“It’s a bank made by young people for young people”. This is the defining slogan of the Youth Bank according to Patrik Vesan, Associate Professor of Political Science at Aosta Valley University and volunteer at the Fondazione Comunitaria della Valle D'Aosta (Aosta Valley Community Foundation). “Specifically, this means that a Community Foundation provides funds, made up of donations received, for a committee of young people aged between 15 and 25 who are tasked with using these funds to promote projects developed by their peers and aimed at their own local communities”.
Each year, Community Foundations carry out a selection process to identify ten or so young people who become the ‘Youth Bankers’ that make up these committees. The Youth Bankers are trained to understand how it all works and what their tasks are.
“First of all, these youngsters have to establish the areas that they need to work on and invest in to improve life in their communities. Once these objectives have been identified, they have to write one or more public service announcements calling for proposals”, explains Vesan. “They have to come up with the announcements themselves. Us ‘adults’ are limited to offering technical assistance and ensuring that everything being carried out complies with current regulations. It is their responsibility to promote these calls aimed at formal and informal groups of young people in the area. This essentially creates ‘peer-to-peer’ communication. Once applications have been received, the Youth Bankers select the participants and, ultimately, the winners”.
The Youth Bank is a bank made by young people for young people.
Experiences differ across Italy. Some of the most noteworthy examples of Youth Banks include the ‘Fondazione Provinciale della Comunità Comasca’, the ‘Fondazione Mirafiori di Torino’, the ‘Fondazione della Comunità di Monza e Brianza’ and the ‘Fondazione Comunitaria della Valle D'Aosta’. “The idea was actually born in Northern Ireland, where they were looking for a way to bring young Catholic and Protestant kids together in Belfast. Then the model found its way to the United States. It is always in complicated areas. From those ground-breaking beginnings, an internationally recognised format was established under the banner of the Youth Bank International association.
Social innovation projects that foster empowerment through the proactive participation of youngsters.
At the heart of the Youth Banks is the idea of empowerment. “It’s a term that’s often quite ambiguous, and, in most cases, difficult to translate into concrete proposals. It is a process that is always linked to other concepts, including engagement, responsibility, participation and capability. In this sense Youth Banks represent interesting social innovation projects that foster empowerment through youngsters pro-actively contributing to changing their communities from the bottom up”.
The Youth Bank wants to upgrade. “The idea that we have in mind is that the training projects we hold in schools—which participants can already get credit for—would become business simulation projects recognised in terms of work experience which could, with time, become relevant to international mobility within Erasmus projects”, explains Vesan.
Costs are never too high when a choice is clear: “We want young people to learn how to manage the money that we provide, but also learn how to fund-raise and to study sustainable formats”, explains the professor. As a matter of fact, the ‘Fondazione di Comunità di Monza e Brianza’ published the first call for proposals in 2014. Each year, the total budget has been between 40,000 and 60,000 Euro for contributions that can be worth up to 60% of the total cost. The maximum cost of each project is 15,000 Euro. On the other hand, the Youth Bank of the Fondazione Comasca provides 150,000 Euro to be invested in public interest projects. These are given a maximum of 10,000 Euro each and the contribution cannot exceed 75% of the project cost.
But why have Youth Banks only appeared within Community Foundations (at least, in Italy)? For Vesan, the answer is easy: “It may be just by chance. The reason is that they are the first organisations to pay attention to these issues and are more sensitive regarding certain issues. But in some cases, particularly in the Como area, there are projects that are also supported by social enterprises based in region that the Community Foundation relies on. This is because a Community Foundation that does it job properly is, in reality, a charitable intermediary. Therefore, in theory, a Youth Bank can work with lots of different entities: there are not any clear boundaries. Of course, what we do need is a culture of giving and change, otherwise it’s not worth it”.