Nurturing the Leaders of Tomorrow
Our Young People Advisory Board builds skills for leadership and advocacy for a better tomorrow
On 19-21 August, 50 members of the UNICEF Young People Advisory Board (YPAB) joined a three-day leadership bootcamp held by UNICEF and Right To Play Foundation. The bootcamp strengthened the young participants’ leadership skills while providing a platform for them to voice their opinions and come up with solutions to pressing social problems.
YPAB first launched in Thailand in 2021, setting the stage for young people to represent the voices of their peers and systematically engage with UNICEF and our partners in our programming, decision-making and advocacy initiatives. Under YPAB, members are divided into five groups based on their issue of interest, namely, mental health and well-being, education and employability, child protection, youth participation and the environment.
To become stronger advocates and changemakers, the young participants took part in team building activities and were trained in advocacy and leadership skills. Their day began at the UNICEF office with a fun ice-breaker activity to foster a stronger network between them. They then learned about UNICEF’s advocacy work before moving on to mapping key stakeholders, ideating campaigns, learning tactics to deliver advocacy messages and presenting their own advocacy project. These activities helped strengthen their leadership skills and provided them with the knowledge and tools to drive positive change as part of UNICEF’s programmes or through their own initiatives in their communities.
“Young people’s development and participation is a key priority for UNICEF Thailand’s country programme for the next five years and onwards, so that the young generation can develop the skills and knowledge to form their opinions in a constructive way, be heard by policy makers and influence decisions that affect their lives and future,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand, to the young participants at the UNICEF office. “We are helping them voice their opinions and be a voice for the voiceless. Most importantly, we are supporting them in being taken seriously.”
YPAB members proposed five advocacy projects according to their interests. The first group, focusing on youth participation, presented their campaign calling for student participation in parent-teacher association meetings at schools. They emphasized that students are the primary stakeholders in schools and should not be excluded from decision making, so they aim to create a safe space for student participation in schools.
Next, the group on child protection called for stopping verbal bullying through creating activities to promote positive communication at schools. For the group on mental health, the focus was on destigmatizing mental disorders and normalizing conversations about it. They plan to design infographics to display in public areas to reduce stigma and raise public awareness.
The group on environmental issues put forward an interactive game featuring food waste and plastic waste from school lunches to raise awareness about climate change, while the group on education advocated for equal access to education for all. They planned to do creative photography and design a game for students to foster a supportive environment in classrooms.
“This bootcamp provides a safe space for young people to voice their opinions and co-create solutions with UNICEF. Listening to the voices of young people and incorporating this in our work is crucial to UNICEF and our partners. Because young people best understand the problems they face, and decisions and policies made today will directly affect their lives and that of future generations,” said Jomkwan Kwanyuen, Adolescent Development Officer at UNICEF Thailand.
Jomkwan added that the bootcamp was also designed to equip young people with the skills to be advocates for their own rights, learn how to break down problems and influence decision makers, address the root causes of problems and bring about long-term, sustainable solutions that meet the needs of their generation.
The bootcamp was specially co-designed with Right to Play to help young people learn and express themselves through games and sports. After breaking the ice on the first day, the young participants were divided into groups of their preference, sharing their views on UNICEF’s programme and how relevant they are to the youth. On the second day, they learned how to conceptualize their ideas and work with others under the same theme through recreational activities, as well as prepare a presentation for their project on the last day.
Sumitra Sutthisongtham, 23, a political science graduate of Thammasat University now working at an app-based delivery company, said that being a part of YPAB has helped her amplify her voice and be heard.
Earlier this year, Sumitra and her peers were invited to give feedback on the E-Workforce Ecosystem Platform, created to support young people in acquiring skills and seeking jobs and developed by the Thailand Professional Qualification Institute, a UNICEF partner. Sumitra shared her views on how the new platform can differentiate itself from what is already available on the market.
“If the platform is to attract younger users, not just professionals or young management, it should offer more than just a place to upload one’s CV or portfolio,” said Sumitra. Sumitra and her peers also highlighted the importance of building an online community within the platform, which would be useful for first-jobbers or students seeking career advice and job application tips.
Although giving feedback on the platform seemed trivial at first, Sumitra was proud to see the changes that made the platform friendlier for young users. “It not only makes us feel that we were heard, but that our feedback really meant something.”
Another participant Pakon Saeyang, 19, said he decided to join YPAB because of unresolved problems in education, the environment and social inequality, especially for stateless communities.
This realization came about when Pakon, from Tak, enrolled to study anthropology at Chiang Mai University, finding the courses challenging to understand and finding it difficult to converse in English. The poor performance of fellow students attending an opportunity-expansion school in his hometown not only reflected a lack of access to educational resources, but more broadly a lack of access to education for stateless children.
“Without citizenship, there are no opportunities,” said Pakon, saying statelessness has made it hard for his peers in his town to enroll at university.
Pakon decided to join YPAB because he had seen how UNICEF and partners helped many stateless people in his town to apply for their citizenship, despite enduring process, resulting in more opportunities for them.
“I’d like people and organizations to be more aware of these problems so that they can be resolved at the root,” said the anthropology student. He has recently teamed up with his university friends to help stateless students obtain citizenship so that they can access basic rights and services.
YPAB is a long-term programme, and this bootcamp is just the start of many activities and opportunities for our members. We are not looking for crème de la crème participants, but rather those who want to change the system and be a part of the change, regardless of their gender, abilities or ethnicity. Learn more about our 62 members and their work at UNICEF Young People Advisory Board | UNICEF Thailand