After school and homework, 15-year-old Mahika gets online in her San Jose home and connects with changemakers across the world. These teens are, like her and others in the network she created and leads, 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.
At 13, she signed up as a virtual tutor for girls in Africa. This volunteer experience led her to explore development issues and read all she could. Further investigation kicked up complexity – she learned, for example, that pouring aid into countries without addressing systemic problems like poverty can sometimes make things worse.
What solution made the most sense to Mahika? Enabling young people to dream of the world they wanted and take steps to make it a reality. She set up a 5-day curriculum that takes people through the stages of identifying a problem to investigating and testing solutions to forming a team and getting started. She learned from and partnered with local development groups with broad experience on the design.
So far, 10 groups of young people (age 12-22) in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Cameroon are implementing their ideas with support from AYANA, the organization Mahika created.
Mahika says that she sees many 12- and 13-year-olds leading positive changes and responding quickly to problems as they appear –more quickly and fluidly than many adults. Very often, young people are seen to be less capable but Mahika points out a key advantage of being young: “You haven’t been told “no” so many times.”