The Power of Youth: Giving young people a platform and engaging with local communities

I’m Ayla Johnstone, a 19-year-old student from New Zealand who participated in the third Youth Week event “Youth and Democracy in Times of Crisis” as a panellist. Banner image: Shutterstock/SewCream

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The OECD's Power of Youth series showcases the perspectives and experiences of young people who are shaping the future. Exploring topics from gender equality and education to climate and careers, the series gives a voice to young advocates and activists who we met in different events, as well as members of Youthwise, the OECD's youth advisory board. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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I’m Ayla Johnstone, a 19-year-old student from New Zealand who participated in the third Youth Week event “Youth and Democracy in Times of Crisis” as a panellist. My speech brought the perspective of youth to the conversation, and I discussed my personal experiences with youth in my community and how youth perceive government. I am the Chairperson of the Franklin Youth Advisory Board (FYAB) and have served on the board for three years. FYAB is a board of volunteer youth from Franklin, Auckland, New Zealand whose central focus is to represent the youth of their community to their local elected decision makers.

What did you want to be when you were younger and what do you do now?

From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed having fun and ensuring my friends had fun, and I would regularly do this by planning parties and events. As I focused on practical careers such as journalism, I never knew that this interest of mine could be anything more than a hobby. Not only am I now pursuing Event Management as a University minor, but I also devote a large quantity of my time to being the Chairperson of FYAB. At FYAB, we run many events, such as our Children’s Day that sees a turnout of over 600 kids and parents every year. We also assess the needs and wants of our community by catering events and projects to them, such as a mental health awareness workshop. It is incredibly gratifying to be using my hobbies in such a relevant way.

Which OECD data point or trend do you find particularly interesting on youth and recovery? Please explain why it stands out to you.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment rates increased across the OECD: between February and May of 2020, the average for those over 25 was 2.97%, comparatively less than the 7.25% rise for young people during this same period. This is a particularly relevant statistic for the argument that youth have faced many challenges other than schooling and grades, and makes clear the imperative to include youth engagement in conversations about unemployment during the recovery.

One primary reason young people are not only losing jobs but also, in general, seeing the difficulty of finding employment, is that they lack the “experience” and training that many older workers have. This can be addressed by subsidising in-work training to encourage employers to hire less experienced youth. Local governments can also run training and workshops focusing primarily on varying skillsets and vocational pathways, allowing them to receive government assistance or funding.

What is the most striking take-away from the panel conversation you attended during Youth week?

As a panellist for the event “Youth and Democracy in Times of Crisis”, I was able to not only hear but take part in an amazing discussion. Coming from a young person's perspective, it is not always clear that others appreciate our contributions, and I expected to be met with a panel of people with adverse opinions. During this discussion, I learned something very important that I have regularly shared with my board and community: while coming from very different backgrounds and perspectives, all four panellists valued youth voices and contributions equally. I believe a key take-away from this discussion is that both youth and government want to achieve the same goal—and with communication and compromise it is achievable.

Tell us about one youth-led initiative—either one that you work on, or another—that you find particularly inspiring.

The Student Volunteer Army, as briefly touched on in my panel discussion, is a movement led by students for students. It began in 2010 as a response to the high magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, to assist local residents with clean-up and other non-life-saving tasks. The group now has thousands of volunteers across all of New Zealand, and has had a significant focus on delivering groceries and pharmaceuticals to those who could not leave their homes. This movement has successfully reached and included thousands of young people, from diverse backgrounds and across the country, in many campaigns to help their community. They prove that young people are willing and able to make a difference once given the opportunity and the platform. Franklin Youth Advisory Board strives to be utilised to the same extent.

Interested in exploring more of the OECD’s work on employment, the impact of AI on the labour market and green jobs? Register to attend the OECD High Level Employment Policy Forum!

Register to attend the OECD High Level Employment Policy Forum!

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

Related Topics: 

Future of Education & Skills Reimagining Democracy People Power Tackling COVID-19

Ayla Johnstone

Chairperson, Franklin Youth Advisory Board

Ayla Johnstone is a 19-year-old student from New Zealand who participated in the third Youth Week event; Youth and Democracy in times of Crisis as a panelist. Ayla’s speech brought the perspective of youth to the conversation and discussed her personal experiences with youth in her community and how youth perceive government. She is the Chairperson of the Franklin Youth Advisory Board (FYAB) and has served on the board for three years. FYAB is a board of volunteer youth from Franklin, Auckland, New Zealand whose central focus is to represent the youth of their community to their local elected decision makers.