In her youth, Lead Facilitator Naomi Edwards was recruited to this cause on a local beach that was being revegetated by a couple of elderly Illawarra Landcarers. This current Workshop marked the 10th anniversary of her establishing a team of Griffith University youth to volunteer at that site and the consequent creation of Intrepid Landcare.
At this Agriculture Victoria Invasive Species Workshop, Naomi’s Team had much learning to share. Here is some shared again and supplemented by some thoughts about local application.
Young people (up to ~ 25yo) have the lowest participation in environment matters. Of those participating, they generally have a minimum of a bachelor degree. This suggests there is not broad representation across the youth demographic.
Improving youth participation
So you want to improve youth participation. First, ask the question, how do youth see themselves? Policy and short term funding frameworks have fragmented their opportunities. A lack of private enterprise involvement, a lack of longevity in contracts and casualisation translate into fewer opportunities for training. Fortunately, a surprising number of young people choose to be involved regardless. However, there are degrees of readiness for engagement.
Question your assumptions regarding how this looks. Also ask, how do we make our conversations more inclusive? Understand what young people are seeking. Remember, invasive species are a problem for people who own or manage land – this is less likely to be youth.
Never underestimate the value of a changing youth landscape though. Youth have a desire to be part of something bigger, having a chance to reflect, to do something that matters, extending and stretching their own interpretations of what their participation and output means. Rethink roles, distribute power, invite and share recognition. Anticipate youth on boards, involved in governance and up-skilling. Ask what skills do young people actually want? For example, how do we run a project? What can they learn and what can they bring to various components of the work to be done? There is great potential, for example providing fresh eyes, current design and communications skills or technological efficiencies.
There are alternative models for engaging youth already happening in Victoria, e.g. weed mapping combined with mountain biking / kayaking, working bees with camp outs. Connection to the great outdoors, to country, to community, creating bonds, tapping into what is already happening are important. Learning from people in the industry and setting up employment pathways are pragmatic means to help meet the future needs of youth.
What language can we use?
Make the initial exposure a practical one, such as a bush walk or the like, before an inclusive discussion about what is required. Hard science is instructive. A subjective approach using emotive language is valid as well. Embracing the physical space you are in as well as the feel of it creates a sense of value and ownership.
Connect to young audiences
Utilise the power of storytelling. Go out and invite young people to assist. Talk about, “What makes this project so special?” They need to be able to identify why they are going to give up their time. It is important to tell the fact and heart stories.
Explain, what attracted you to personally and/or professionally take action on native flora, fauna and habitat destructors?
Why are you passionate about what you do and the environment in which you work?
What does habitat conservation and restoration mean to you?
Why are sustainable models of agriculture so important?
Tell the stories that keep your passion alive.
Where were you and who was with you when you came to this work?
What did it look, feel and sound like?
How did it make you feel?
What keeps you involved and coming back when the job is not finished (and may never be)?
Who helps you continue your engagement? How does this help?
What do you see for the future and how are others part of it?
Talk of succession planning. What will happen when you go?
Resources, Ideas & People
Getting the first contact right is critical whether they be resident, come from a distance or are transient. You will find and be able to emphasise a mutual benefit.
When dealing with young people, the best message you can deliver is one from other young people. Have a network established, get them to local groups and networks to experience the scope of operations and opportunities. Establish a Northern Victoria Landcare Youth Network as a new safe space for activity. Address OH&S risk barriers beforehand.
Target an age range, assess investment and resources required, use networks to go out to schools, other groups and talk. Engage with different race, ethnic and cultural communities. Many are very environmentally and agriculturally aware e.g Rohinga. Include friends and family. Attend educational facilities e.g. Tertiary students may appreciate opportunities for combining field work with volunteer work, at Secondary School – encourage an Environment Club. Identify School strikers for climate change and let them know about habitat improvement and local sustainable agriculture examples – tap in. Primary kids are always keen, “Our Bogie Backyard” is a great example of Landcare collaboration. Have parent child days. Sporting Clubs for team building. Unemployed may development new knowledge, skills and purpose. Getting involved may just help find someone a passion and/or career. Invite speakers e.g. A day in the life of a biosecurity officer.
Identify other outdoor activity groups, e.g mountain bikers, with young people who might have an interest in participating. Uncover their particular interests, what do they want to conserve? A local Reserve? How might that support what you want to achieve as well? Learn who they are and what they want to achieve.
Include a supportive lifestyle activity with a Landcare project e.g site or wildlife photography with biodiversity surveys. Use incentives, e.g. go to the river, share the special things about the space, then work there – but first show the bigger picture of what is worth protecting, show what it could look like by seeing examples of before and after. Then break it down into project components over time. Make sure information is relevant
Maintenance of a current social media presence in the conservation area will be useful. For example, a Landcare instagram site. Keep fingers on the pulse of changing technologies for communication. Use social media event planning.
Offer pest eradication training, agricultural chemical training etc. These skills will be tradable in the future and particularly useful for some groups e.g. youth at risk who support reforestation and may be encouraged by specifically purposeful ways to engage.
Find and try new models: Intrepid Landcare, flying squads, bush crews, gap year programs, mentoring into project management, small scale introductions to works, short projects, staged projects. Join up with other local Landcare groups for working bees of friends and peers (promote potential relationship opportunities).
Success stories can come from getting to the right person e.g. in Local Government it might be the CEO, the Environment Officer or a Youth Worker. Local politicians will be keen to support success stories in their electorate. Landcare Network facilitators will have much to offer. The local Neighbourhood House Coordinator may know people just waiting to be asked.
What kind of a journey can Landcare take youth on: how to be inviting?
Improving promotional activity is worthwhile. For example, the psychology of using colour in marketing design to connect with people who want to give something back. In flyers, use 2-3 colours max, try green (suggests environment) and orange (suggests calm) to attract youth to natural spaces. Remember, fonts can be significant as well, keep them clean and legible.
Be transparently passionate. Always answer the question, why is this worth doing?
Be clear about how to get involved and when.
Always test your promotion with a sample of your audience.
Note: canva.com have free graphic design software for not for profits.