Michael Heffernan shares his thoughts about being a member of the SNAP Leadership Panel, and his work as an #IWill Ambassador.
I don’t think there has been a better time to get involved in social action as a young person. One of the ways I do this is as a #IWill Ambassador, where I do more exciting things like snap photos with politicians and activists. Another way I act is as a member of the SNAP Leadership Panel where I help shape the next Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights, and do the less glamorous stuff: meetings, hard decisions and learning.
This week is #IWillWeek2022, where people from across the United Kingdom come together in support of youth social action. Today, the #IWill Movement is asking people to think on this idea: “It’s tough out here: Creating genuinely enabling environments for young people.”
So, who am I?
But back to the Panel, my journey to the Panel started as a part of the #MakeItRight campaign (this link will take you away from our website) in my home local authority of North Lanarkshire. There, I was part of a group of young people who co-produced an advertising campaign to inform local young people of their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. After this, I came across the Panel, and armed with my lived experience of human rights I joined the Panel earlier this year.
On the Panel, I am the youngest member by a decent distance. Surprisingly to me, that hasn’t in practice been a bad experience. Rather, I have actually found the Panel to be a genuinely enabling environment as a young person. For many young people – and this included me at the start of my time on this Panel – it is tough being able to make an impact in the places I have. However, with real support, just like I have, young people can be empowered to make that difference.
A truly enabling Panel
In the context of the Panel, this support has emerged in a variety of different ways. First, the SNAP Secretariat Lead has been an invaluable resource in helping me understand an unfamiliar world of acronyms, treaties and legislation. Her support, be it taking me serious when I say something reads like ‘gibberish’ or by creating opportunities to meet other Panel members, have been enabling in ways I think I won’t fully appreciate for years!
The most crucial of these opportunities has been the ‘buddy’ system on the Panel. After sending back and forth a few messages on Slack, I found real empowerment from my fellow Panel members. One sent me his explanation of what had happened prior to the Panel convening, and another asked to meet. What followed was a series of meetings, that while few in the grand scheme of things, have been truly invaluable. Be it helping me overcome my initial imposter syndrome about even being on the Panel in the first place, or to the more practical issues of action development.
For me, the impacts of the Panel’s enabling environment have been astounding, perhaps even life-changing. I’ve been able to talk about Education at our Parliament, from its very future to the nitty gritty of school uniform guidance. And, in no small part thanks to the confidence I’ve gained during my time (and admittedly, the connections!), I was able to meaningfully participate and make important people think about questions they had not before.
In this blog, I hope I’ve been able to show not only the experience of an enabling environment, but what it can create for the young people who create change within them. I mention a lot in discussion that not many people from my background get to have the opportunities I’ve had, and I always will. Those who do not have the family support I have had. But if more places were like this Panel, and, if our Actions help build that Scotland where everyone can live with human dignity, maybe the more of the next generation will.
Michael Heffernan is a member of the SNAP Leadership Panel and is in his final year of high school in a town in North Lanarkshire.