November 08
Walking side by side with young people


I've been thinking about seeking a young mentor ever since I heard the challenge from the National President of YMCA Australia Andrew Smith in a forum in Melbourne last month. Some call this 'reverse mentoring'.

Millennials – typically those born in the 1980s to early 2000s – now make up the world's largest generation ever. They're considered a creative and socially minded cohort, but also one inheriting a world facing some seriously wicked problems.

Smart organisations recognise they need young people

Smart organisations recognise they need to better understand, engage and connect with young people, and Andrew Smith's call was specifically to YMCA leaders as we work together to bring to life our belief in the power of inspired young people.   However, it's a relevant challenge for all.

Young people can mentor Gen X and Baby Boomers

Well, last week I found a mentor, while attending a forum of YMCA leaders from around the world in the Czech Republic! 

Taylor Crockett, 24, from Scotland, speaks at a million miles an hour, and both shares and reflects our global vision to positively impact (empower) 90 million young people in the next five years –tripling our current reach. 

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That's Taylor in the red shirt, together with other YMCA communicators from Italy, Spain, England, India, Australia and Brussels.

"I reckon we can do that," I heard him say.  This was not long after he'd shared how one of his first jobs with his YMCA was to produce their Annual Report.  Taylor's previous experience had been in managing and working in night clubs.

He suggested to his CEO that they do away with printing the reports, which honestly, for all the work that goes into them, many end up gathering dust.  He also suggested that the Y's young people produce the report.  His CEO trusted him, created space for their young people to lead, and the results were stunning.

Produced for less than $150 using a range of free or low cost applications and freelancers sourced from sharing sites, it was viewed 15,000 times in its first month online.  You can view it here .

I was impressed that a young person without formal experience or training in communications, had been able to effect change and demonstrate leadership in such a short space of time.  It struck me that maybe a young mentor might be standing before me.   

What might 'reverse mentoring' look like?

"What does that mean?" Taylor inquired when I asked if he was up for it. 

"It means I think I can learn a lot from you about how to better connect with young people and help the YMCA at the same time," I told him. "You can help me keep up with what's new and what matters to young people."

"I was thinking I could learn a lot from you about strategic communications," he countered. "I just do things as they fall in front of me, I'd like to learn how to plan our communications better."

"Sounds like we could help each other out."

Later, I learned more about Taylor, and I'm even more impressed with him, and his local YMCA. His story is not mine to share, but it's a powerful one.  I couldn't help but feel like the stars had lined us up.

Generations walking side by side together

If we are to be an organisation that truly reflects our belief, then why wouldn't more of our current senior leadership seek to better understand what young people want, need and can do to help us?  Perhaps this is one way our generations can walk side by side together to create a better future for both today and the future.

"It only takes 5-10% of a population to change the direction of others"

Carsten Sudhoff, ex Chief Executive of Human Resources at the World Economic Forum, told the World Alliance of YMCA's Strategic Forum that it only "takes 5-10% of a population to change the direction of others."

The YMCA, founded by a 22 year old in England over 170 years ago, still believes in the power of inspired young people, to change the world for the better.  Always has. Always will.

I'm ready to walk side by side with young people like Taylor.  What about you? 

About the author

  • Dianne McDonald is Executive Manager of Communications at YMCA Australia. She was one of four Australians, Peter Burns, CEO YMCA Victoria, Stephen Bendle YMCA Australia, and Andrew McKenzie, World YMCA,  and a New Zealander, Peter Fergusson, CEO YMCA Auckland, who attended the World YMCA Our Way Strategy Delivery Summit in Litomysl, 28 October- 3 November.   E: T: @DiFromtheY Linked In: diannemcdonald

You can read more about the forum via the excellent Blue Music Blog from World YMCA Secretary General Johan Eltvik.  

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