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Student Engagement

Changing the Story is driven by a belief that, for social change to be truly transformational, young people must be central to making the decisions that affect them. Part of the way we support this vision is by creating as many high-quality opportunities as possible for young people to develop their skills, confidence and experiences, so that they feel equipped as young changemakers to tackle the challenges ahead. Crucially, these opportunities also allow us to critically examine our own approach to youth-led practice-research, ensuring that the young people we work with are part of our decision making structures, too. We recognise that young people have agency, and that this agency needs to be nurtured, documented and embraced in order for transformation to take place.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Fairey

Changing the Story and our global community work with children and young people from all walks of life. And as a global practice-research network that includes 38 universities in 17 countries, students have inevitably been part of CTS’ fabric from the start. Indeed, the project’s roots (including its name!) grew from a co-production project with a group of Leeds’ students who were working on a participatory film project in South Africa (the project was funded by the Leeds Footsteps Fund and continues to grow today).

Many of our projects include their own students in the design and delivery of their programmes. In Kosovo our project has worked in collaboration with Erasmus + to bring together students from the University of Pristina and Bournemouth University to explore cross-community peacebuilding.

In Leeds, as well as working with young people on her PhD project, Katie Hodgkinson also runs a student engagement module, working with Leeds undergraduates to foster a greater understanding of global citizenship. We challenged the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Liberal Arts students to create two films that highlighted the themes reflected within the work created by young people engaged in Changing the Story projects.

The group undertook research with participants from two Changing the Story projects:

Ilizwi Lenyaniso Lomhlaba (South Africa)


Building Trust for Truth-Telling Among Former Child Soldiers: Animation for Inclusion and Peacebuilding in Colombia.


The Changing the Story team also includes a Leeds Laidlaw Scholar, Jacqueline Adjei, curator of the Changemaker in Film Summit (July 2021), a film-inspired series of three events as part of our youth engagement strand. Jacqueline explains:

For the Changemaker’s in film summit, I went through the CTS archive of films to find films that particularly resonate with my perspective on the key issues facing young people today. The events were conversational in style ‘and discursive allowing the directors/filmmakers to talk through the filming process and broader themes surrounding the event.


In September 2021, Changing the Story provided a week-long work placement as part of the Arts Emergency work experience scheme, to offer an insight into International Development Research Project Management. Over the course of the week, Rachel engagement with the Changing the Story and PRAXIS team, and the wider network of researchers and young artists.

We encouraged Rachel to share her reflections in a creative output of her choice, which would take centre stage in Rachel's final day takeover of the CTS Twitter account.


In South Africa, two young artists from the University of Cape Town are organising a symposium alongside a youth subcommittee on the ImaginingOtherwise research project. In Colombia, four social work students from Universidad Claretiana have been trained on project aspects of monitoring and evaluation and systematization of data to support Cuál es la verdad? research activities.

What’s unique about the student engagement programmes that run across our network? They are founded on an understanding that the students involved are so much more than students; they are activists, artists, youth leaders, NGO founders, researchers and community members who have often had first-hand experience of the issues and solutions that we are trying to understand and uncover. This recognition of the multi-dimensionality of what makes up a ‘young person’ means that, through our programmes, we can challenge the traditional student-researcher relationship and, as a result, co-create new spaces for young people to shape the narratives which define them, both within our own projects and beyond.

In real terms, this has led to students setting up their own NGOs in Kosovo and India. It has led to applications for PhD scholarships in the field of Heritage and led to opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship and training on participatory action research through the Changing the Story Youth Research Board.



To find out more about how we engage with our student community, what we’ve learnt from them and what’s next, check out our blog series including

Color up Peace by PhD Student Lisa Glybchenko

The Allegory of the Fence by Masters Student Prudence Nkomo

Examining the Interpretations of Civic National Values made by Young People in Nepal by Management Student Samjhana Balami

Would you like to share a student-led opportunity with our network? Get in touch by contacting us at