Children Talking, Adults Listening


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What are the reasons for making children’s voices an integral part of a business’s processes? What are the benefits and challenges of implementing children’s participation?  These questions were discussed by speakers representing various sectors at the Global Child Forum at the Royal Palace in April 2018: HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Founder of Missing Chapter Foundation; Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, Member of the European Parliament and Johan Dennelind, Chief Executive Officer at Telia Company.

Children’s voices

Ten years ago, Telia Company, a telephone company and mobile network operator, noticed an increase in the digital lives of children. Recognizing the importance of this issue, they set out to do more to protect children and young people online using a three-pronged approach. First, they proactively blocked child sexual abuse material. Second, they used software that detected and reported child sexual abuse material on internal IT systems. Third, through outreach and engagement, they shared knowledge and experiences to bring others on board.

Wanting to move beyond those measures, two years ago, the company launched the Children’s Advisory Panel (CAP) with a purpose of listening to children to better understand their perspectives on online and digital life. Hearing what children have to say about the opportunities, challenges and benefits of life online helps the company improve its approach to children as tech users, and it’s good for business. “They give us insight,” said Johan Dennelind, “but that’s not why we were originally doing it. That’s a spillover, and we shouldn’t be shy in talking about this. They’re future customers and stakeholders, so there’s a real business meaning. Otherwise, it would not be sustainable.”

“(Children) give us insight, but that’s not why we were originally doing it. That’s a spillover, and we shouldn’t be shy in talking about this. They’re future customers and stakeholders, so there’s a real business meaning. Otherwise, it would not be sustainable.”

Johan Dennelind, CEO, Telia Company

Co-creating solutions

HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, shares Telia’s concerns about children’s online safety. Along with colleagues in business, she is working to redefine the rules of conduct online. She believes adults need to recognize that they, too, have online concerns. “If we’re not building a movement that includes a number of companies, co-creating with children and families, and helping families redefine interaction, we’re creating a crisis of empathy.”

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, addressed the role of government in allowing and encouraging child participation. According to Bildt, the European Parliament gives a public voice to children. “We invite children and their representatives… We make it our priority to mainstream children’s rights in all the work we do.”

Bildt’s experience has taught her that, by focusing on children, acquiring their input, and being willing to work across political lines, ideologies and nationalities, positive change can be brought about.

She offered instances when children had input into policies. For Safe Internet Day, for example, Bildt and two commissioners put children at the forefront, inviting children to speak, taking notes, learning from the children. “We were really listening. We are devising our policies based on what they told us.”

On November 20th, International Children’s Day was hosted in the European Parliament. Children put questions to the adults, including representatives from UNICEF, Eurochild and various government officials. “From this year on, we will do it in plenary, and 700 children will be taking over the plenary of the European Parliament and driving policy for the day. It’s a Europe-wide participatory process.”

In addition to listening to children when making policy, Bildt said, “We listen also to children outside the EU, because we are the biggest power in the world when it comes to humanitarian development and civil liberties.” Recent listening sessions have included trips to Niger to talk to girls returning from slavery in Libya, and with boys who had been working in Libya, Nigeria or Morocco. “We asked them how to combat trafficking. We listened to them, and we integrated what they said into policies.”

Children talking, adults listening

Princess Laurentien believes there’s a reason that most companies have difficulty implementing inclusion and participation: “It’s not only also bringing in children to talk about the issues affecting them. It’s being ready to share your business dilemmas with children.” Although child inclusion initiatives are to be applauded, adults tend to underestimate what it takes to really hear what children are saying.

Case in point: children advising municipalities on the issue of child poverty in the Netherlands. When adults think of children living in poverty, the impulse perhaps is to provide goods. But the Princess reported that, once the dialogue with the children began, the adults learned otherwise: “Children tell us it’s not about goods. It’s about being bullied at school, about feeling ashamed, about parents feeling ashamed. So, that’s what we should fix first.” The outcome of listening to children, then, can be insights about new ways to deal with old problems.

Global Child Forum Report 2018

Investing in every child starts when business and investors recognize their influence on children. At the 10th Global Child Forum at the Stockholm Royal Palace, we discussed these matters. But we also listened. Read the Forum report to be inspired, take part of case stories and to learn more about how your business can take action to support children’s rights.

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