Both youth leadership and youth development programs, such as the National Citizens Service (NCS) The Challenge, have been proven effective in shaping the personal growth of their youth participants. Such is the close relationship between the two types of youth-targeted programs that both builds on the success of the other.
The two terms are also frequently interchanged but there are differences that must be noted especially for policy makers and program implementers. On one hand, youth development is a process that prepares its participants to meet the personal social and academic, even citizenship, challenges of adulthood via a progressive series of experiences and activities. The main goal: To develop their social, moral and emotional as well as cognitive competencies.
On the other hand, youth leadership is an external and internal process wherein the individual gains the ability to become a leader, such as in directing others on a course of action and influence their behaviour, among others. It is also about gaining the ability to analyse one strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and possess the confidence to achieve them.
Despite these differences, youth development and youth leadership programs are both connected to two complementary outcomes, namely:
• Increase in positive outcomes including increase in positive behaviours and attitudes, such as in academic performance, personal motivation, and interpersonal skills; and
• Decrease in negative behaviours, such as involvement in tobacco, drug and alcohols as well as in violent behaviour and street gangs.
When the youth become active participants in their own personal development via a wide range of exercises, experiences and activities, their present becomes more productive and their future more hopeful. This is exactly what youth development programs like NCS The Challenge work for – that the youth go out of their comfort zones, experience life in more positive ways, and become better persons for it.
Of course, the personal experiences and impressions of the young participants will differ within the same youth development and youth leadership program. For example, one individual will say that the experience has changed his views of life away from the streets while another participant will assert that the activities strengthened his resolve for community development as a career.
In both youth leadership and youth development programs, their implementers consider success based on the following parameters:
• Working development refers to the acquisition of positive skills, attitudes and behaviours essential for career success. Even involvement in community residential programs can contribute to gaining working skills.
• Learning development refers to the development of basic and applied skills for rational problem-solving and critical thinking activities.
• Thriving development refers to the development of interpersonal and intra-personal skills crucial for the maintenance of optimum physical and psychological well-being.
The bottom line: Both types of youth-related programs are designed to promote the overall interests, welfare and development of the future leaders of our nation.