A Call to Action for Youth and Community Development

denisha speaking

I have always been interested in learning about the work that goes into planning a big event for non-profit organizations. From the issues that they focus on to the plan to tackle every element of planning for it, the amount of time and effort involved is incredible. What I have yet to learn, however, is what happens next? What happens when an event begins to no longer hold the impact that it once did? Through my role as a Future Leaders in Action fellow at YSS, I am working to find the answer to these questions.

The YSS Risky Business Conference began a little over thirty years ago when the first conference was held. Its purpose was to bring youth and professionals together to increase knowledge and confront critical issues in their communities, while advancing youth development. With hundreds in attendance, the conference was a success. It hosted several workshops, guest speakers, and information booths, making it a notable event on YSS yearly program calendar.

There was a new generation of youth that thought, behaved, and saw social change and what it took to create it differently.

In recent years, the conference has seen less success as attendance started to decrease. There was a new generation of youth that thought, behaved, and saw social change and what it took to create it differently. YSS, an organization that has been dedicated to serving youth since its inception in 1976, took note of this and decided it was time to take action.

In place of planning for the next conference, the organization decided to prioritize seeking feedback on how to improve by holding a “pre-summit”. Through the pre-summit, it became clear that the issue was not the conference itself, but what came after people left.

Attendees needed more than a few hours of sitting in lectures, they needed to come together to strategize. They needed a plan for action.

 Adapted from Sherry Arnstein's original Ladder of Participation (1969)

Adapted from Sherry Arnstein's original Ladder of Participation (1969)

In response, YSS developed the Risky Business Action Summit, an event for self-formed teams that want to tackle issues in their shared communities. This event looks at the relationship between youth development and community action, increasing the voice of the youth participating, as illustrated in the Ladder of Youth Voice.

Unlike the conference, there are also resources provided beyond the summit to keep teams engaged and accountable to change their communities. Staying true to the original Risky Business Conference, this event is carrying over the importance of collaboration.

In order to execute this exciting change, YSS’s partnership with Future Leaders in Action is centering on the Risky Business Action Summit this year. This is where I come in! As a FLIA fellow, I assist in general support and outreach for the event. I am also creating a resource guide for participating Risky Business teams to support them after the event. In this, I am able to work with a team of individuals that are equally dedicated to creating change and uplifting youth through creating a unique event for them to thrive and gain valuable leadership skills.

I truly see this event as a potential game changer for how other organizations approach youth development and youth/adult partnerships. Beyond that, it shows that it is possible to progress as an organization without having to lose sight of original purpose or intent. As a Future Leaders in Action fellow, I could not be any more grateful with my placement at YSS and the Risky Business project. With the big event only a few weeks away, I cannot say just yet what the outcome will be, but I can say that I am extremely excited to find out. The future of Risky Business is looking bright!