“Next Up”: Leadership program for young Canadians committed to social and environmental justice

No 192 Posted by fw, June 12, 2011

If you’re young and want to change the world, or your part of it, and live in B.C., where do you go to learn about leadership and social change? There are many leadership programs around, but as a young person where do you go to develop both personal leadership and capacity building skills, build a network of other young leaders who feel like you do, meet social change leaders in your community and get insight into the best progressive policy solutions to many of the environmental and social justice challenges that we face?

In general, the field of progressive social change work does not have an integrated approach to both welcoming and grounding young people. There is a particular disconnect between theory, skills development, mentorship and action, and reflection opportunities. To address this, Seth and I decided to try and develop a program that would provide this kind of opportunity in B.C. This is when Next Up (NU) was created, with the goal of putting into practice the understanding that in order to have more leaders, we need to invest in leadership development.” Kevin Millsip, executive director of Next Up

The above passage is from Kevin’s article, Where do we go from here? Building an intergenerational progressive movement, published by rabble.ca, June 10, 2011. To read the full article, the first part of which traces Kevin’s own leadership journey, click on the linked title.

This post focuses on Kevin’s account of the creation and development of Next Up. According to its website:

Next Up is growing. 2010-2011 marks the fourth year of the Next Up leadership in BC, the second year in Alberta and the first year in Saskatchewan. The organizers come from a wide range of backgrounds in public policy, communications, organizing, and research. We are all involved in social and environmental justice work and we’ve created this program because we believe that another world is not just possible, but an imperative.

Here is Kevin’s Next Up story, based on verbatim extracts from his Where do we go from here? article in rabble.ca.

Where do you start when you want to change the world?

“I felt strongly that there were better ways for us to be taking care of both people and the planet. But while I knew I wanted to help change the world around me, I didn’t know how best to put my passion for a better, more just world into some kind of useful practice.”

Kevin Millsip

In 2002, Kevin began thinking about the role of leadership in social change work and how leadership is developed and fostered. A conversation five years ago with Seth Klein, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ office in B.C. started the two of them thinking about how lucky they had been with the mentors they had encountered at the right times in their lives who supported them and opened doors for them when they were starting out in social change work. They also began reflecting on what else would have been helpful to them when they started doing this work.

Kevin’s ten years of experience working at Check Your Head coupled with his conversations with Seth, led to an ongoing dialogue about leadership and social change work:

If you’re young and want to change the world, or your part of it, and live in B.C., where do you go to learn about leadership and social change? There are many leadership programs around, but as a young person where do you go to develop both personal leadership and capacity building skills, build a network of other young leaders who feel like you do, meet social change leaders in your community and get insight into the best progressive policy solutions to many of the environmental and social justice challenges that we face?

People who want to change the world first need to develop leadership skills and knowledge

In general, the field of progressive social change work does not have an integrated approach to both welcoming and grounding young people. There is a particular disconnect between theory, skills development, mentorship and action, and reflection opportunities. To address this, Seth and I decided to try and develop a program that would provide this kind of opportunity in B.C. This is when Next Up was created, with the goal of putting into practice the understanding that in order to have more leaders, we need to invest in leadership development.

Next Up was born out of conversations, realizations and a belief that thoughtful, meaningful and consistent opportunities for leadership development must be provided to young people committed to social and environmental justice.

Overview of the Next Up program

Mission

We believe that good solutions to the biggest issues are out there — and can be realized. We have different approaches to teaching and learning, but we all believe that a new generation of progressive leaders is needed and should be supported. We also believe that there are better ways of taking care of each other and the planet and we look at how to take those ideas and put them into practice.

Next Up’s definition of ‘leadership’

With that as our starting point, Next Up is a leadership program for young people who are committed to social and environmental justice and who are looking to apply themselves to social change work. Our definition of leadership is that a leader is someone who has the ability to inspire and support others to achieve a common objective or purpose. They don’t have to know what it is that they want to do or what area they may want to focus on. It’s for people who see themselves making a life in building a better world.

Program structure

Each Next Up program has 13 or 14 participants between the ages of 18 to 32. The program runs for six months with participants meeting one evening a week and one full Saturday a month. We begin the program with a two-day orientation session during which the cohort takes part in group-building and communication exercises and will go through the course outline, curriculum and expectations. There are two session streams; one stream focuses on solutions, the other on capacity and skills building. Every fourth week we use a full Saturday to allow us to go more in depth on a particular area of skills building.

Curriculum content

The solution sessions begin by looking at how social and environmental issues are framed and how that framing impacts debate and the implementation of solutions. Areas examined include foreign policy, trade and economic policy, climate change, health and education, taxation, labour and poverty. The content of the workshops addresses both global and local issues and makes connections between domestic and international policy. For example, examining labour policy allows us to look at issues connected to migrant labour, outsourcing and Canadian immigration policy. We also bring in guests doing social change work from numerous sectors: leaders of trade unions, not-for-profits, social change entrepreneurs and community organizers come to talk about what they do and how they do it.

The capacity-building sessions cover topics such as communication, facilitation, conflict transformation, media training, message framing, building unity and project development.

The program tackles some big questions: what is leadership? What styles of leadership are needed now? What is the narrative of the visions we hold for a better world? How can those narratives be actualized? We also try to give folks a chance to put talk into action by working in groups of two to four on action projects with other organizations in the community.

Staff background

This year marks the fourth year of Next Up in Vancouver, the second year in Edmonton and the first years in both Saskatoon and Calgary. The organizers come from a wide range of backgrounds in public policy, communications, organizing, and research. We are all involved in social and environmental justice work and we’ve created this program because we believe that another world is not just possible, but an imperative.

Building a Next Up support network

The final component of Next Up involves connecting participants with good people doing great work in their communities. The goal is to help the participants expand their networks and to connect them with people who are doing work in their particular areas of interest. It reinforces one of the key goals of NU: to build and support a network of young social change leaders across Canada who will be working together and supporting each other for years to come. NU grads are off working on inspiring and amazing projects all over Canada and other parts of the world. The network is a way for the alumni to stay in touch and to work with each other and a way for them to support the current program participants.

The real lasting power of the program will be in the alumni network and the work that the graduates do once they leave the program and begin working.

There are now just over 100 Next Up graduates. Maintaining four Next Up programs will see an additional 55 grads next year, and more if the program grows to other communities. The alumni are now discussing the role they want to play and how an alumni network can help support both grads and current participants.

In the summer of 2010 we held the first annual NU gathering, which brought together the current and past participants for a weekend on the Sunshine Coast in B.C. Together they worked to talk about social change and consider possible collaboration on social change initiatives. In June of this year we will meet again in Alberta to continue to develop the strength of this dynamic network of present and future leaders.

Upcoming global challenges for Next Up

The need for Next Up has become ever more evident over the past few years. We face a growing number of issues such as climate change, economic uncertainty, peak oil, global conflict, public health concerns, growing income and resource disparity, and the list goes on. Many believe this is a unique set of challenges not encountered by previous generations. The recent global economic situation and the mounting evidence of the multiple threats posed by global climate change have only served to underscore the need for a program like Next Up.

Kevin concludes

So, that’s a little bit about a leadership program called Next Up. Hopefully you’ll hear more about us in the coming years or — more importantly — see more from our grads as they continue to implement their leadership intelligence to affect social and environmental change.

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