8 tips for being a youth advocate

Mar 01, 2019
7-Minute Read
Our generation today is rising up–knowing that we have the power as youth to change the world through our voices.
But four years of advocating for global issues has taught me that it’s not quite as exciting as it sounds. Passion sparked for justice is often quickly quenched by priorities in life and the test of patience. But through persistence and endless encouragement from my World Vision coaches, I’ve come to understand how truly impactful and rewarding this journey of service is.
So here are eight tips I’ve learned on how to sustain your fire for changing the world:
  1. Discover and remember your “WHY”
So cliché, but so practical. No one can solve all the problems in the world, so start with the issue closest to your heart and tackle it with your all. The issue should be the one that tugs at your heartstrings, sets a fire in your bones, and gets you dreaming about the possibilities of change.
Your WHY is what will ignite you and sustain you. 
I used to be guilty of not knowing mine.  But the truth is that for some it’ll be a process of soul searching. So don’t fret, and take your time to explore. 
  1. Know the issue and organization inside-out
People WILL challenge you when you advocate.
“What if the family is vegan and doesn’t want chickens (from the gift catalogue)?”*
Banning child labour leads the family into deeper poverty with less income.”
NGOs just spend most of their money on administration.”
While these comments could be discouraging, they are actually critical reflections vital to ensure the effectiveness of development work. The key is to do thorough research and use that knowledge to create opportunities to clarify misunderstandings that deter people from supporting causes in need.
Your knowledge will be your greatest source of confidence and persuasion.
Tip: If you wonder about the questions above too, click on the hyperlinks to learn more. As to World Vision’s work with families who may be vegan, they offer nutritional supplements like moringa powder, and the Lucky Iron Fish from the Gift Catalogue, to get vital iron into childrens’ diet, without compromising cultural values.
  1. Be confident!
You need to be confident in your advocacy before you can gain people’s confidence in you.  “Youth are not leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders of today” – to quote our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 
You’re knowledgeable, credible, smart, influential, professional, strong, and passionate – so show that. Especially in interactions with high level officials and MPs, they are very impressed to see youth involved in advocacy and politics, so just affirm to them that you are impressive by being your vibrant self.
  1. You need practice, not talent
The only prerequisite to being an advocate is not eloquence but passion. Public speaking can be developed just like any other skills. 
As an ESL immigrant, I sucked at impromptu speaking. To avoid stuttering, I would always prepare and memorize a script. Eventually, the more I spoke on the issue, the more I knew it by heart, and the more naturally I spoke. If you can relate to my struggle, I would advise that you study and practice until advocacy becomes part of your normal conversation. Before you know it, you’ll be speaking like a #boss.
  1. Advocates are amplifiers, not spokespersons
Self-serving motives and supremacy perspectives paint inaccurate representations that are destructive towards those being advocated for and the overall development progress. 
Thus, effective advocates are partners in the fight for justice, not rescuing heroes who speak with cultural biases and believe that their passion and goodwill will solve complex issues. 
Advocates are platforms for unheard voices to speak through – ones of truthful representation, respect and dignity. So before you speak of your advocacy work, ask: what story does it tell? One that glorifies your admirable deeds and brings you likes on Facebook? Or motivates change and generosity for those urgently in need? Development work is an unending process of critical reflection. 
  1. Narrative is everything
With the above in mind, it is absolutely vital to refrain from using degrading and overgeneralizing terms such as “the third world”, “underdeveloped”, or “starving African kids”. Instead, use specific and accurate descriptions like “the Global South”. Imagine what picture your words paint and ask: Is it truthful?  Is it dignifying? Is it specific about what country you’re speaking of? Would it contribute to negative stereotypes? “Food insecure communities in Kenya” is much better than “poor and hungry families in Africa”.
  1. Be in it for the long haul – Do it for the cause and not applause
Consider this, the No Child For Sale campaign began five years ago collecting petitions and lobbying the government. Today, 40.3 million people are still suffering from forced labour.
But, together we’re making progress. Canadians wrote more than 10,000 letters to the Government of Canada’s Subcommittee of International Human Rights. To date, more than 130,000 Canadians have signed our petition to the government pushing for Supply Chain Transparency legislation.

As a result of the petition, the Subcommittee has commissioned a detailed study on the connection between child labour and goods sold in Canada. This is an important first step towards introducing Supply Chain Transparency legislation here at home.
Thus, advocacy isn’t about glamorous public speaking achievements or changing the world in a day. It’s about making small impacts with other like-minded people – knowing that collectively we will make a global impact. It’s is all about persistence, patience, and faith (this goes back to point #1)!
  1. Make advocacy your lifestyle
Last and most importantly, true advocacy is not an occasion but a lifestyle. If you advocate against child labour, integrate it into your life by cutting back on shopping from fast fashion brands. No one is perfect, but your commitment to walk the talk is what will truly spark positive change.

A young woman takes a photo of scenery in Rwanda.
Cherie takes a photo of the scenery in Rwanda. Photo: World Vision Canada

Cherie Wai is part of a world-changing movement that knows no boundaries. You can be a part of this too! To learn more about advocacy actions you can take for the world's most vulnerable children, visit nochildforsale.ca