Philanthropy is often seen in a positive light, modelling as the definition of charitable, and used as a buzzword to describe how people do good in the world. Yet many have come to realise that philanthropy has developed a bad reputation, and rightly so. It is built on colonial ideals and ideologies. As decolonisation and the unlearning of traditional ways of thinking come to the forefront, we need to consider how we view philanthropy. The Victorian idea of philanthropy and charity is about holding onto power, and often centres on helping the poor to make the rich feel good. We need to reframe this narrative.

It is important to think about philanthropy through a modern lens and consider what it could become. If philanthropy was more willing to truly shift power, then the resulting change could be significant. We need to go beyond the current ESG (economic, social, governance) model of charitable investment into something more radical, where philanthropy has truly shifted power to those with lived experience and who have traditionally been excluded.

Young people have long been seen as the beneficiaries of philanthropy, with a myriad of charities existing to improve our lives. Yet young people themselves, who are so central to the missions of these organisations, tend to be missing from the decision-making table.

Engaging with young people and learning from young people are different things. Charities often find it much easier to solely engage, by creating channels for input and to platform young people’s voices. However, when these young people’s voices are saying that radical change is needed or bringing up challenging issues, charities need to adapt and change, not shy away. This could mean giving power away or creating a culture shift. Using what is learnt working alongside young people can be hard to do, but it is necessary to ensure meaningful change.

Charities whose missions are not exclusively around young people should also include young people’s voices. Young people want to lead and feel empowered to do so, and particularly young people with lived experience are best placed to do this, with the support of specialists. Young people need to have tangible power-sharing, being brought in not just to be the face of campaigns, but to lead and drive them as well.

The lived experience of a diverse range of young people, used in a way that is not tokenistic, can be incredibly powerful in shaping the direction of a charity. Yet we see that not all young people are being reached. Understanding the barriers and working with others to overcome these is vital to ensure that a wide range of young voices are heard and able to shape decisions.

Read the full article about young voices informing philanthropists by Kate Roberts and Amelia Ireland, with thanks to Mita Desai, Callum Pethick, and Charlotte Lamb at NPC.