Manitoba 4-H members were among representatives from 35 countries at the second Global 4-H Summit last week
They may have come from 35 different countries, but they had at least one thing in common — 4-H.
Ottawa played host to 480 international delegates during the second Global 4-H Summit last week, about double the number at the first summit in Seoul, South Korea in 2014.
“I think the most amazing part of 4-H is that it took 100 years for this to be a global movement and it happened organically,” Shannon Benner, 4-H Canada CEO and chair of the Global 4-H Network, said. “It happened community by community. It didn’t happen by having a global body.”
The four-day event was modelled after what Benner described as the four pillars of 4-H leadership: community engagement and communication, science and technology, sustainable agriculture and food security, and environment and health.
“It’s been amazing,” said Neema Mutemi of Nairobi, Kenya. “There’s a lot of opportunities for mentorship on a personal level, just identifying someone who’s doing something similar to what you’re doing in a different country and seeing what it is that they’ve been able to do that you can borrow from.”
Unlike Manitoba, where 4-H is largely extracurricular, most of Kenya’s programming is offered through schools. Several countries, including portions of the United States, incorporate similar school-based models.
Each club in Kenya is centred around an “enterprise garden,” a group project that Mutemi says may range from raising animals (including chicken and rabbit farming projects less common in North America) to multi-storey vertical gardens in low-income urban areas, a project that joins food security with water conservation.
“There’s a lot for us to learn in terms of co-ordination, especially. I love that Canada has a decentralized system where every province has a governance structure and programs,” Mutemi said. She would like to see Kenya adopt a federated model, allowing counties to manage their own programming while the national 4-H program takes a supervisory role and focuses on fundraising.
The Manitoba perspective
Noel Fenez of the La Salle 4-H Club said the international exchange goes both ways.
The 12-year 4-H veteran was paired with a roommate from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for the week and said he has added delegates from the United States and Jamaica to his personal network.
“It’s one thing to get together and do this kind of thing in Manitoba, but when we can really kind of broaden our horizons to 35 different countries and everyone all over North America, it really broadens the scope,” he said.
Greg Penner, Manitoba’s 4-H Canada Youth Advisory Council member and an active part of the Anola Northern Lights Club, agreed.
His own interactions with international delegates outlined both the differences — for example, many of Jamaica’s clubs choose a single project that all members do — and similarities across national borders.
“I think leadership comes up more than anything else as one of the goals everybody’s aiming for and to sort of give the youth the ability to move forward and be independent and get good communication skills,” he said. “It’s really the skills that are more important than the individual projects that you’re taking.”
Starting from scratch
At just over six months old, the 4-H program in Kosovo is among the youngest in the world.
“I really wanted to go to Finland about this time last year, so I emailed a couple of organizations there and one of them was 4-H,” founder Çlirim Sheremeti said. “I saw that it was a really big program in Finland, but I didn’t know that it was a global thing.”
Several emails later, Sheremeti was on his way to Finland as part of that country’s youth exchange. While there, he became impressed with the program’s potential for positive impact on youth and, after returning home, organized a 4-H program.
Two school-based clubs have since been founded and have added 30 names to their membership.
“So far, we’ve been experimenting, trying to figure out what could work, what not, because obviously Finland is very different than Kosovo,” Sheremeti said. “What’s been working very well so far has been more leadership and teamwork-focused clubs,” he said.
“It was really interesting to talk to him and hear about what they’re doing in Kosovo to kind of establish 4-H and make it become something that’s a lot more prominent in the country,” said Josh Power, a delegate from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Renewing 4-H in Canada
Benner said she hopes the event will further bolster Canadian membership, which suffered decades of decline in the latter 20th century.
In 2011, the Globe and Mail reported that membership in Canada had fallen by over 60 per cent since the 1970s, driven partly by a lower farm population and increased competition from other youth activities. The decline sparked a major reimagining of the program to increase appeal in urban areas.
“We also have programs in science and robotics and some of the new really cool things that are communications,” Benner said, also noting one summit presenter who developed a street busking project.
The program has enjoyed a resurgence, according to the latest enrolment numbers. In early July, 4-H Canada announced that 2016 membership had increased by 600 over the previous year.
Despite the broadened scope in Canada, an estimated 60 per cent of all 4-H programs are agriculture or food-security based. Benner said the challenge will be in continuing to grow without losing the tight-knit appeal of a small organization.
“How do you look at engaging young people in these huge ‘feeding the planet’ questions and things that are so important to youth today and how do you keep that at a grassroots level?” she asked. “How do you keep it so that it’s about community impact; that it’s about making sure young people can succeed and thrive and contribute to their communities right here today?”