Walking in the shoes of young people

It was six weeks until he spent any of his money. He said he wanted to keep hold of it as where he comes from money doesn’t come easy. He wanted more to time to think about his idea. It was a serious thing. In those six weeks, I was asked at least that many times what I would do if a young person spent their fund on trainers. I think they probably wanted to ask me about drugs too.

There are so many responses I have to this question. A simple enquiry on the surface maybe, but experience and research tells us it’s loaded and complex. I’m a clinical and community psychologist, co-developing a new trust-based funding model that gives young people £100 on debit cards, to spend on tackling issues such as youth violence and mental health. Small amounts, instantly, direct to the citizen not an organisation.

My first response. I wouldn’t be doing anything about it if it happened, because it’s not my decision. I’m not the guardian of the money, young people are. The first youth bank has a board of five young people on. They are accountable for who gets the money and verifying the spending. If I was making these judgement calls, we wouldn’t be truly sharing power or doing anything new.

My second response is to think to myself — is this what it’s like to be a young man in London? Does anyone listen long enough to hear his ideas? Does anyone ever trust him enough to actually find out? It’s easy to buy into the story that young people are not able to think about anything beyond their footwear. Stories that they are untrustworthy, dangerous and hopeless. These are stories that I’ve known to shatter dreams, ambitions and self-worth. But what if we all leaned in, you’d hear stories of young entrepreneurs who want to change society, despite how it has treated them, despite people not trusting them.

Thirdly, I might tell the story about how our first youth bank is way tougher than we are. One young man told us we were Utopian and we should get real. They are the arbiters of what’s ethical and they have a clear set of guidelines, one of which is “check up but don’t judge”. They will tell you whether buying a pair of trainers is right or wrong. In fact, they told me it’s neither, it’s much more complex that that. A pair of trainers could be a matter of whether you’re safe on the roads or not.

If they were still interested I’d share the hard data. No one has yet bought trainers, high heels, or hoodies. There has been a lot spent on food though, from Iceland and Tesco. This interests me much more, because if we truly entrust money to young people to spend it on what matters to them, we might learn a whole lot about what they need. What would you spend it on?

This is a blog from a series by Dr. Nina Browne about @street2scale

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