Misconceptions about Young People
“We are in a historic moment. If this year has taught us anything, it’s how quickly things can change beyond recognition, and how vital our skills in adaptation and resilience are,” says Shafat Khan, facilitator of The New Way Forward: How Young Changemakers are Leading a New Normal.
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought economic, social, health, and educational disruptions to the world. And while young people have been found to be particularly vulnerable to these disruptions, many have stepped up through volunteering and launching initiatives to support their communities. “However,” Shafat says enthusiastically, “This is not new. Young people have been part of some of the biggest social and environmental movements of the modern era. This culture of young people changemaking just hasn’t been encouraged enough.” Midria, Liv, Amaya, and Victor reflect on their own contributions to a culture of young changemaking, and offer encouragement to those wanting to make change— and ultimately, find certainty.
Midria de Silva Pereira
Midria’s journey of changemaking started with a slam poetry competition she initiated with her friends at the University of Sao Paulo, which became a very receptive space for Black students, Indigenous students, and students coming from the outskirts of town that had been historically marginalized by the university. It started small, but ended up becoming something bigger than she could have imagined, as it attracted other students from the university and became an important event for the whole school community.
When asked about what she wishes she would have known when she started her journey, Midria says,
While young people may be intimidated by having no experience in changemaking, Midria tells them, “We have other experiences that are not necessarily related to the path we are following, but there is no ‘lack of experience.’ Just go with the flow and see where things go.” She also urges young people to contribute to something they are passionate about.
Liv started her changemaking journey at eleven years old, when she had the opportunity to attend the Greater Manchester mayoral campaign. There, she noticed that adults talked about issues that affected young people, but rarely asked young people for their input.
Challenging the status quo, Liv decided to speak out about an issue she was passionate about: the travel costs in Manchester which prevented many young people from attending activities outside of school. After expressing her concerns to then-candidate Andy Burnham, “Our Pass” was created. Our Pass provides Manchester teens, ages 16 to 18 year old, with free bus travel for up to two years after paying a one-time fee of £10. Through her journey and through her success, Liv realizes that adult allies play an important role in creating change.
Stereotyping, Liv says, is one of the biggest challenges that young people face. “Our age is seen as a lack of maturity.” Liv says that adult allies play an key role in changemaking— and if it weren’t for the adult allies who listened to her, it would have been more difficult for her to create the positive change she sought in her community. Despite these challenges, Liv not only hopes that young people will recognize their role in changemaking, but she also tells adult allies that “the most important thing about making change in your community is collaborating with young people.”
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Amaya created a national network of students in Spain with the intention of helping high school students prepare for their final exams.
When thinking about how young people can contribute to creating communities of empathy and trust, Amaya acknowledges the strength of their bargaining power.
Through her own empathy for other students navigating their studies during Covid-19, she discovered how young people play an integral role in creating communities of empathy and trust. She says that the first step of creating change and contributing to an atmosphere of empathy and trust is to know yourself: “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What is your passion? What is your mission?”
Amaya urges young people to embrace collaboration and learn from other generations. “It is crucial that adults listen to our voices because young people are amazing.” She sees young people as individuals who are highly motivated, open-minded, and adaptable; however, Amaya also acknowledges that they often lack experience. Because of that, alliances are powerful. Amaya believes that there is much to learn through the experience of other generations, and “the best thing to do is to write together the next chapter or this new normal.”
Lastly, we have Victor Ye. At the age of 15, Victor remembered feeling a lack of stimulation and creativity in his learning environment as much of his school experience was based on rote memorization of information, without any real-world application. He pictured a new normal where students passionate about topics such as mental wellness or environmental sustainability can apply the skills they learn in the classroom to create social impact projects. In turn, this would cultivate a generation of motivated and informed students to “drive more civil discourse than [they] would have originally.”
With these motivations as a driving force, he founded InnovaYouth, “a youth-driven initiative that helps garner global-minded citizenship by hosting conferences around civic engagement, social responsibility, global leadership, and as well as gen Z.”
For young people to identify the problem worth solving, Victor says that one must,
He encourages other young people to identify gaps, start looking for allies, and grow a collective movement. Victor also wants young people to know that “it all starts from zero, but I will assure you that it’s just like an exponential function … you start small and it might be a really slow step in the very beginning but as soon as you start gaining more attraction … then you will have a lot more people behind you ready to support you at all fields.”
Based on the insights of changemakers like Liv, Victor, Midria, and Amaya, now is the time for all young people to reflect on what unique skills and passions they can contribute to their community. As Amaya says, “The world is lacking something, and you have that something, so you can fill the gap that is in reality.” What is that “something” you have that you can give this upcoming year? Whatever it is in mind, let your voice be heard because as Liv tells us, "don’t doubt yourself… your voice is your weapon, it is your superpower.” What change will you make with your superpower? As these young leaders persevere through uncertainty, we must look within ourselves to find what we can contribute to leading the new way forward.
Uniting around ideas for the good of all
This session was hosted at the 2020 online Ashoka Changemaker Summit to “Rediscover Certainty.” Join Ashoka for more events like this to meet with more young changemakers and leading social entrepreneurs and learn about new solutions, discover crucial certainties around social change and how you can step into your power as a changemaker. Attend events here