It’s almost a year to the day since the start of the riots which tore through several of our major cities – destroying buildings, livelihoods and in many cases, faith in humanity. Destructive, violent and angry – that’s the picture that was painted of our young people. In the aftermath of such unprecedented civil unrest, it was difficult not to be swept up in the tide of vitriolic media coverage. Haphazard labelling of all those born in the same decade as the real criminals didn’t help either. But was this really the swan song of a lost generation?

Our work with groups of highly motivated, creative teenagers as part of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) tells a different story. Five years since it was launched in 2007, 40,000 young people in England have participated in a programme that aims to create the next generation of passionate and committed philanthropists by providing ‘real life’ experiences of giving. Pupils choose a local charity that best addresses their chosen issue – from chronic illnesses to mental health; support for ex-gang members or ex-servicemen – the choice is theirs.

Before long, they’re working with charity staff and fundraisers on a presentation for a judging panel – not far off the ‘Dragon’s Den’ if you want to draw real-life comparisons. The best team wins a £3,000 donation for their chosen charity and the satisfaction that their efforts are rewarding those less fortunate than themselves. It’s a message that rarely fails to hit home. The programme is suitable for pupils of all abilities and feedback in a York Consulting evaluation report, published in June, shows how much they enjoy and value taking part.

Last night, we celebrated the one millionth pound donated to charities as a result of successful YPI presentations. It’s a huge achievement that just wouldn’t have been possible without the initiative and tenacity of the young people, teachers and charities we work with. Thanks to £303,800 from the Social Action Fund, awarded in June, we’re expanding the programme to the Midlands and North West later this year, so 8,000 more pupils can get involved.

Anniversaries are a chance to consider what has happened in the interim – a time for celebration or commiseration depending on the occasion. In the case of the riots, I think this summer is an opportunity for both. Celebrating because while many of our young people are crying out for guidance, they’re not lost and certainly shouldn’t be written off. At the same time, commiseration that so many people suffered at the hands of mindless criminals with too much time on their hands.

The YPI won’t solve far-reaching social problems but it is a force for good with champions up and down the country. As Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society said recently: “YPI broadens young people’s horizons, empowers them to address community issues and gives them real opportunities to develop teamwork and presentation skills.” It’s not rocket science, just common sense.

To find out more about how you can get involved visit www.instituteforphilanthropy.org/ypi or phone 020 7240 0262.

About the author

Alex Reynolds, YPIAlex Reynolds is Director of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI). He joined the YPI in August 2009. Before that he was Education Advisor at CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) where he designed and developed ‘Green Day’, an event about climate change for schools, which involves 100,000 pupils across the country annually. Prior to CABE, Alex was head of Humanities and later Director of Studies of the Oporto British School in Portugal. Alex was part of the inaugural cohort of TeachFirst and taught Geography for two years at the West London Academy.

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