Opinion: The young are still idealistic

International NGOs are elitist, snobbish and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They are in danger of losing touch with young people despite the fact that under-25s in Britain are increasingly engaged in social movements which campaign on international issues.

These are some of the criticisms that will be put to key players in and around the sector when they meet this month to discuss a paper commissioned by the British Overseas NGOs for Development (Bond).

There is nothing new about NGOs worrying about renewing their supporter base and engaging younger supporters. What has changed is the way people - particularly young people - want to engage with charities. On the one hand, young people define giving in broad terms: from trips to charity shops to helping out neighbours. On the other, they want charities to place less emphasis on giving funds and more on giving time.

Of course, asking anyone about what they give and what they intend to give is tricky. Good intentions may be different from reality. The experience of political parties may provide some clues: more and more young people say they sign petitions, boycott certain products and march for a cause.

But only a tiny minority directly give their time, and even less money, to any political party.

The good news is that while trust in politicians has been in decline, young people still trust charities more than other people do. And they are right to encourage charities to ask them for their time as well as money. However, increasing numbers of international NGOs want volunteers with developed skills and the capacity to offer a lot of time. So, the space for engaging young people abroad is limited.

But there is no shortage of idealism among young people. The challenge for international NGOs is to be bold about the role that campaigning has in making a difference and to ensure that campaigns resonate with young people. And the challenge for young people is to take an active role before they volunteer abroad. Rachel O'Brien is director of external affairs at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Lisa Harker is recovering from an accident

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