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Youth Voices Symposium: What true youth engagement looks like

Back in the early days of December, I had the incredible opportunity to speak alongside Dr Bruce Ferguson of SickKids Hosptial at the AstraZeneca Young Health Program Youth Voices Symposium in Toronto. We spoke to what young people think it means to be healthy, the essential notion that youth must be present and contributing to the development of health programs directed at young people, and how organizations can successfully implement youth engagement strategies.

As there were 30 young people that attended the event, we thought it was important to showcase the diverse voices in the room and to give a platform for everyone to share their different experiences of engagement, positive and negative. We had a series of questions set up to start up bigger conversations, to ensure that we could include as many youth voices as possible within the hour that we had. It was really the highlight of the day for me, as it really showcased what true, meaningful engagement is. Engagement is the simple act of providing a platform for someone to showcase their ideas and talents, and to help those ideas grow through a partnership in which everyone is of equal value. A platform where every idea is welcome and everyone’s experiences are treated as evidence; where people work together to achieve a common goal and everyone feels valued. That is what true meaningful engagement is, and hopefully we were able to showcase just a small bit of that in our presentation.

Opportunities to speak at events like this are always so enticing to me because it proves that organizations are moving in the right direction in regards to youth engagement. Rewind a few years ago, and this event (on youth engagement) would not have included a single youth voice. Here we are a few years later and we can have events like this where young people and big organizations can be at the same event and both voices can be heard. While I think there are many more areas we need to explore, we have finally hit the point where organizations are not just inviting young people to the table to make them look good, but they’re understanding the true value that comes along with having those voices contributing to their programs. If we continue to build on what we’re already doing, I think the best is yet to come.