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YPARD: a youth movement experience for sustainable food systems?

How do you differentiate a movement from a community? How are “movement building” and advocacy connected? How do you establish and sustain a movement? 

To address these questions, the YPARD Representative for Uganda, Paul Zaake, and myself as chair of the YPARD’s steering committee were invited to deliver a guest lecture to a Bachelor students class in International Development Management, from the Van Hall Larenstein, University of Applied Sciences

Through YPARD’s model as an international network of young professionals whose mission is to enable and empower young agriculturists to shape sustainable food systems, we discussed the theories of movement and community building and we shared concrete YPARD cases of movement building for advocacy, on a global and national level. 

An international community for sustainability

YPARD, with its nearly 27K members registered on the website - double that on social media and through the 72 Country chapters – has characteristics of both movement and community building. We explained the choices we made with reference to Atkin’s theory

Our key message is that, based on our experience, if the purpose is to create a movement that wants to achieve social change in a sustainable way and long-term, we need to make sure that we build on these three points below, although generally attributed to community building:

  1. Nurture a sense of belonging and trust among the people. When YPARD members started to call themselves YPARDians, we knew we had created a strong international community that would keep going hand-in-hand for a long time. At YPARD, people particularly strengthen their ties around key nodes: specific global projects they get involved in, thematic working groups, national groups, social media groups etc. 
  2. Act collaboratively around a common cause that is based on common interests and needs. YPARDians’ commitment to YPARD’s common vision and cause is precisely because our common cause is built on common interests and needs. Theories of movement and community building oppose the two. If your movement is meant to happen on a short span (e.g. people are called to sign a petition or go to a March), this may not be an issue but if your cause requires long term engagement, it has to be anchored into people’s deep reality, needs and interests to keep them going.
  3. Prioritize quality over quantity (when prioritizing is needed!). While building a critical mass will probably always be instrumental in getting heard, what’s more important to us is the quality of the messages. Back in 2014, we had gone a great deal in creating avenues for young people to get involved in global strategic discussions and debates; yet, a question came up: “So, you are being heard; but what do you have to say?”. To achieve change for sustainable development, our input needs to be sharp and our voices united. By having comprehensive projects that help young people to both participate to empower themselves and empower themselves to participate (though capacity building), we generate powerful contributions that in turn get taken into account.

These three points tackle the challenge of many movements that, as expressed by Building Movement Project, fall at building strong relationships that glue people together as a movement. YPARD has at times intentionally used the term “movement” to highlight our common cause for social change, our agile structure and our active nature - we don’t only learn and support each other; we take collective actions! In fact, YPARD fairly is a “Transformational movement”: one that shifts power - enabling young people to have their say -, one that has shared values and an integrated vision, and one that collaboratively creates system change on long term. System change happens at two levels here: we influence Development and political systems to be fully youth-inclusive and ultimately, we shape sustainable food systems. Yet, YPARD has increasingly identified itself as an international community for the reasons above. Meanwhile, movement building is something we do around key advocacy moments and projects. 

Movement building and advocacy

We shared three cases of movement building and advocacy work: The Youth in Landscapes Initiative on a global level (founded by YPARD, IFSA and GAEA); and two YPARD Uganda’s advocacy work around establishing school gardens and their participation at the G20 Conference

Discussing with students around three concrete cases of movement building helped them to identify by themselves good practices. We liked that they emphasized, for instance, the crucial role of “local representatives” who fill the gap between those who don’t have much access to internet (if not at all) and who serve as intermediaries for sharing feedback, input and information both ways between grassroots and the international community. They also highlighted that one needs to appreciate what our advocacy messages may mean for other stakeholders’ reality for the latter to buy into our suggestions. Indeed, they were referring to some schools not being able to implement a school garden because of shortage in land despite their potential interest. Questions arise whether future innovations can be created to engage students in agriculture including those in schools with shortage of land for example by using digital tools or vertical gardening.

We hope this exchange will help students reflect further and prepare some strong movement building and advocacy plans in the coming weeks. As for YPARD, it is a great reminder to continuously reflect on and re-evaluate the terminology and concepts we are using, to stay relevant to the work we do and the messages we deliver.

We are always happy to hear about your feedback, great theories and examples on the subject, to sharpen our work. Please leave a comment below if you would like to share any thoughts and/or references! 

Photo credit: Marina Cherbonnier