Internships for Sustained Engagement is a case study that highlights the features of successful sustained engagement. These features include: internship programs that are creative, adaptable, and industrious; capacity-building opportunities; understanding that youth learning is critical and transformative; programs that build on the knowledge and experience of the youth; hands-on learning and direct participation in community-driven development and local cultural activities; and paired groupings of Canadian youth and youth from the exchange country for strengthened relationships and sustained engagement.

Canada World Youth has been running youth internship programs for many years and has been able to sustain and expand its work over time. Canada World Youth has had to be creative, adaptable, industrious, and committed to their programming and capacity-building. Sustained youth engagement means that youth learning is critical and transformative, youth understand how and why they are already engaged, and programs build on the knowledge and experience of the youth.

Canada World Youth offers Canadian youth (aged 17 to 25) the opportunity to have hands-on volunteer experience through the Youth Leaders in Action program. The program “allows youth to directly participate in community-driven development projects in the areas of environment, health and gender equity in one of their 13 partner countries” (CWY).

Youth are part of a team of young people from Canada and from a partner country who volunteer for 6 weeks (short program) or 4-6 months (standard program) on community-driven development projects. The 4-6 month Youth Leaders in Action program includes one phase in Canada and a second phase in a partner country. Each Canadian volunteer is paired with a volunteer from the exchange country for the duration of the program. The reciprocity of this program and relationship building is, in part, what makes it an example of sustained youth engagement.

The 6-week, short Youth Leaders in Action program takes place in the partner country only. While in the partner country youth are busy doing volunteer work, community-based activities, spending time with the host family, and group activities. Both the 6-week and the 4- to 6-month Youth Leaders in Action programs include:

  • Intercultural learning that allows youth to directly engage with and learn about the cultural activities of the local community through active participation. Living with a host family is one of the main ways youth get to know another culture, community, lifestyle, language and food.
  • The volunteer work youth participate in is led by the partner organizations and the community. While overseas, participants contribute to community-driven development projects run by CWY’s partner organizations. During the 4-6 month program, in Canada, youth volunteer for local community service organizations such as homeless shelters, food banks, youth clubs, environmental conservation centres, meals-on-wheels services, schools, assisted living centres, or divisions of local government.
  • Pre-departure training, volunteer orientation camps, community orientation camps and educational activity days (CWY).

Youth who have completed the Youth Leaders in Action program have returned from internships with a broad exposure of international development issues, a context for global relations and cultural identities, as well as a transformative learning experience, often changing the direction of their lives. Learning about home and abroad are essential components of solidarity building, providing youth with a sense of the larger picture that informs the issues in which they get involved. These youth have often sustained their engagement through getting involved in other youth-serving organizations, employment as project supervisors with Canada World Youth, participated in Canada World Youth’s Alumni Program or the Student Network, or, alternatively, found employment with other organizations that do similar youth-related work.

Related indicators of success

Organizations have:

  • a well-articulated vision;
  • the ability to document and demonstrate success;
  • the ability to adjust to changing social, economic, and political trends;
  • support from policymakers and the public;
  • the ability to identify and tap into necessary monetary and in-kind resources;
  • strong internal governance systems;
  • clear and convincing plans to harness key resources for sustainability;
  • further opportunities for engagement after completing a one-off action;
  • youth shared agency between youth and mentors.