Interview: Information is power - Louise Macdonald, chief executive, Young Scot

Joe Lepper
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Louise Macdonald, is positively evangelical about the importance of information for young people.

Louise Macdonald. Credit: Simon Hollington
Louise Macdonald. Credit: Simon Hollington

"Information is a passion of mine. It unlocks doors and underpins their outcomes in a range of areas, whether it be health, schooling, employment or training, " she says.

Taking this strength of opinion into account it is easy to see why Scottish information service Young Scot decided she was the best candidate for the chief executive role, which she took up last week, beating off competition from 80 other applicants.

For Macdonald a key priority as chief executive will be to build on the organisation's use of new technology, in particular online social networking and mobile phone communications. This has already included the development of a mobile cyber cafe, which involves a van kitted out with laptops and broadband access that travels around Scotland, with the aim of turning any venue into an instant internet cafe.

Macdonald says: "Social networking is something we are keen to take forward and tap further into. Technology moves so quickly and using digital communication is second nature to young people, which means we have to ensure we are following how they want information, not just the type of information."

Another major focus for the organisation is its consultation work. A recent example was a link-up formed this year with the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum. This includes those in the forum carrying out an audit of Young Scot itself, to assess how well it is meeting their needs.

Macdonald is experience at the charity, which she joined as communications manager in 2000 and was promoted to deputy chief executive three years later, were also important factors in her appointment, as was her previous experience in journalism, volunteering and public relations.

After spending time as a journalist from 1988 to 1992 at newspapers in England and Scotland, including a stint on the short-lived tabloid Sunday Scot, Macdonald became "disillusioned with journalism". In order to tap into her passion fro empowering people she became a volunteer at her local Citizens Advice bureau, which she still chairs.

Two years as manager of East Lothian Volunteer Centre and PR roles at Family Mediation Scotland and Community Learning Scotland followed before she joined Young Scot.

"While I became disillusioned with journalism I never lost that passion for information and its power. I just found other ways to achieve that," she says.

But while her experience of PR makes her well equipped to lead Young Scot she is also aware of how unusual it is for a communications professional to take the top role at any organisation.

"I was first aware of how unusual this was when I was deputy chief executive and I was taking the Chartered Institute of Public Relations diploma. The others on the course were shocked I was a deputy chief executive, which surprised me," she says.

Macdonald is determined to act as a champion for youth information and ensure information services are a priority of Scottish Government policy. So far she has been impressed with the new Scottish National Party-led government: "The tone and the language used when it comes to youth information so far has been very positive and there seems to be a clear commitment."

But while lobbying, consultation and new technology are significant elements of Young Scot's work, so too is what she calls "the basics of an information service".

She adds: "We must not forget the fundamentals. There is so much to know when you are young. If a 13-year-old needs to know basic stuff about relationships and how much they should be getting for their paper round then they need to know that we are there for them."

BACKGROUND YOUNG SCOT

- Young Scot provides information and advice on citizenship to young people aged between 12 and 26

- It is a registered charity and has a membership of about 310,000 young people

- Core services include a Young Scot Card, which acts as proof of age as well as offering discounts in shops

- Other services include information books, publication of a Young Scot magazine and the running of a confidential information line

- www.youngscot.org.

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