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Peer leaders are the way forward

Copyrights: George Halkias

Peer leaders are the way forward

Peer-led mentoring is an effective way of driving leadership to grow community capacity and provide marginalized youth with support.

[We are calling for articles on youth leadership and engagement in sport and development in the lead-up to International Youth Day on 12 August - we welcome your contributions!]

It has been inspiring in recent times to see young people shine as extraordinary community leaders and activists who have driven the social and environmental agenda across the world, in many ways showing us older citizens up in the process. As well as demonstrating enormous passion and drive to make the world a better place, these young people have shown great insight and maturity to highlight significant community issues and explore solutions, belying their young years.

City in the Community, Melbourne

There has, similarly, been a focus by some in the sport for development sector to use young people as drivers of change through sport. In my work at City in the Community, a foundation supported by the Melbourne City Football Club, we have delivered extensive leadership programs that have empowered and trained young people to be the drivers of change in their own communities, generally through football.

Many participants of the Young Leaders Program come from migrant and refugee backgrounds with a great love of the game and they embrace the program to build leadership skills that they can use at school, university, at their football club, within in their own migrant communities or through involvement in a range of community football initiatives delivered by City in the Community. Young Leaders across Melbourne also get to connect with young people across the world involved in similar programs and participate in the annual Young Leaders Global Summit.

Young Leaders Global Summit

The four day leadership program covers sport for development theory, social impact, change theory, group dynamics, event management and community coaching for social impact, amongst other important topics. Upon completion of the program, the graduates have an opportunity to volunteer and, in some cases, be employed to deliver and facilitate football programs in community and schools settings promoting inclusion, education and healthy lifestyle choices.

The most successful programs have been those delivered in public housing estates, where young leaders delivering the programs act as inspiring role models and mentors to their younger peers.

Building peer leaders

There is now a growing body of evidence across many disciplines that peer-led mentoring and education programs are most effective in driving leadership that grows community capacity and also providing young people often vulnerable or facing barriers to health and education with important support and education.

City in the Community is currently developing similar youth centred and peer led programs that address gender based violence and attitudes towards women and promote respectful relationships and harmony. Such programs are understandably complex requiring much work to identify, train and engage suitable young leaders and facilitators as role models who are capable of facilitating football-themed education workshops and play based learning on these important topics, but the impact that they can have on their peers can be enormous.

As an emerging discipline, the Sport for Development sector can draw learning from existing programs of this nature and, through discussion and research, continue to explore and measure the effectiveness of adopting this approach and methodology. It is commonly understood that sport is an ideal vehicle to help empower and build leadership in young people and now it appears that it can also be used  to address some of the most challenging community issues by using young people as the agents of change at the grassroots.  

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George Halkias is a sport for development professional in Australia working with the Big Issue Community Street Soccer Program and with City in the Community, Melbourne City Football Club as well as a consultant to government and other stakeholders. www.georgehalkias.com.au

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 06:36

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