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Embracing Permacrisis

How can out-of-school time programs help youth thrive in a new era of uncertainty?

Photo by Duy Pham / Unsplash

Since 2013, the team of lexicographers, editors and publicity staff behind the Collins English Dictionary has announced an annual Word of the Year. These words – which have included “photobomb” (2014), “fake news” (2017) and “lockdown” (2020) – are chosen based on a combination of factors, including how frequently they were used and the impact they had on the cultural conversation over the course of the year.

The Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022 is “permacrisis.” The managing director of Collins Learning, Alex Beecroft, says that this word – a Portmanteau of “permanent” and “crisis” – describes the feeling that "we are in an ongoing state of uncertainty and worry… [after] living through upheaval caused by the pandemic, severe weather, the war in Ukraine, political instability, the energy squeeze and the cost-of-living crisis".

As far as barometers of the global zeitgeist go, electing the word permacrisis as the Word of the Year could be seen as a pessimistic move. But, as Beecroft puts it: "Language can be a mirror to what is going on in society and the wider world, and this year has thrown up challenge after challenge."

In this article, we want to explore the questions: If it is true that we are living in a new era of uncertainty, what would it take to embrace this condition of permacrisis?

How can we build programs that support youth and help them thrive in the face of an uncertain future?

Learning to live with uncertainty

As the writer David Shariatmadari has put it: “Permacrisis is a term that perfectly embodies the dizzying sense of lurching from one unprecedented event to another, as we wonder bleakly what new horrors might be around the corner.”

Though we may not be able to take control of the external factors that give rise to this “dizzying” feeling of “lurching” from one crisis to another, we can do something about regulating our response to the ups and downs of this new and difficult era, where constant change and disruption are the new status quo.

In other words, to embrace the condition of permacrisis means developing resilience and adaptability in the face of change and uncertainty.

According to the World Health Organization, “resilience is related to processes and skills that result in good individual and community-health outcomes in spite of negative events, serious threats and hazards.” This might involve building strong, supportive communities, learning new skills, and finding ways to be self-sufficient and independent.

Rob Cross, Karen Dillon, and Danna Greenberg, writing for the Harvard Business Review, underline the importance of resilience to personal development - and they also point towards the crucial role that social networks play in the development of resilience, which we will discuss in the next section of the article.

“The ability to bounce back from setbacks is often described as the difference between successful and unsuccessful people,” they write. “But resilience isn’t just a kind of solitary internal ‘grit’ that allows us to bounce back. New research shows that resilience is also heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks.”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

How are we thinking about permacrisis at Bon Education?

As an educational consultancy and program design studio that creates impact programs for youth, we understand the importance of using out-of-school time to develop the necessary skills of resilience and adaptability to help youth successfully navigate the uncertain seas of the future.

Out-of-school time (OST) refers to the hours that youth spend outside of the traditional school day, such as during the late afternoons/evenings, weekends and school holidays. OST programs refer to the range of extracurricular activities they might sign up for during these periods of ‘free time’ (e.g., skills workshops, science camps, coding challenges, etc.).

In the context of learning to live in an age of permanent crisis, it is important to remember that “At the individual level, resilience is not a fixed personality trait, but a developmental characteristic that can increase or decrease over time and is affected by relationships, experiences and opportunities” (WHO, 2017).

From this perspective, OST programs can help build resilience and adaptability by providing youth with opportunities to learn and grow in a supportive environment. “Building and sustaining resilience requires the development of environments that are supportive of population health and well-being. Thus, resilience should always be seen in relation to the availability of such environments,” states the WHO.

OST programs and activities can provide a wide range of benefits for youth, including:

Most importantly of all, OST programs can provide youth with a sense of belonging and connection to their community.

Under the guidance of mentors who can offer support, encouragement and a listening ear when they need it, OST programs can give youth a sense of purpose and support during difficult times. As Bruce Daisley, the ex-Twitter vice-president, puts it: “True resilience lies in a feeling of togetherness, that we’re united with those around us in a shared endeavor.”

Put your values into action

At Bon Education, we work with organizations to build programs that are geared for empowerment. We engage with, research and understand our clients' problems, goals and values. Then we explore creative ways to translate those values into action.

By providing a range of growth-related opportunities, more chances to build supportive relationships with peers and mentors, as well as opportunities to contribute to the well-being of their communities, we are focused on giving youth the skills they need to succeed in an uncertain future.

As André Spicer notes in The Guardian:

Crises are like many things in life – only good in moderation, and best shared with others… When we feel some certainty and common identity, we are more likely to be able to summon the creativity, ingenuity and energy needed to change things.”