Interview with Marc Fernandes on Youth-Adult Partnerships

Marc Fernandes

Marc Fernandes

For over eighteen years, Marc Fernandes has been deeply involved in the organizational, programmatic, policy, and advocacy sides of youth development and community engagement efforts across sectors. He has provided extensive positive youth development training and consultation to government jurisdictions, school districts, and community-based organizations. Marc specializes in using youth-adult partnership theory and practice as a framework for youth development and organizational and community change. He envisions a time when all youth-serving systems will engage youth as active partners in decision-making processes rather than treat them as passive recipients of services. Currently, Marc works as a consultant in NYC. He lives in Queens with his wife Ivette and their sons Luca and Johan. Learn more about Marc here.

Tell us about your work. 

A lot of what I do as a consultant is work with organizations to help them think strategically about how they engage the youth they serve and help them move from seeing youth as passive recipients to active partners. It is important to think about how youth can play meaningful roles, not only in program design and implementation, but larger organizational thinking as well. How can organizations rethink the way that they do business to see young people as having the capacity to participate in larger conversations that are impacting their lives? In addition, from a social justice framework, believe that youth have the right to participate in these kinds of conversations and processes and create intentional structures for engagement.

Through my graduate studies in Urban Policy and Leadership, specializing in youth policy, I focused my research on youth-adult partnership within organizations and systems.  I looked at when young people are engaged as equitable thought partners in decision-making processes about their own lives - what are the impacts of that - not only on youth development, but on adult development, organizational change, and community change as well.

Any program, practice, or policy that adults put into place on behalf of youth - we need to restructure into creating opportunities for those young people to be equitably at the table with a sense of shared power and control.

Why is youth involvement important in the development of educational materials for young people?

Firstly, I think there's a lot of value developmentally in young people playing a role. It can help build a sense of self-efficacy, a sense of ownership, a sense of direction in their education. I think at any age, young people should have the opportunity to participate in meaningful actions that directly tie to real life experiences and learning.  It goes back to having power and control over their own lives.

Secondly, I think it's important that young people are directly engaged in the development of education materials because they bring an understanding of their experience and what it means to be a young person that adults cannot cultivate. Not every young person is the same, so if you’re designing curriculum for different demographics, it would be valuable to bring those diverse voices into the planning process. Homeless youth, queer youth, youth of color, or the intersection of them all for example  - they know their experiences, their knowledge, their culture, their world, and they need to be part of the shaping of their education. Youth have an understanding of what they need, what is relevant, and how it relates to the communities they are a part of and those perspectives need to be valued and incorporated into the materials.

What advice do you have for organizations like Nest who are creating materials for youth? 

To be able to do real partnership work with young people, where we see them as valid participants in design, we need to first challenge our own positions of power as adults, as well as own the fact that we are not experts of young people’s lives. Yes, we might be “content” experts in certain areas, bring wisdom from our own life experiences, and hold positions of privilege and access, but to say that we are the most knowledgeable in terms of what youth need to be successful is problematic. So, the first step is really to get adults to think differently about themselves, how they perceive youth and the roles they can play.

As an organization, it's really about shifting the culture because as much as you might have a team of folks that really believe young people should be participating - unless there is a culture shift that validates youth where they are and what they can offer- the practical side doesn’t mean anything. At the same time, the organization needs to acknowledge the possible limitations adults have in successfully partnering with youth and the developmental growth they as adults need to go through as well. This process of adult and youth development happens simultaneously. This acknowledgement can help shift the theoretical to the practical in a more sustainable way.

In terms of practicality, it’s identifying as an organization where within the system partnership, youth engagement, and youth voice can be the most successful. You cannot make change in every facet of the system overnight.

So, start small, identify champions within the organization, and then work on collective issues that are both important to the youth and the adults within your system. If you don't choose something that you're working on that's really valuable and important to both, you are not going to be able to build the interest, capacity, and potentially see greater outcomes. Furthermore, these small efforts need to be modelled within the organization and for the outside community to see. Then try to replicate in little ways and build on those successes. Over time, you’ll see the value.  Adults will see the value of young people participating as partners and what will end up happening is you will start to see organizational change and hopefully community change as well.

Anything else you'd like to share? 

I think for readers it's really important to think: What’s my role? What's my capacity? Where do I interface with youth? Where can I see change take place? And even if you don't interface with youth, if you are in an organization that serves young people, what are the ways you can think more strategically and intentionally about incorporating the voices of those you are trying to serve into your process? I think little things can happen, in all kinds of systems, even in the most bureaucratic ones, that move the dial from youth being seen as passive recipients to being engaged as active partners in processes directly impacting their lives. It just takes time and work. Hard work!