To be a youth worker is like being a mother – the children and young people are always looking at you. They may be listening to what you say, but what they are really learning is through observing. We talk about empowering women, but are we kind to volunteers? We talk about leadership, but do we let others lead? We tell them to study and improve, but do they see us trying new ideas or learning from others? We tell them to learn from failure, but do we give them the space to fail, and to reflect?

Youth Worker, South Africa

Part of this may be from delivering youth activities, but also through modelling the qualities and skills we know that young women in our community struggle to develop. This is “deeds not words” – showing a good example. Young women see us when youth workers model leadership, teamwork, dedication, humility, listening to and learning from others, and respect for those seen by society as less important.

It’s also important to consider cultural norms here. If you have grown up in a culture where adults expect obedience and deference, how do we encourage young people to speak up? When young people seem ‘cheeky’ because their learning values clash with traditional ones, how do we adapt to this? How do we ensure that our team – staff and volunteers – is also ready to model the values we want to see?

Modelling failure is also extremely important. Fear of failure is often one of the reasons why young women don’t try new things. If they see that you get things wrong, or don’t have all the answers, you aren’t losing your authority – they are learning that we are all constantly learning. They see that getting something wrong isn’t the end of the world. Learning from our mistakes and starting again is a valuable thing to model – this is how we all refine our skills, our ideas, and ultimately, find success.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you model the values and skills that you want young women to develop?
  2. How do you help your colleagues to do this? How do you help each other to do your work better and in a more reflective way?
  3. How do you reflect upon how the good values of your generation may be perceived differently by the younger generation? How do you consider approaching this in ways that help young women have the tools to thrive now and in the future, in a changing world?
  4. How do you model failure and overcoming it?

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