Written by Kelly Ebbert

July was a big month for Youth RISE as we held our annual meetup in Nida, Lithuania, and we hosted the first of its kind E-Network Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. We went into our annual internal meeting with goals to effectively strategize and plan for our future as an organization. 

We utilized our time in Nida to gain a clear understanding of what we want to bring to the table, how to actively engage, and define who we are. Our meeting in Nida revitalized us, and we are ready to continue equipping youth with knowledge about drug policy and full spectrum harm reduction. 

We have existed for over 12 years, and it was time to fine tune our organization to enhance our future. We held important discussions regarding our involvement internationally and clearly understood the impact our own voice carries. We reflected on critical events we attended this year including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Harm Reduction International, and the Global Fund Training. Furthermore, we strategized on future structural development goals, and recentered our focus on what it means to be Youth RISE.

digital strategy
Pictured from L-R, Youth RISE members Joana Canêdo, Florian Scheibein, and Ishwor Maharjan

In Vilnius, we hosted the first E-Network Summit in which we came together with other youth organizations from across the world to connect and learn about what one another has been up to and how our roles intersect. We met with team members representing various organizations over 19 July and 20 July. 

Our very own Ailish Brennan began the summit recapping what we learned from our own strategy meeting. As the Communications Officer, she centered her presentation on digital strategy. She explored communication’s vitality to organizations both internally and externally, as we must be able to effectively mobilize ourselves and communicate our efforts to stakeholders. 

Seyi Kehinde of Youth Rise Nigeria followed with a discussion about the importance of peer education and how getting members of the community trained widens the scope of knowledge so that others may also be trained. Seyi underscored the idea that being active and being persistent is fundamental to the movement. SSDP Australia then offered a presentation focused on the harm minimisation model, the importance of community-led safety, and the crucial need for capacity building. Then, Kristin Karas, Director of Operations at Dancesafe and a fabulous organizational development consultant, led a discussion around key topics such as project management and implementing effective communication strategies.

Youth Lead taught us important lessons about getting the most out of social media messaging and the importance of maximizing engagement. Girls in Green further underscored social media’s role in current mobilization efforts as well as underpinning the need for those in priority countries to have a voice. Y-PEER addressed the importance of access to youth-friendly health services and highlighted the use of mapping services as a method of outreach.

Our summit meeting was quite effective as we moved into our second day. Y+ Network presented on READY, a movement to get young people involved in HIV response and create vital materials for those youths living with HIV. We then heard from En Plenas Facultades an organization providing university students with education on drug use and other engagements which has been utilized most effectively by method of the participatory teaching model. This discussion was followed by a briefing on SSDP’s Just Say Know program, a peer education model focused on properly educating young people about drugs and drug safety. 

We wrapped up with conversations led by YODA and SSDP International about the challenges and successes about managing a global network. Understandably, it is critical to increase engagement of youth members internationally, and these discussions highlighted key points about participation of members from underrepresented populations. 

Finally, CSSDP’s Alex Betsos led a conversation about Paradigma, a globally based youth-led coalition centered in reducing harms associated with current drug policies and elevating the importance of human rights. Youth RISE has played a role in Paradigma since its establishment a few years ago, and we will continue in our participation. This organization represents youth voices across nations who deserve to be a part of the discussion for the future of global drug policy. 

Our E-Network Summit underscored digital strategy and its relevance to our movement’s future.  Many discussions incorporated methods of online programs with common goals to get people oriented in various concepts of harm reduction. The implementation of online programs grants availability to diverse members of the community providing education and knowledge to wider groups of people as long as one has access to a computer. 

Coming together as a team is always beneficial for us, and we are thrilled that we were able to connect with so many bright, young minds from across the globe. Connecting face-to-face allows us to bridge the gap from our communities and come together to unite on youth involvement in shifting perspectives on drug policy, harm reduction, and ultimately to reduce stigma. Our international meetings were quite a success, and we look forward to implementing all of the various methods we learned into our structure as an organization.