The role of youth members on the National Management Committee
The youthful team who appear to have been central to the recent success of the bid for Ireland to host the World Rover Moot in 2021 were a breath of fresh air in what can often look like a somewhat jaded leadership line up in Scouting Ireland with many faces that seem to have been hogging National Roles for decades.
Conspicuous among the youthful team were some occupants of National youth positions, including the ‘yoof’ section of the National Management Committee (those members aged 26 and under at time of election).
This ‘Under 26’ system gives preference to young people for three NMC positions out of a total of 20. Although all NMC positions are open to all members aged 18-26, the political reality in Scouting Ireland is that, unless key boxes are ticked in one’s electoral profile (i.e.; are you male, socially conservative, over 45 and ex-CBSI), you start out with an electoral disadvantage that can be hard to overcome in some election years.
Whilst those loosing out to this ‘Under 26’ policy – typically ‘C’ list contenders for National roles (and usually er, male, socially conservative, over 45 and ex-CBSI) brand the system ‘ageist’ with some justification, the reality is that whilst it is a blunt instrument, it is a vital one to ensure a base level of youth involvement on the National Management Committee.
However, the very existence of ‘youth’ NMC members poses in itself an interesting question. What is the purpose or role of the youth NMC members? Is it simply a way to ensure some sort of age balance on the association’s management committee or do these members have a specific role to play in the screening, scrutiny and creation of association policy, looking at it from a younger persons perspective?
Nominally, all members of the National Management Committee are equal. Indeed, it is reasonable to interpret that under the Combined Companies Acts in Irish law, whilst the duties and spheres of expertise of directors may vary, all those who are members of a board are equal members.
SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
The Scouting Ireland board in reality does not function in this manner. National Officers, by virtue of the responsibilities they hold, tend to have greater decision-making weight in terms of influence. The catchily titled ‘National Team for Policy Implementation and Coordination’ (in essence the National Officers) also handily meets outside meetings of the NMC, so this voting bloc can theoretically coordinate a position before a board meeting, giving even more weight to the views of these office holders when NMC meetings come up. The Chief Executive Officer (an employee) also attends not just NMC meetings but also NTPIC meetings, when these take place.
Other members of the Scouting Ireland Board wield influence largely based on the quality of their work, the strength of their electoral mandate and the force of their character.
SINK OR SWIM
In what can be an intimidating environment for a newcomer of any age, youth members can sometimes get sidelined unintentionally, until they either ‘sink or swim’ of their own accord. Other NMC members can write off those who are overly assertive or ‘too mouthy’ quite quickly, so the balance is a fine one to achieve.
In recent times, attempts have been made to silence or limit the input of youth members – one former youth member of the NMC related an experience to the irish scouter of being asked to ‘leave the room’ during a sensitive discussion (yes, this is absolutely factual). This outrageous (and surely legally questionable) behavior was nipped in the bud after objections by other directors.
However the latter example highlights an uncomfortable perception that youth NMC members are viewed by some senior figures as ‘best seen but not heard’. This is ironically despite many youth members often having a much better understanding of the responsibilities associated with being a company director than some of their more er, mature colleagues….
In this sort of unfavourable environment, it is perhaps surprising that many of the previous crop of NMC youth members were a voice of opposition amidst the uncomfortable consensus that the rather weak leadership of Scouting Ireland has sought to cobble together through the ‘divide and conquer’ approach. (The level of opposition and the frosty response such opposition got from a regime not used to ‘kids giving cheek’ was such that some youth NMC members were barely on speaking terms with their elders and betters after just a few months in the job, yet earned the lasting respect of other NMC members and succeeded in holding the line on key issues and holding to account those who like, wherever possible, to keep accountability to a minimum)
Surely youth members, as the voice of the next generation of leaders, have a role to demand more than the status quo, to challenge, push for change, resist the ‘we always did it like this’ mentality and seek to generate innovative ideas?
Surely senior leaders on the NMC should be supportive of this, even when it gets uncomfortable – real debate generates better outcomes after all.
ROVING ROLE MODELS
The current crop of ‘funsize’ NMC members is largely a smart bunch (and photogenic too, as is evidenced by the copious images of their various merry jaunts across Europe). Have these youthful luminaries been successfully ‘motivated’ to exchange dissent for some international exposure that is largely in the gift of the current leadership regime? Theirishscouter suspects not – young people in Scouting Ireland are not bought that easily – but is there a view held somewhere that keeping the kids busy will reduce their capacity to question authority? Throw in a shiny project to play with (take the Moot bid for example), and presumably the rug rats are happy, whilst the ‘grown ups’ get on with the business of ‘running’ the association, without any pesky juvenile interference?
Certainly, the smiling faces of jaded power brokers muscling in on selfies with the wide-eyed cherubs suggest that it’s all very cozy in some quarters of the NMC these days. However, if the youth members are not there to rock the boat, push the boundaries and drag the committee out of its comfort zone occasionally, why not just abolish the U26 rule and let the kiddies get on with playing with their Moot bid (or whatever the plaything of the day is) offline?
What can we expect from the next crop of rosy-cheeked fun-sizers when they take up office in a matter of months? One potential upside will be that the electorate will have the opportunity to make some real changes in the leadership line up at senior level and in doing so will be able to alter the entire tone of volunteer management in the association, potentially bringing meaningful youth participation back on the agenda within the NMC.
Imagine for example, some inspirational leaders who welcomed dissent and debate, who actively encouraged youth members in particular to challenge conventional thinking and who would feel secure enough in their various roles to be able to do this in an honest and transparent fashion.
The World Moot bid was a big win and all credit (in all seriousness) to the people who made it happen, including the Youth NMC members involved. Members of the National Management Committee however are arguably in a role best placed to support this sort of initiative, not necessarily to run it (the latter presumably is what the various programme teams and other committees are for).
WATCHDOGS OR POODLES?
The Irish Scouter see’s the benefit of having youth NMC members, but the NMC is of course a policy-making committee, not a project management team. A very senior scouter once expressed the view (privately) to theirishscouter that young people are ultimately not suitable for the NMC and in reality do not wish to be involved in it – they want to be up mountains, on the water and doing active things – in essence, the suggestion was that the NMC deals less with the ‘fun’ of scouting and more with the ‘business’.
It seemed like a patronizing comment at the time, but if there is a danger that the role of the youth member on the NMC could potentially end up as less ‘watchdog’ and more ‘poodle’ for the power-brokers, it might be time to welcome back the ‘C’ list nonentities from the old boys club, because at least with them, the ‘yes men’ status is clear from the outset.
Lets hope the next crop of pint-sized policymakers follow the honoured tradition of an agenda that is less kowtowing and more kicking ass. Every boat needs to be rocked occasionally – all the more so when they are floundering in stagnant water.