Young People are at the Center of Every Success Movement

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This article originally appeared on Folha De S. Paulo

São Paulo - How can we build a more equitable and sustainable society? Since 1981, Ashoka has gathered and connected leaders, known as social entrepreneurs, of impactful initiatives around the world.  

But there are ongoing challenges in all parts of the world. “Ashoka supports more than 3,500 social entrepreneurs who are working around the world, but this is not enough, because  there are still a lot of problems to be solved, we can agree on that,” said Yashveer Singh, director of the Ashoka Young Changemakers program in India.  

Because Singh believes in the power of young people to help the world advance he helped found the Ashoka Young Changemakers program. “The vision of simply supporting social entrepreneurs turned into the vision of a world in which each young person grows up learning innovative skills”  

Ashoka calls people who have innovative ideas "changemakers." Their work is critical to building of a more sustainable society, Singh said.  

“This is the launching of a movement for all changemakers. We want ideas. How is a movement created? By bringing together people to form a team. This is how all the big movements in the world started; and young people are at the core of every successful movement.”  

How did you become a social entrepreneur? When I was a child in India, I grew up in a rural area and witnessed a lot of inequalities. People did not have access to information, quality education, etc. These issues made them live in a cycle of poverty.  

I was lucky enough to be awarded various scholarships, to go to good schools and universities. I studied at the University of Oxford. All this made me aware of the possibilities around me. It motivated and inspired me.    

How do you measure the success of this movement of social entrepreneurship? Examining all the Ashoka fellows - there are more than 3,500 around the world - Ashoka's founder Bill Drayton realized that in their DNA there is a common mindset and abilities. That’s what we call the changemakers skills.  

Therefore, the vision of simply supporting social entrepreneurs turned into the vision of a world in which each young person grows up learning innovative skills. Jobs are changing. Before, people could survive their whole life with a single skill. Nowadays, this has changed. In every sector, the  skills demanded change every three to four years.  

It is necessary to provide young people with the skills they need in order to survive in this new context. This is why we need to be changemakers. It is not enough to have some social entrepreneurs in the world; because Ashoka already supports more than 3,500 social entrepreneurs and there are still problems in the world. How can we tackle this issue? By making sure that everyone is a changemaker.  

To accomplish this, we need to start working with people as early as possible. This is how we got the idea for Ashoka Young Changemakers.  

What is the project? The idea is simple. Why do Brazilian kids grow up loving soccer? Because it gives them role models to follow. Similarly, who are the changemakers that young people can follow?  

Through Ashoka Young Changemakers we will select ten powerful young changemakers from different parts of the country. They will come here [to São Paulo] and meet some of the most influential Ashoka fellows and social entrepreneurs, some of Ashoka's local partners. As a group, they will come up with a plan to build an ecosystem in which each young Brazilian grows up to become a changemaker.  

How will this program work? Why do you focus on the youth? Just like there is an Ashoka Fellows program for social entrepreneurs, this will be a program for young changemakers. We focus on young people because, as they grow up, the second phase of biological development of their mind and our abilities happens between the ages of 13 and 19. If someone becomes a changemaker between those ages, they are more likely to continue being changemakers for the rest of their lives.  

When examining the beginning of the lives of almost 80 percent of Ashoka fellows, we discovered that, when they were still teenagers, they were changemakers; they would do something at school or in their communities. And so we asked ourselves: “What about starting a program that focuses on teenagers so that they can influence their peers?    

Because, if we go on social media and say “it would be good for teenagers turn into changemakers,” those teenagers will not listen to us. We are not telling young people to go on Instagram; but they still all use Instagram because their peers use it too.

Therefore, the idea is, by bringing together those ten teenagers, we work with them so they can influence other young people. This cannot be done by adults. Teenagers want to learn from their peers -- they are their own role models, their own influencers.  

Creating a community this way is not a one-time activity; it is only the beginning. The idea is to work with the young changemakers to create a society in which everyone thinks that being a changemaker is the only way of to have a sustainable society.  

How can we build such a society? We are witnessing governments controlling social entrepreneurs; they can limit them and go against them. However, when everyone is a changemaker, how will the government be able to control them?  

It is important to understand the definition of a changemaker. A changemaker must have the following four skills: empathy, problem-solving, knowing how to work as a team, and being a collaborative leader. The only long-term and sustainable solution is to prepare a whole generation that thinks in an empathetic way. This will ensure that future elected representatives will also be empathetic changemakers.  

We are trying to create that demand. When there is that demand, the different institutions will need to change; the leaders will need to change. Today, leaders say something about a specific community and end up being elected because they know what to say to please their audience. Now imagine a world in which everyone asks you what changes you will bring; a world in which everyone is at the same level in terms of mental abilities and skills. This is a completely different game than those political leaders are playing.  

Are young people more hopeful? Our unique hope for the world is its young people. They do not hesitate. And they are not as prejudiced as adults. Today, if you tell someone who is 30 or 40 years old to be involved in such a program, they will say that it will not work. In contrast, 13- and 14-year-olds will be excited.  

This is not only a program for young people or social entrepreneurs. This is the launching of a movement for all changemakers. We want ideas. How is a movement created? By bringing together people to form a team. This is how all the big movements in the world started; and young people are at the core of each successful movement.

What are the challenges facing this initiative? One of the biggest challenges is to gain exposure through the media. Sometimes, the media focuses on quick stories, going from zero to a big hero. But this is a long-term game. Another challenge is to reach a large audience so that we can get the maximum number of candidates.  

We want these young people to really influence older people, to grow up with the mentality that discrimination based on age is an important issue. We do not believe that knowledge and good ideas only come with experience. So how do we create an ecosystem in which young people who want to have innovative ideas will not be limited? These are the main challenges, but we believe that they can be overcome.  

Yashveer Singh's Bio

Signh graduated in economics from the Birla Institute of Science and Technology  in India. He received an MBA in Business from Oxford University (UK). He has worked for Ashoka for almost four years, coordinating the Ashoka Young Changemakers program in India and globally.  

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