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Rax Interview with Scott Forbes

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Scott Forbes (20) started an internship with the British Youth Council (BYC) at the age of 17, began working with the British Council’s Global Changemakers programme at the age of 19 and currently runs his own global campaign, Global Forum 40. The Rax team caught up with Scott in January 2010.

What issues do you think are most important for young people to address?

There are so many issues that blight our world today that it is hard to answer this question, but to name just a few issues both on a national and international scale, young people are probably most concerned about the future of our environment – whether governments will step up to the mark to secure a fair and binding deal, which they so clearly failed to in Copenhagen. This is, however, not the only concern. Young people are worried about their future and what it holds, with the current recession leaving young people both vulnerable and unemployed. The latest statistics show that we are becoming a depressed generation in response to these problems, amongst many other factors.

How did you get started as a young campaigner?

I started out campaigning on local issues before moving on to the British Youth Council as a BYC Campaigner way back in November 2007, campaigning on issues which are important to us as young people in the UK such as; Vote's at 16, the Education and Skill's Bill, fighting for an Equal National Minimum Wage and many more. I really wanted to continue this and strengthen my skills as a campaigner and to inspire other young people to follow in the same footsteps. So, in June 2008 I was lucky enough to secure a four-month internship within BYC in the role of a Campaign's Intern. It was my job to help co-ordinate these major campaigns I had spent months campaigning on, as well as researching potential links with other organizations that would support BYC's campaigns such as, the National Union of Students and the Girl Guides and Scouts. But most of all, I extensively helped to support 248 young BYC Campaigners. I also attended events on behalf of BYC; which ranged from motivating and empowering young people to engage in politics, lobbying MP's and Decision Makers, taking part in a number of demonstrations to 'End Child Poverty' and marching with BYC Campaigners in the 'LOVE.EUROPE.RIGHT Project' through Central London. My time spent campaigning with BYC was truly amazing, and the best part about it all was the fact that I had done what I set out to do, inspiring other young people to take an active part in their communities.

What is your campaign aiming to achieve?

Global Forum 40 is a new unique initiative led by young people for young people, where we share the values and desires to equip those of our younger generation with the information, knowledge, resources and skills on issues like HIV/AIDS. We aim to create a self-sustaining model of peer-facilitated learning; creating the opportunity for young people to become key actors, in such a major social issue around the world. Acting as a bridge between local traditions and communities and new ideas and practices, young people become leaders in society, empowered by our scheme to create real, tangible and lasting social change in the field of HIV/AIDS.

Recent studies carried out by a number of organisations around the world, reveal that sex education programmes are failing in their aim to raise awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI's), and 72% of young people on a global scale feel they are being denied the right to accessible information on these topics.

Today’s world is one in which HIV and STI's are at an all time high. Young people account for approximately 3,400 new cases of HIV infection per day – almost half the total amount of 7000. Compounding this, 14 million young people have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving future generations without role-models – hindering emotional, moral and physical development. In the West, STI's, teenage pregnancy and HIV are also experiencing a steep rise, much of which stems from a lack of education and openness about issues of sex and sexual health for example; young people in Northern Ireland and Scotland aged between 14 to 18 were asked whether they knew what HIV was – 58% did not have a clue.

This is a global problem and isn’t just restricted to certain regions and countries of the world. The grim reality is that young people are at the centre point of this issue and are being hit hardest. We at GF40 recognize this and we believe now is the time to act and to tackle HIV/AIDS effectively so as to save future generations. We need to develop a sex education that works, one that develops young people’s skills so that they can make informed choices about their sexual behaviour, and feel confident and competent about the decisions and choices they make.

What kind of work did you do to inform yourself of the key issues and what tips would you give young campaigners in this stage of 'critical thinking and enquiry'?
It's fundamentally important to carry out research to get an understanding of the issue at hand, plus to get in touch with organisations already working in the field to see what advice they can offer you in terms of developing your organisation and cause, I was lucky to be connected to some incredible organisations such as; 'MTV Staying Alive' and the 'Terrance Higgins Trust' who provided me with support and advice and I would definitely recommend that other young campaigners do this.

 Did you ever use experts to back up your cause or inform your cause? How important do you think this is?

Yes - When carrying out research to shape Global Forum 40 and it's future campaigns, I was lucky to be able to get expert advice from Dr. Antonio Boschini who is one of the most respected Doctor's specialized in HIV and Hepatitis C throughout Europe, his currently resident at San Patrignano and is a deeply inspiring man - dedicating his time to young people. Antonio was able to provide guidance and point us in the right direction, I think this is an important step for any campaign as it proves a sense of legitimacy, the worst thing you can do is to tackle an issue as sensitive as this with the wrong information.

 What tips would you give young people about how to be a good advocate for their campaign?
The three P's and a C the best advice one can give - be patient, be persistent, keep pushing as change will happen!

In what ways is 21st-century technology important for campaigning and how does your campaign use it?

21st-century technology is having a major impact on campaigning; the new media are proving to be very useful tools for activists/advocates around the world. We use both Twitter and Facebook, which allow us to get our message across to just over 2,500 people – and the number is growing on a daily basis. Twitter also proves to be a very useful tool in lobbying MPs and various other politicians around the world, saving time and energy instead of having to send a swarm of e-mails, as the response is more than likely guaranteed on the same day in a matter of minutes. 

We also have an account on Taking IT Global, an amazing online network of organizations and just over 356,000 youth activists around the world. It provides a platform for exchanging ideas as well as seeking out new opportunities or potential funding – it really is a network worth belonging to and any young campaigner should consider registering: www.tigweb.org

What campaigning methods have you used?

I’ve taken part in many actions as an activist over the years, from demonstrations through Central London such as the ‘End Child Poverty’ rally to the ‘Put People First’ march during the G20, both of which were highly successful and had thousands of people joining the marches. This is a great way of sending a clear, strong message to the government, that we as a collective society demand a stronger commitment and change in various policies. It’s also a good way to get your cause out through the media.

Both of the marches that I attended had national coverage, they both even made the front pages of various established newspapers, like The Guardian, which effective as decision-makers and politicians read these papers and get to know the issue first hand. Another action, which can be just as effective, is simply lobbying your MPs. I remember spending an entire three days at Portcullis House in Westminster meeting with various MPs from different parties, to try and gain support for the British Youth Council’s campaigns, which proved to be very useful. It allows you to speak face to face and present your case, plus engage in a light-hearted debate to try to convince the MP. At least you know where that person stands when you leave!

What are your main tips to getting press coverage?
Main tips to getting press coverage; be inventive, be different, don't be afraid to be controversial, if your hosting a publicity stunt make sure you get people to attend in their numbers. It also helps to sometimes provide quotes from various established people in support of your campaign, or again if it's a publicity stunt secure a big name to be there, which will get your cause out through the media and draw them in.

What are the main obstacles you have come up against and how did you overcome them?

Good question haven't really come across many obstacles yet touch wood, but somewhere down the line I'm bound too, it's part of the uphill journey to being a successful advocate - I suppose you just have to keep pushing and carry on climbing that uphill struggle in making change happen. NEVER GIVE UP!

What key advice would you give young people who want to set up their own campaigns?

It’s fundamentally important you get to know the cause you’re fighting for, carry out research, consult with experts, know the market in the area of the campaign you’re working on and be different. Don’t be afraid to challenge people, but at the same time learn to take criticism with a pinch of salt, as not everybody will agree with what you’re doing and you’re bound to face opposition. But ultimately never give up. As Gandhi once said: “If I have the belief I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning”.

As a young person growing up with stories about Global Warming, war, economic collapse, global poverty, pandemics, street violence and terrorism, life can look pretty frightening. What could you say to give young people genuine positive hope for their future?

Forget about all the worries and issues around you, concentrate on your future, take time to volunteer in your local community and society. Get involved in a local campaign that you support, or be brave and set up your own campaign if there is something you’re fed up about. By doing this you'll be contributing to a better and more positive future. We can and we will be the generation to combat/provide solutions to the above, but we must work as one!

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