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Oh Canada…

Robertson Davies, one of Canada’s best known novelists, once commented about his homeland: “Some countries you love. Some countries you hate. Canada is a country you worry about.”

Well, judging by the weekend I have just enjoyed, he needn’t worry now. From Thursday to Sunday, over 150 young people, aged between 14 and 25, gathered at a campsite in Oshawa, Ontario, to consider how they might help drive forward Scouting and youthwork in their country. They looked at how they might tackle apathy, they debated the future of Scouting in Canada and they explored the international dimension of the youth programme; they spent an afternoon doing service in the Oshawa community (a town that has been badly hit by the global recession); they held a raucous gala evening which included comedy hypnotism and distinctly cheesy pop music; and they planned a whole set of projects that they would implement in their own communities to reposition Scouting in society – These ranged from environmental action through to active recruitment drives within the LGBT community.

I was completely knocked out by the enthusiasm of everyone involved and by their commitment to Scouting as a modern, values driven, youth movement. They weren’t over intense in their approach. They played hard, laughed at themselves (and at me), ate extraordinarily well and remembered to celebrate each other’s hard work. They were, to borrow one of their phrases, “awesome”.  Megan and her organising team created something very, very special.

I was struck by how far the cause of youth empowerment has come in the 30 years I have been involved in Scouting as an adult leader. I have much to thank the movement for, particularly in the UK, where I was supported and encouraged virtually from day one. But I was lucky. And not everyone wanted to encourage me. I reminisced with the young Canadians about my experience at a UK Scout conference many years ago when I was told unceremoniously by one grey-haired Commissioner that in his view people like me should be seen and not heard. But at that same conference, the then Chief Scout took the risk to appoint me as International Commissioner. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, young people are being listened to in World Scouting. The World Scout Committee has six excellent youth advisers who help keep us grounded. There are young people on the UK Board of Trustees. Scouts Canada has Youth Commissioners who help to mould the future of their Association. Many, many countries are involving young people in their governance and decision making.   Yes, we have come a long way from the tokenism of early efforts to empower young people.

But there is further to go. As Dylan, their charismatic and inspirational National Youth Commissioner said today, young people are now demanding to sit at the same table as the ‘adults’, particularly when the discussions and decisions are about programme related matters. It’s time, he suggested, that young people around the world sit at that table as equals, without necessarily having to have the word ‘youth’ appended to their job title to give them the right to be there.

Scouts Canada is leading the world in choosing capable and qualified young people to take up senior mainstream positions in its organisation.   It is already well down the path of becoming a youth led movement in partnership with adults, rather than being a movement of adult volunteers that serves young people.

Perhaps it is time for the rest of the world to follow Canada’s example.

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  1. Gennesse Walker-Scace Gennesse Walker-Scace

    It was awesome meeting you and hearing you speak to Scouts Canada Youth this morning at impACT! You are a brilliant, inspiring presenter!

  2. Charlotte Diotte Charlotte Diotte

    Thank you for sharing your perspective at ImpACT2012, your story telling is superb and it was wonderful to hear your opinion. Your speech has inspired me. Thank you John for making the trip and for supporting the leaders of Today. The youth of Scouts Canada have been empowered to ACT over the last few days, and you have helped us immensely. Thank you.

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