Young people don’t need permission to change the world. They do need supportive adult allies who can offer encouragement and guidance on their changemaking journeys. For Allan, his changemaking journey was catalyzed by a dedicated adult ally, Ashoka Fellow Marlon Parker, and his social venture, RLabs. By participating in and eventually co-leading initiatives through RLabs, Allan is incubating technology-driven ideas for improving the lives of young people across South Africa.
Growing up in a neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa ruled by gangs, Allan van der Meulen remembers that it was “easier to find a drug dealer than a library.” Allan completed high school, a rarity in his community, but he did not have specific goals in mind after graduation.
Looking for a jazz cafe one night, Allan, 19 at the time, stumbled upon Ashoka Fellow Marlon Parker’s RLabs, an organization that enables young people to design technology-based solutions that address social challenges in their communities. As a training and leadership development hub, they told Allan that his opinion mattered, which is something he did not hear growing up. He received an internship at RLabs where he developed his technical, professional, and changemaker skills through experiential learning. Soon, he began to facilitate classes, lead new programs, and apply his own creative ideas into tangible innovations.
These experiences helped Allan developed a keen interested in addressing challenges surrounding youth unemployment in South Africa. Today, Allan is the project lead for Zlto, an RLabs program that offers young people who volunteer in their communities a virtual currency to purchase things they need—from clothing to haircuts—from local businesses through blockchain technology.
With practical experience and confidence, Allan is also launching his own initiative on the side alongside a team of other young changemakers. He is creating a new platform to help increase young people’s chances of landing job interviews with local employers by offering young people a space to post short videos of themselves talking about their skills and abilities rather than submitting static words on a CV. Through this venture, Allan is not only bringing together businesses and young people, but he is embodying the tenets of changemaking—seeing a problem, building a team, and creating a solution.
Allan has become a public speaker to spread these tenets and inspire everyone to confidently see their own power to create a change. Speaking to adults, he says: “Put youth in charge. Trust youth to lead. We best understand our problems.” And to young people, he says: “The philosophy of Changemaking is you don’t have to accept the problem, you don’t have to accept the injustice, you can change it...”
Through RLabs, Allan found his changemaking pathway to LeadYoung and now is co-leading the Everyone a Changemaker movement to ensure that changemaking becomes the new norm in South Africa, not the exception.