Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Youth Are Important Drivers of Social Change

Worldwide, the number of people living in base of the pyramid (BoP) communities continues to increase despite technological advances. The BoP, also known as the bottom of the pyramid, refers to the 2.5 billion individuals who live in developing countries and make less than $2.50 a day. This term is often used by people who develop new technological models of business that target this demographic. Unfortunately, most of these developments result in little or no success.

Next month, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) is giving businesses an opportunity to discuss how they could solve problems based on BoP. The USAID Microenterprise Development Office is hosting an online microLinks conference from August 17-19 2010. The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University will facilitate the discussion.

Part of its “Speakers Corner” series, the conference will emphasize three areas often disregarded in discussions about business development: Business-to-Business (B2B) opportunities, entrepreneurship and youth.

On the last day of the event, August 19, participants will discuss how young people can play a role in business development. This is essential because youth from low-income communities are more likely to be underemployed and disengaged from community development. The questions that participants hope to answer are:
  • What are the best ways to engage them?
  • What value can they add to enterprise development?
  • How do you motivate them?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to engaging youth in business development?
  • What are the noteworthy examples of innovations in engaging youth in entrepreneurship at the BoP?
This event is a promising step toward supporting young people to be agents of social change, as well as entrepreneurs. ICP believes that it is essential to encourage today’s young people to engage in social innovation in order to make a difference in their communities. To accomplish this, ICP creates exciting projects such as Summer of Service, works as the secretariat for the Talloires Network and IANYS, conducts research and builds the capacity of local and international organizations and governments to engage young people.

The conference addresses important questions and strategies around supporting young people in social innovation and engaging them in their communities. For more information about the conference, including how to become a member of USAID’s microLinks community, please read the official event announcement.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let's Move! The First Lady Promotes her Program in Baltimore

The First Lady recently made an appearance in Baltimore, at a baseball clinic to reiterate the importance of her “Let’s Move” campaign. Currently there are 30 baseball players that have agreed to be a part of her public service ad campaign, as well as members from the Boys & Girls Club, and the Major League Baseball RBI program.

Mrs. Obama’s message is about how important it is for children to get enough exercise and eat healthy, in order to end childhood obesity. As a part of this initiative, she has invited parents, teachers, mayors, governors and athletes to join her mission. Her campaign has four main aspects: 1) for companies to provide healthier foods to young people, 2) to persuade schools to make healthier food available, 3) to bring healthy and affordable food to families and communities, and lastly 4) to get young people moving! The goal is approximately 60 minutes of exercise and play time a day.

Mrs. Obama also pointed out that one key aspect of pro athletes is that they are always on the move, hence why they are such great players. She adds that there are numerous organizations ready to assist young people so that they can also move and eat healthy.

This summer, Mrs. Obama brought together her support for service and her Let’s Move campaign in the 2010 United We Serve initiative. United We Serve is an initiative that was started by President Obama that promotes community service and volunteer work as a way of coming together. There are multiple programs that are encompassed by United We Serve, including Let’s Read. Let’s Move, Mrs. Obama’s initiative.

At ICP, our Summer of Service Program focuses on engaging young people during the summer as well. ICP promotes the participation of young people in service activities during the summer in order to prevent risky behavior, reduce dropout rates, and prevent academic decline when students are out of school during the summer months. Being a part of these service activities can lead to better communication skills, avoidance of risky behaviors and strengthening community connections. Aside from improving the lives of others through community service, young people are also improving their own lives, and becoming more in touch with their community.

There are many different opportunities within Summer of Service (SOS), some of the following programs are just a few examples of the many organizations involved with SOS: including ManaTEENS, Earth Force, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Heads Up, Citizen Schools and the YMCA Earth Service Corps. And many of these organizations are providing opportunities for young people to be outside and active during the summer months. For more organizations, or to get a full look at Summer of Service, you can check out ICP’s SOS Resource center.

There are many ways for young people to stay engaged during the summer months, and there are numerous organizations working hard to ensure this. The First Lady is fighting to stop childhood obesity and to combat bad eating habits, while Summer of Service is seeks to engage young people in their communities during the summer while enabling them to build skills to be successful in school and beyond.

What are you doing to remain engaged this summer, or to keep young people around you active and engaged in their communities?

photo courtesy of: John Lustig

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Queen Rania's TwitVid Tourist Swap for Young People

A new contest was recently announced for all the young “tweeters” out there:

A country swap between four lucky people - two young people from Jordan will switch places with two young people from another part of the world all expenses paid. From July 15 until August 4, young tweeters can upload a TwitVid explaining why they would like to visit Jordan (or if they’re from Jordan, why they love their country) and then post it with @queenrania #TwisitJordan.

More details:
• You must be at least 16 years old to participate
• Must be following Queen Rania on Twitter
• Post the entry by tweeting it to @queenrania #TwisitJordan
• Lastly, all eligible tweeters must retweet Queen Rania's video that launched the contest

Find the contest rules here.

This is an engaging idea for young people and the blend of a video entry with twitter could certainly help reach a wide audience. Queen Rania is promoting youth engagement through this swap by sending young people from Jordan to other parts of the world, which will allow Jordanian youth to learn and understand other cultures and countries in relation to their own. Contrastingly, those from other countries will do the same in Jordan. There is a large degree of openness promoted through this contest, which is one of the steps to educating and understanding others.

Queen Rania is also a big supporter of youth community engagement. By promoting her country, she is allowing the opportunity for coordination and outreach with other nations' young people. Through the country swap, young people will be engaged either by entering and spending time in Jordan, or by leaving Jordan and learning about other countries somewhere else in the world. Either way, contestants spend time touring the host countries, learning about other societies and landmarks—all expenses paid.

Here at ICP, we've also been working on youth community engagement in the Middle East/North Africa, in a partnership with the Gerhart Center at the American University in Cairo. The Gerhart Center helps to build networks of philanthropists in the Arab world while working to implement youth engagement programs in the region. We are collaborating to drive a movement for engaging young people in the region for youth and community development.

In particular, ICP is planning the 9th Global Conference of the International Association for National Youth Service (IANYS) in Alexandria, Egypt, October 25-28, 2010. The conference provides youth service practitioners and policymakers from around the world with a stimulating forum to share information and current developments in the field, nurture connections for developing future projects, and discuss the potential for scaling up national youth service for greater impact on community and youth development.

We are also engaging researchers in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine to identify assets for supporting youth community engagement. We plan to expand to other countries in the region in future phases of the project and Queen Rania’s initiative offers an example of youth engagement in Jordan.

Finally, the Talloires Network is working to engage universities in the Middle East/North Africa, and, through the 2009 MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship, recognized the work Universite Saint-Joseph in Lebanon after the Summer 2006 war. Students, faculty, and staff were engaged by volunteering as disaster assistants and by utilizing the universities resources and expertise. They offered health services and helped create two libraries in areas that had been destroyed by war. Continued in the Summer of 2007, the university began more development from an academic perspective, working to teach responsible citizenship and spread solidarity and openness among populations often religiously and politically divided in Lebanon.

With networks like Talloires, partners like the Gerhart Center, and events such as the IANYS Global Conference our research and knowledge of youth community engagement in the Middle East/North Africa continues to grow.

We are always thrilled to hear about the work of others to promote youth engagement and Queen Rania's is an innovative use of social media to engage young people in Jordan and globally.

Are you doing anything to engage young people through social media tools? Let us know!

photo by: Josh Semans

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You've Got to Be Cool to be Kind

We all want to be cool. In kindergarten, it means having the right lunch box. In high school it means having the right friends, playing the right sports. But now cool is being redefined for young people in a way that can help change the world.

Pop culture volunteerism is on the rise and by making service cool, celebrities and non-profits are able to spark a new interest in community service and civic engagement. A new take on volunteering helps reach new audiences and attract participants from all across society by exposing the “cool” in volunteer service.

Rock the Vote has harnessed this idea to attract a group of voters who historically has been sorely apathetic. Young people have traditionally been one of the most apathetic demographics – something Rock the Vote has changed by appealing to the interests and environment of young people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, young people 18-24 reached an all time low for voter participation in 1996 and 2000, hovering around 32% but this statistic has since been on the rise. By partnering with artists such as Madonna and the Black-eyed Peas, organization such as Wear Your Music and Join the Dot, and businesses such as Hot Topic and Telemundo, Rock the Vote has helped make voting cool again. In the 2008 election, 49% of young people voted, the only demographic to show major voter participation increases.

Celebrities are also getting involved in pop culture volunteering. By using their highly visible position and popularity, they are encouraging their fans to go out into their communities and give back to those in need. Usher’s New Look Foundation provides leadership training and mentoring to disadvantaged young people, who are then able to take these skills and apply them to becoming global and corporate readers.

Miley Cyrus’s Get Ur Good On is an online community where Miley shares her own volunteer experiences and provides forums, ideas and support for her fans who post about their own service work. Disney has inspired over one million volunteers with their Give a Day, Get a Day program. Volunteers received a day of free park entry when they give a day of service.

Yesterday, VH1 premiered it’s “Do Something” Awards in conjunction with the organization of the same name. By giving awards to the artists, athletes and actors who have contributed most to volunteer service and civic engagement, VH1 and Do Something are giving due attention and recognition to people and organizations that have brought service into the limelight. The awards also profiled cities with excellent programs, charities on Facebook and Twitter, as well as documentaries.

For organizations and events like these, volunteering is more about the intrinsic act of service. It is about encouraging others to join in and it’s about putting volunteer service on the same level as other popular and celebrated talents. By turning focus to giving back, celebrities are not only demonstrating that service is “cool,” they are also reminding us that we have a responsibility to use our resources, whether they be money, fame or time, to help others. Because cool isn’t your apparel or possessions, as we so often thought when we were in school. It is recognizing our responsibilities as members of our communities and as global citizens by contributing our time, skills and resources to our society.

Photo Credit: Corporation for National and Community Service

Friday, July 16, 2010

Go to Bat for ICP!

Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP)* is participating in State Farm's recently announced "Go to Bat" program in partnership with Major League Baseball. With your support, we could win $25,000 to continue valuable work in promoting youth civic participation throughout the world. Click here to vote. (You can find ICP under the Human Services category.)

You can win too! During each week of the competition, a winner will be chosen from among those who have voted. By voting for ICP, participants are not only giving their support to the organization, but also enter themselves in a contest through which they could win two tickets to games three and four of the World Series. In addition, the winner's charity will win $100 for every home run hit during that week.

ICP is a leader in the global movement to promote sustainable development and social change through youth civic engagement. We embrace a positive view of young people that recognizes their potential to create beneficial and lasting social change in their communities through active participation in service opportunities.

With this idea in mind, ICP has created several publications and programs that have been vital resources for young people, governments and NGOs as they build their own youth service and civic engagement. ICP incubated the idea of Summer of Service which was included in the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. It provides middle school students with intensive service projects during the summer, helping them to foster a sense of community in young people who are at incredible and volatile transition period. In addition to supporting this innovative idea, ICP is working with three partner organizations to provide Summer of Service opportunities for 600 students this summer.

Internationally, ICP worked to expand youth civic engagement opportunities in South Asia through an extensive multi-year project. This initiative involved an impact assessment of youth service in the region, a mapping study of policy and program assets and the launch of a new online resource center. To carry out this project, ICP collaborated with organizations in Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The information that has come as a result of this project will serve as a vital resource for youth service in the region.

These are just a couple of examples of the work that ICP does. Through publications, we compile important information that helps youth service practitioners and partners evaluate and improve their own programs. We work with a variety of institutions, groups, governments and individuals to gather the most comprehensive picture of youth service and civic engagement so that they are able to work more effectively with young people in their communities. ICP also serves as the secretariat of several networks including the State Education Agency K-12 Service-Learning Network, the International Association for National Youth Service and the Talloires Network of university presidents supporting civic engagement on their campuses and in their communities.

ICP serves in a very specialized niche. While the value of volunteer service and civic engagement is acknowledged throughout the world, many countries and organizations don’t have the capacity, resources or information to tailor their programs in order to create lasting change. Young people have the ability to channel their energy to create real, lasting and beneficial impacts on their communities, be they local, national or global. ICP provides valuable resources, collaboration and serves as a financial intermediary for communities across the world to support their ability to engage young people on a large scale.

By voting for ICP, you can help change lives by helping us give young people across the world the tools to shape their futures.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With love of a good book.

Books can change our lives. Literacy can improve our vocabularies, our knowledge and our comprehension skills. As reading is a facet of every part of our education, grade level literacy is of the highest importance. But it isn’t just about facts and figures. Through books, young people can learn to empathize with people they may have previously misunderstood; they can become a part of movements and cultures that may have been previously out of reach. Reading can increase their sense of their part in the global community.

Of course, getting kids to read is often times like getting kids to eat their vegetables. It helps if they see someone they look up to getting to it first. This is why youth-lead literacy initiatives are so important. Young people who are active in their communities and who have inspirational and innovative ideas for inspiring a love of reading in children are the perfect role models to increase literacy.

This is why, every year, the National Education Association and Youth Service America unite to give grants to young people who have submitted innovative program ideas to increase and encourage literacy. Through the Youth Leaders for Literacy grants, over 30 $500 cash grants amounting to $500 each are awarded. With these grants the NEA and YSA allow young people to give back to their communities, providing an emphasis on literacy and civic engagement for youth-created and driven programs.

Winners include George Cook III, a sixth grader who, in 2008, won the grant for his program which rewards boys who read with free haircuts. Francis D. Raub Middle School won one of the 2010 grants. They used their grant to buy $500 worth of books which they then donated to a local hospital along with an English/Spanish language brochure they had designed which explained how important it is to read out loud to infants and toddlers.

Many of the Youth Leaders for Literacy also participated in Global Youth Service Day, turning their reading projects into one-day events to spread information about how to replicate their programs or to start your own. Everything from neighborhood book clubs to book drives to birthday parties for Dr. Seuss were part of the agenda.

Of course, these grants are not the only ways programs like this get their start. AmeriCorps has several literacy based programs that have been featured in ICP’s recent publication, Transforming Communities through Service: A Collection of 52 of the Most Innovative AmeriCorps Programs in the United States. These include the VCU AmeriCorps and America Reads program which provides three school districts across Richmond, VA with one-on-one and small group literacy tutoring. The Literacy AmeriCorps of Palm Beach County uses its volunteers to provide literacy tutoring to people of all ages. They also serve as graduation coaches, library tutors and GED prep teachers, providing a wealth of second chances for people whose literacy education hadn’t been as strong.

Getting kids involved in starting their own literacy education programs helps them get involved in their communities by spreading love of a skill that can change lives. Literacy education can help bridge the achievement gaps that plague more impoverished communities. The ability to read, to connect with characters and situations, provides inspiration for engagement that might otherwise have been out of our reach.

But even more importantly, reading reminds everyone that we are all part of the same community. And as part of this global community they have a right to the same things we do. We all have a right to characters we love, to authors who ask the same questions we do, to seeing new places and learning about different cultures. We all have the same rights to imagination, dreams and exploration. We can all read the same books.

Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison News 2006

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Positive Domino Effects: An Analysis of Civic Engagement in Africa Today

I recently attended a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution, conducted by the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative Team about what Africa needs to do in order to speed up its progress and productivity.

One interesting point that came up at the event was about the surplus of young people in African countries, and the potential that lies in their existence. This particular dialogue was from a discussion of supply and demand. And, while the demand was multifaceted and included aid, technology and mobilization, the supply was very specific: young people.

The mass influx of young people has not had a positive effect on Africa as of yet. The existing issue is that along with the large numbers of young people, there are also high levels of unemployment and low levels of productivity. But what if this could be turned around? What sort of potential does Africa have that is stored in its younger generations?

In order to grow, Africa has to maximize its full potential—which is undoubtedly easier said than done—meaning that Africa must mobilize its people and utilize its domestic resources. One of these domestic resources is young people. There seems to be a link between youth productivity and continental recovery. However, the negative stories in the news about various African nations always seem to take a front seat, which in turn makes the small steps that other countries make go unnoticed.

An example of an important program civically engaging young people in Africa is loveLife's groundBREAKERS initiative in South Africa that was established in 1999. Aimed at young people ages 18-25, the national service initiative aims to reduce the prominence of HIV by raising awareness through counseling, clinics and education. The main idea is that groundBREAKERS offers a peer network of young people not much older than the targeted age group, with the hopes that they will be more persuasive and easier to connect with. Overall, groundBREAKERS hopes to raise HIV awareness and foster social responsibility.

In another example, in Nigeria, grants have been given to researchers and faculty who want to write books for schools, so there are up-to-date textbooks. One attendee of the discussion remarked that she had been a teacher in Kenya for five years, but the textbooks used in schools were completely out of date. She questioned how youth engagement could take place if the young people were not accurately learning about their own history or what is going on in today’s world. Now, something is being done about it, but it oftentimes it seems that not many publicly acknowledge these positive steps.

Civic engagement and youth service programs cannot be formed without a foundation first. And that foundation must include youth education. Thus, there are countries where steps are being taken to begin this building process, and we should be doing all we can to not only acknowledge these situations, but promote them to the best of our abilities.

Lastly, a closing point that was driven home by the panel was that Africa today is not the same Africa from 30 or 40 years ago. Africa is changing; intellectuals in the region understand that there are high percentages of youth populations that do not have productive workforces to enter into. I think it is important to acknowledge that the need for youth engagement can lead to mobilization if the right programs are implemented as a response to this need, then mobilization can yield productivity in a country. Since Africa potentially has an empowering domino effect on its hands, it is of the utmost importance that the right civic steps are taken to engage their young people.

To learn more about national youth service programs in Africa, visit ICP's website at

photo courtesy of:

Advocates Taking a Bite out of Malnutrition

While being interviewed by CNN’s Eatocracy about speaking before the House of Representatives to advocate for H.R. 5504, Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio said, “They say there are two things you never want to see made - sausage and law. And I know how to make sausage, so now I'm just making law. It was pretty cool.”

This bill, also known as the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, hopes to increase nutritional value in school meals. It would also establish nutritional standards for foods sold outside of the cafeteria, such as the food sold in vending machines.

Similarly, in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let’s Move” program, she is focusing on new standards for food found in cafeterias and vending machines, and the overall improvement of nourishment in children.

Colicchio discusses how his mother worked in a school cafeteria tirelessly, because she knew that oftentimes her meal would be the only meal that many children would get for the day. Thus, she fought for fresh produce and other healthy foods to be offered to students.

“This is what people don’t understand: obesity is a symptom of poverty. It’s not a lifestyle choice where people are just eating and not exercising. It’s because kids—and this is the problem with school lunch right now—are getting sugar, fat, empty calories-lots of calories—but no nutrition,” Colicchio states.

Chef Colicchio and the First Lady are not the only advocates for healthier food choices, service projects have made headway even in higher education institutions such as at California State University Fresno. There, the Student Dietetic Association (SDA) is responsible for the creation of weekly farmers markets. This project, found on the projects webpage, promotes healthy eating within higher education institutions, which demonstrates that the need for service in the health sector exists in higher education institutions as well.

Now, the weekly farmers market hopes to bring Fresno State attendees together in the name of healthier eating. SDA urges others to get involved within their own communities by starting their own farmers markets to continue the promotion of healthy eating.

ICP's publication, Transforming Communities Through Service (June 2010), is another example of recent literature that has a section focused on health in young people. In Ohio for example, AmeriCorps has a program called "Healthy Kids Healthy Communities," that works to instate after-school programs focused on diet, nutrition, and exercise. The program's curriculum is directly implemented by Coordinated Approach to Child Health-Physical Education (CATCH-PE) and Food Folks. Through service, young people are taking steps to combat health issues in their communities, while advocates like Tom Colicchio fry bigger fish in the House of Representatives.

What can be seen is that there are multiple service-based initiatives that allow for positive change through service now, in hopes of ending malnutrition and childhood obesity, while legislation is pending on Capitol Hill.

There are plenty of other programs currently being run through AmeriCorps, and you can check them out here.

Are you involved in improving your school or community’s well-being and health? Tell us about it in the comment below!

Image Courtesy of:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Do the Wave: What one Organization is Planting in Order to Raise Biodiversity Awareness

What if when you planted a tree, it caused someone else to plant one after you?

This is what occurred on May 22, 2010: the 2010 Green Wave of Action. The idea is that tree planting will start in the far East at the International Date Line, and then continue westward. As each hour goes by, more trees pop up on the site’s interactive tree-planting map.

The Green Wave’s overarching idea is that children and biodiversity awareness can be brought together, one tree at a time. The Green Wave encourages youth civic engagement in the environment and directly contributes to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is an international treaty to preserve life on Earth.

Whether your involvement is organized within a school or not, the website has instructions for how to participate in the Green Wave. The general jist is that first, you sign up to be a part of the Green Wave website, then register your tree after some research about what you or your school wants to plant. During this process, students and teachers learn about why they are planting their particular species of tree in their area of the world.

Additionally, each group has their own page on the Green Wave site, which they fill with their information, publicity, and what sort of celebration they will have on May 22. On the actual day of the tree planting, participants are encouraged to document the ceremony either through photos or a short video.

Ultimately, the goal is to not only encourage youth service and environmental awareness, but also to make tree planting a more common practice worldwide. The Green Wave this year specifically focused on reducing biodiversity loss, but each year seeks to foster an overall understanding of taking ecological action for a better future.

So, next May 22, maybe you, your school, or your organization will have set aside this day in particular to nature, and you will plant a tree alongside other schools and participants. Each year, the Green Wave grows, join the contagion!

Find out about more "green" service projects on ICP's Green Youth Service Resource Center at

Friday, July 2, 2010

Taking a Gap Year

Despite its growing popularity among American high school graduates, the “gap year” is a largely foreign concept, literally. In Europe, particularly in British young people, it is a fairly common practice. Gap years range from vacations to work study to service projects. But as this phenomenon expands to American students, the emphasis on service-learning gap years continues to grow.

Gap year programs allow students to take time between high school and college (or take a break during college, or a break between college and grad school as the case may be) to enroll in volunteer or service programs, from next door to half way around the world. This not only helps students build confidence and independence, it connects them to others throughout the world, helping them to define their commitment not only to their own community but to the global community at large.

The trend in American education has been very track oriented. Students enter formal education at 5 and leave at 18 or 22, depending on whether or not they attend college. The ability of a student to manage this track and whether or not they make it to college has thus far been the only measure of success. But with the gap year comes a new orientation toward education and an understanding that without the kind of civic engagement and enrichment that comes with service-learning, our education just may be incomplete.

Organizations like The Center for Interim Programs provide applicants with programs that are specifically suited to their interests, helping them to further define their goals and plans for the future. Internships allow them to gain important skills while also giving them the opportunity to contribute to communities and environments in need.

Princeton University has institutionalized the gap year with their Bridge Program which allows accepted students to defer for a year to engage in Princeton-sponsored service projects in India, Ghana, Serbia or Peru. Students get intensive language training, live with a local family and engage in service projects to improve the environment, technology or education in areas in need.

Gap years don’t have to be international, however. Both City Year and AmeriCorps have programs which are available to those who have finished high school and not yet started college. These programs allow students to participate in service projects within the United States, helping them to get to know their country better, to get further insight into the diversity and culture of their home country and become further invested and engaged with its issues.

What all of these gap year programs have in common is a sense of broadening horizons. Education should include more than just facts and figures. Service projects allow participants to feel truly connected to their communities – be it their hometown, state, country or the global community at large. Gap year participants will come to know intimately a problem and a solution, another culture or another person. When they return to college, or their job or whatever their post high-school plans entail, they will be able to take and use this knowledge. They will have seen the results of their participation and engagement and they will know that it matters.

Tell us about your gap year experiences. What has that experience had on you? Please share your stories in the comments below!

photo courtesy of JRMD, Burundi and ICP


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