We live in a world that is changing rapidly, and not always for the good of all. How do we ensure that we can come up with solutions faster than the problems? Mahika’s story shows that if all of us, particularly young people, had the opportunities and support to solve the problems they care about, then our world would be a much kinder, fairer and better place for everyone.
After school and homework, Mahika gets online in her home in San Jose, California in the United States and connects with changemakers from across the world. Like her and others in the network she created, these teens are solving social problems in their schools and communities. “Really caring about a problem is what sets you apart, not your age or whether you have a college degree,” she says. Mahika’s mom had always instilled in her and her sister the importance of helping others in her community.
At 14, Mahika signed up as a virtual tutor for girls in Africa. This volunteer experience led her to explore international development issues and read all she could. Mahika discovered that, across the globe, aid systems were failing the communities who needed them most. “No one was actually asking or listening to these people… the projects aren’t designed with and for their intended communities,” said Mahika. “What better resource than the untapped potential of developing communities' youth to be the drivers of change in their communities?”
Mahika founded AYANA International, a new organization that holds a youth innovation lab helping young people in developing countries, ages 12-22, identify problems in their communities and design with their own solutions. The most compelling ideas are then funded by external partners. Working in teams, the young people implement their ideas and take responsibility for their continued success. In less than a year, AYANA has facilitated ten groups of young changemakers across Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Rwanda. Their projects include a hand-washing station that reduced sickness and increased school attendance, a mobile library that gives kids access to books and reading, and a project providing at-risk adolescent girls with mental health services and computer literacy training. “Youth emerge from our program with a new look at the world,” Mahika explains.
“They begin to see problems as opportunities.” In a world that is rapidly changing, this ability to adapt to and drive change in a positive way is not something nice to have, it is critical, particularly for young people. “I think that if we lived in a world where everybody did that. . . an everyone a changemaker world, then we would start to see not just short-term handout initiatives, but real systemic changes in our society and in our problems that are holding some people back.”
Caroline DelAngelo, Lucy Eills, and Maria Merola contributed to this story.