Generational Sustainability
24 February 2024

In community-led organizations, I believe that for long-term sustainability, we need to do more to encourage younger folks to become involved and take on leadership positions. Younger individuals won’t break a community, but not encouraging them may well do so.

A story:

As a young person, I was a member of a youth group. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, meeting new friends, learning new skills and participating in exciting activities. Looking back now, I realize that I learned a lot through these experiences.

As the years passed, I started volunteering as a young leader, giving back to the community by working alongside the adults who were leaders when I was a youth member. During this time, I completed the formal training for the organisation. Having been involved with the organization for about 15 years, most of it came naturally. However, it provided me with the opportunity to learn new things. I encountered ideas and concepts that were new to me, and I realised that young people can bring fresh perspectives and enthusiasm.

Around this time, the organization recognized they had a problem. Many of the leaders were aging; many had been in their roles for 20+ years, some 40+. The organisation needs new young leaders to ensure long-term sustainability, they said. Everyone nodded in agreement.

I continued volunteering in the same role for the next decade or so. Life went on — education, finding employment, and so on. The enthusiasm for volunteering became more challenging as I had less time. Those in senior positions had accumulated many years of experience. While they were always grateful for the help enacting change within the organisation is challenging (committee meetings were particularly tiresome). Around the same time, I had my first child and used this as my excuse to step back from volunteering.

A decade passed.

My children are now members of youth organisations. The folk in senior positions are the same people that were leaders when I was a youth member (Yes, I'm old). This is not an example of a single group within this organisation or even specific to a single organisation. I see it across groups and organisations in my local area.

It's evident that transition needs to happen to a younger generation. Preferably sooner rather than later. There's already consequences being seen of this not happening.

The pandemic resulted in groups closing, some did not reopen. A youth movement needs to engage people at a young age, so they keep on being members for years to come. Attracting members at an older age is challenging. Therefore, due to this one section closing the sections aimed at older ages have also closed as they saw member numbers fall away.

I wonder if younger folk had been encouraged and given the opportunity to take on senior leadership positions this would not have happened. Those with experience can still be there to support and coach, but not everything needs to be on their shoulders.

For long term sustainability we need to encourage and support the next generation to take on senior positions. Older folk, I'm not saying that younger folk don't want you about any more, they value and need your experience and guidance. But everything you have built and contributed to may fade away if the next generation doesn't, at some point, step up and take the lead.