Young people are ready – are we?

22 May 2024

New Zealand and the globe are dependent on the goodwill of volunteers in times of crisis and to provide daily support to the vulnerable.

A constant stream of volunteers is needed to fill the gaps where vulnerable people fall between business and government. In the past couple of years, I’ve seen a surge of young people — those under the age of 30 — wanting to be actively involved with causes close to their hearts.

Are we ready to help them achieve their aims?

This Youth Week, alongside my fellow New Zealand Red Cross | Rīpeka Whero Aotearoa members young and old, I’ve been thinking about the theme of young people together and how important it is to our work and our future.

Māwherangi a tama roto ka taka, kāpuia ake ka pūrangiaho.
We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

To me, this speaks to the collaborative power of young people and the voice that comes from that. We need to make opportunities in our organisations for a diversity of voices. Young people — with their passion, creativity, and energy — are a crucial group to hear from as we adapt and design organisations that meet our future aspirations.

New Zealand Red Cross is unique in this landscape, being part of the largest international humanitarian movement in the world. We’re bound by our Fundamental Principles and in this case, the most relevant of those this week for me is Unity.

A group of nine young people sitting or standing together.

New Zealand Red Cross youth councillors.

The concept of collaboration and being one together is part of the story of all the young people I’ve met on my journey here over the past 11 years, six of those on the National Board as youth representative.

I’ve never been alone at Red Cross. Everything I’ve done from the moment I joined a Disaster Welfare Support Team as a member has been with other people alongside, helping me, giving me opportunities, and opening doors to chances I would never have considered on my own.

Thanks to the unwavering support of people in this organisation — members and employees — I’ve learned so many new skills, travelled and represented New Zealand on the global stage, and grown as a person.

So many young people today are like me – they want to make a tangible difference to the community around them. And I’ve noticed that since COVID-19 that number is growing. They want to be active and see the difference they are contributing to, not just donate money.

To grab this opportunity, our charitable organisations need to be ready to open the door for them.

The barriers are time and expectations. We must make it easy and accessible for young people to contribute as little or as much as they can, depending on their age and stage in life. Holding meetings in the middle of the day won’t work for most young people. Expecting a long-term commitment from day one will turn them away.

To engage with the up-and-coming generation, we need to give them lots of flexible opportunities so they can dip in and gain confidence. We need to support them in however they choose to work alongside us. Here at New Zealand Red Cross, we pay this back by growing their skills, giving them a set of guiding Fundamental Principles to do their work by, and a sense of community here and across the globe.

Working as one people, young and old bringing their whole selves to the table, is how we achieve our goals. Together, we can have it all.

Image caption: National President Kerry Nickels and Sarita at the Red Cross annual street appeal, March 2024. 

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