Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2009
I am the Managing Director of the Youth & Innovation Research Project at the University of Waterloo. At the Youth & Innovation Research Project we believe that in order to effectively build a culture of innovation and a more prosperous social and economic future, young innovators, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs must be at the core of our approach. Through research and knowledge dissemination, the Youth & Innovation Research Project encourages intergenerational collaboration and highlights the unique ways that young people, 15 – 25 years old, can drive innovation. Ourapproach is rooted in the following principles:
1) Young people are not unfinished adults, they have unique capabilities while they are young;
2) Young people can be meaningful contributors now, not just learners who will contribute later; and
3) Strong intergenerational partnerships that value the best each life stage has to offer leads to improved outcomes for all generations.
The Youth & Innovation Research Project uses a systems change approach to shift North America’s culture narrative surrounding the role of young people, 15 to 25 years old, from one that views young people as a problem to solve to onethat values young people’s full potential. We do this by:1) Conducting original research;2) Publishing academic articles as well as opinion pieces and journalistic articlesin the mainstream media;3) Speaking to and advising the corporate sector, public sector, academiccommunity, and civil society;4) Advising governments on public policy; and 5) Writing a book with the working title Wired for Innovation: Releasing theuntapped potential of young people (anticipated release date 2018).
This description of Ilona Dougherty's work was prepared when Ilona Dougherty was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
Ilona Dougherty is fostering civic participation among apathetic youth by enhancing their democratic literacy. To do so she has created a multi-layered strategy using popular music concerts, workshops, and a youth-oriented online platform to cultivate volunteerism and increase civic engagement. She also builds bridges between Members of Parliament, elected officials, and youth, opening opportunities for direct dialogue. Since 2004, Ilona has been using art and technology to educate Canadian youth about democracy in order to increase voting rates and citizen engagement. Apathy is Boring also builds bridges between politicians and youth, opening opportunities for sustainable dialogue. Apathy is Boring has reached more than 13,000 youth through concerts and events and tens of thousands of youth visit the website annually. Ilona is working with non-government organizations, educators, elected Officials, and employers looking to better engage youth in decision-making.
The New Idea
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I am particularly interested in mind-set change around how our society perceives young people. As we live longer and longer, and the definitions of what is young creeps up towards 40 years old. We can not afford to just dismiss this entire cohort as "future citizens" and only worthy of being trained and taught. Rather we need to redefine what it means to be a young person. We need to value young people's contributions as full citizens now, no matter their age, and support them via intergenerational partnerships, so that we are both tapping into the innovation of youth, as well as the wisdom of experience to solve societies toughest challenges. I am just getting started on this work, but an excited that we have just published the first quantitative academic study about youth-led impact in the Canadian context which includes recommendations about how we can all better support our young leaders. This solution will make a difference because it taps into the potential of a whole segment of our society that is currently being under-utilized. The strategy of changing the cultural narrative by speaking to Baby Boomers will work because they care about their kids, and want to see them succeed. There are lots of great niche examples of impactful youth engagement, and I am excited about knitting these together into a whole, and working towards wide-scale mind-set change.

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