By Deb Levine, MA, & Jamia Wilson, MA | February 20, 2014
We are the president and executive director of YTH (Youth+Tech+Health), an organization committed to advancing the health of youth and young adults through technology, and we’ve got a pitch for you: if you work with young people, you can improve effectiveness by sharing leadership with them.
We mean sharing leadership in a substantive way—giving over the reins for a good part of the journey. Sound impractical, or impossible, or scary? It’s not. You can take that leap.
At YTH, we’ve recently implemented a model of intergenerational leadership ourselves. We fully expect this new leadership structure to expand our opportunities, build our potential, and shape the direction of our organization into the future.
Deb is the founder of YTH (formerly ISIS), and was executive director for 12 years. Jamia came on board as executive director last November, and Deb transitioned to a new role as president. These are big changes for the organization—and we’re thrilled to be making them.
Young people are the early adopters of technology, and, frankly, they are light years ahead of adults. At YTH, we focus on youth ages 13 to 25—the first to set the trends, see what’s coming and elevate what’s cool.
Adolescents, in particular, believe they’re invincible. Health prevention is the last thing on their minds. But, if we combine learning about health with the technology that’s literally attached to them at the hip, we have a platform for prevention. Youth can activate and lend their voices to support a healthier maturation process.
YTH has always had a strong youth voice. We have youth on our Advisory Board and involved in all our programs. Since our founding, we’ve held that young people deserve to get honest information, be heard and live healthy lives without shame or fear. Twelve years in, we’ve got a solid foundation in our staff, board and funding, and a strong track record of success. What else could we ask for?
The natural progression of our organization’s values and commitments has led us to this shift from a Gen X executive director with considerable experience to a millennial ED with plenty of leadership skills, but no experience in running her own organization. So, how’s it going?
It’s fantastic! This change has revitalized the organization and invigorated the work we do and we highly recommend it.
Our Board was apprehensive at first about hiring someone who didn’t have years of executive leadership experience. But, after they met Jamia, they agreed that they were hiring someone with enormous potential, fresh eyes and energy—someone who had literally grown up on the work YTH was doing. That was exciting!
Jamia explains that she looked to YTH, Planned Parenthood’s Teenwire website and Go Ask Alice! as resources for information about health and sexuality. “My school sex education program was really fear-based and I needed to get some other perspectives. I benefitted from these resources, and am deeply committed to expanding the reach of these kinds of quality resources to other young people today.”
This was a perspective an older person with “executive leadership” experience couldn’t possibly have had, and it’s a perspective YTH needs to continue moving forward in meaningful ways. As a young leader, Jamia also finds incredible benefits: “I have opportunities to ask questions and learn through this intergenerational model. I look forward to continuing this framework and sharing leadership with the next generation of leaders.”
It’s our belief that the most agile and productive youth-serving agencies of the future will be those with multigenerational staff and leadership. Our staff and board include baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials. The richness in these differences is essential for our work to be effective.
We also believe there are ways for every youth-serving organization to offer substantial leadership opportunities for young leaders, and that all of our work will have more impact and relevance as these models become the norm.
If you’d like to see what intergenerational leadership looks like in practice, as well as experience an amazing conference that addresses the vital intersection of youth, technology and health, come to our YTH Live conference in San Francisco. The conference promises to be better than ever, with over 500 youth leaders, techies, health professionals and government personnel in attendance.
This year yields some star power, including:
We’ll also showcase apps such as iDoc24, digital classroom learning such as MyHealthEd, and SaferSex Shuffle, a new game from the folks at Answer. YTH Live sessions are constantly being updated with new additions. Stay posted at yth.org/ythlive and follow us @ythorg on Twitter.