success or failure. I remember thinking I had done all the talking without the usual business case. There was a sense of freedom to innovate outside of existing structures and a realisation that if you wanted to change anything that those on the periphery, and often sceptical, would be as equally as valuable as those at the heart of campaigning for more radical action to redistribute a modest percentage of youth programming budgets into supporting a network of accessible funds .
What is the YouthBank's importance in the community?
Providing social and economic opportunities to young people at a time when it is more often restricted or denied.
What is the YouthBank's importance to young people?
YouthBank involves young people in projects that they design and run for themselves. The early versions of YouthBanks were based on the desire to connect young people with all the diversity in their communities and a belief that you can trust young people to work together, with some power to determine where small scale, bite sized changes can be kick started in their communities.