Empowering Young People in the 21st Century

Report on the National Conference hosted by the Brahma Kumaris at Global Co-operation House, London, on Tuesday 2nd November 1999

Young people are a product and a reflection of the society in which we live. If young people are to be happier, more positive and purposeful, then we have to look at our own vision and values and enter into a dialogue over the way forward for all. At the heart of this dialogue is the concept of spiritual growth as the basis of empowerment.

Empowerment is a value-based, person-centred approach to the challenges facing everyone, especially young people. It is the missing part of the jigsaw in the current debates on disaffection and citizenship.

There was something refreshingly different about this conference, which was supported by 13 national youth organisations. It is part of the process of bringing the concept of values based empowerment to the awareness of young people, those who work with and for young people and policy makers.

  • It was ambitious in its scope, seeking to change the way young people see themselves, as well as how they are perceived by others, with a view to enabling them to feel more valued and better able to fulfil their potential and play a meaningful part in the community.
  • It was designed to give participants an experience of empowerment, rather than just listening to others talking about it. Participants were led through a process which started with them sharing a 'peak' experience when they felt really empowered and ended with them creating and sharing their vision of a future in which everyone is empowered.
  • It 'walked its talk' in so far as young people played a major and inspiring role in both the planning and presentation of this inter-generational and multi-cultural event.
  • It attracted a large and diverse audience - over 250 people from many different organisations, ranging from the Scout Association and Moral Rearmament to the probation and prison services, as well as numerous youth organisations.
  • The mood of the conference was positive and uplifting. People had come together to recognise and celebrate the potential of young people to contribute to society and, consequently, they were keen to share ideas and network.

The speakers included:

Four young people who are active in the community. Amongst other things, they spoke about the need to get involved in the world and to take power now, rather than passively wait for it to be given at some indefinite date in the future when 'grown up'; of how young people are very aware of the issues and need to make their views known and how those in positions of authority should actively seek their opinions and act on them. This was a theme which was to be repeated throughout the day.

Sir David Ramsbotham, H. M. Chief Inspector of Prisons, who spoke passionately about societyís duty to recognise and encourage the potential of each young person, 'If you dispirit your young, you dispirit tomorrow, as well as today.' He also stressed the importance of developing good relationships between younger and older people. This required spending quality time with each other, something which is increasingly difficult to do, whether a parent, teacher or prison officer. For this reason, Sir David was a strong advocate of the idea of 'mentoring' ie an experienced person supporting, advising and guiding someone in need of their assistance.

Judy Simpson, the former world champion athlete and ex-Gladiator star, who highlighted the importance of self-motivation and determination as a source of empowerment. She also questioned the dubious nature of some of the so-called 'role models' which the media encouraged young people, especially young women, to emulate with their strong emphasis on physical attraction, rather than achievements or abilities.

Mark Hodge, aged 19, one of the organisers of the international World Voices Conference. He spoke of the desire of young people to give something back to society and how they can, and do, make a difference. Empowerment should not be at the expense of others; that's were values come in. We should also try to remove the barrier of the label of disaffection and say to young people, you have something positive to contribute.

Sister Jayanti, European Director of the Brahma Kumaris. She spoke on the theme of 'self sovereignty', ie our ability to empower ourselves by taking control of our thoughts, words and actions and tapping into our inner spiritual qualities and powers through the practice of quite reflection/meditation. In this way we are able to respect ourselves, and others, and use the values which unite us all to create a society in which in everyone is empowered.

Maxi Jazz, lyricist and rapper with the hit band 'Faithless'. He spoke movingly about how the power of positive thought had changed his life and the need for confidence based on ìoverwhelming self belief - no matter whatî because we become what we think.

As the day progressed, it became apparent that the values we subscribe to as individuals are key to the issue of empowerment. If we act in accordance with our inner/core values, such as respect, integrity, humility, love and trust, we are much more likely to have self-respect, feel good about ourselves and others and be successful in our activities. Furthermore, paying attention to values helps us to make the best use of resources and encourages the development of more inclusive and co-operative ways of working at all levels of society.

How exactly this will be done remains to be seen. Various initiatives will follow that will incorporate these ideas. This conference did not set out to answer all the questions but to act as a catalyst and start a dialogue about the way we view and deal with not only young people but also each other. If young people are to be empowered, we must all be empowered.

In this dialogue it is crucial that we respect each other and recognise the needs of all people and their right to be listened to, heard, acknowledged and encouraged to play their part.

The 'next step' in this exciting and challenging process will be a 24 hour Focus Group meeting in March at the Brahma Kumaris' Global Retreat Centre, Oxford. There, conference participants, and others, will share their ideas and practices and begin working together to create a society in which all young people, regardless of their race, gender, creed, disability or sexual orientation, are able to fulfil their potential and play a meaningful and active part in the community. Through mutual respect and co-operation and the sharing of resources, ideas, power and decision-making we can make it happen. The conference was an important milestone in this process.

The time has come to notice, respect, listen to and involve young people in our future.

For further information about the Focus Group meeting or to order a copy of the conference report, please contact

Liz Corrigan, Living Values: Empowering Young People in the 21st Century
Tel: 020 8727 3355 Fax: 020 8727 3351
E-mail: liz.corrigan@uk.bkwsu.org

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