How do you unite a divided nation? You put young people in charge

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Source: Ashoka

As chaos consumed the UK in the aftermath of the European referendum, questions of leadership and economics dominated the political landscape. With a rapidly crashing economy and deep uncertainty, everyone from politicians, academics to business leaders were forecasting, debating and analysing. But behind the scenes (until now) there was one major demographic working to find a way forward: young people.

In the days that followed the referendum result I (as then Ashoka UK Director) and a couple of others decided to convene youth sector leaders, Ashoka Fellows, social entrepreneurs, and young changemakers to pose the question: What next for the UK and how can young people shape the agenda? The answer was a simple one — put young people in charge. This is something we often say, but now was time to turn rhetoric into action.

It was clear that young people must decide and we should stop making decisions on their behalf. So we convened a group of 30–50 young people from all sides of the political spectrum, and from all across the UK, to run a week long ‘hackathon’ to decide for themselves what came next. Within weeks they had self-organised, formed a leadership team, developed a strategy, drafted a manifesto of guiding principles, and raised significant funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to make this project a reality.

Three young leaders represent a diversity of interests across the UK. Hafsah (17 and too young to vote) Joe (22 and a young Conservative councillor for Stafford and leave campaigner) and Charlotte (27 and a left-wing activist pro remain campaigner) are running the show and momentum is gathering, as is interest from Westminster. They are joined by a wider leadership team of 100 young people. Each participant realised that whatever their views and however they voted, they had a shared interest in standing united as young people with a list of demands for what Brexit could now actually look like. They will live with the outcome of this vote the longest, with the opportunities and challenges that it presents.

It is the UK’s first nationwide, youth-led campaign to demand the best possible Brexit deal for young people. Formed by young people, for young people, to represent and unite all young voices regardless of background. Undivided is strictly non-partisan and aims to engage a million under-30s (both leave and remain) to crowdsource their demands and ensure that young people have a voice in shaping post-Brexit Britain. It will not seek to reverse the referendum result but look to build a strong consensus that will allow young people from across the political spectrum to speak as one. The youth media agency Livity is housing the campaign and those of us too old to be the target audience of this campaign are quietly providing advice and support behind the scenes. Not that it’s needed much.

Championing the voice of young people is not new for Ashoka.

We are proudly supporting many Ashoka Fellows who are already pioneering youth leadership in other ways. For example Michael Sani, founder of Bite The Ballot is bridging the gap between youth and politics using educational games, technologies and peer-to-peer networks, with registering young people to vote as one key outcome. Lily Lapenna founded MyBnk to deliver financial education by young people and for young people, through banking and entrepreneurship workshops. And Shauneen Lambe founder of Just for Kids Law has been supporting young people to launch legal challenges against unjust barriers to higher education.

We also work in partnership with many of the UK’s school leaders who are doing all they can to educate young teenagers to be changemakers on a day to day basis. From Atlantic College in Wales where students from 90 countries come together to pursue peace and international dialogue to School21 in Stratford where students as young as 4 are taught through project based learning, around their local community.

At Ashoka we are working to empower all young people to lead social change, in other words to be changemakers. We see Undivided as changemaking in action. They now need your support. Undivided aims to engage a million under-30s from across the UK to crowdsource their demands and ensure that young people have a voice in shaping post-Brexit Britain. Undivided will curate the top ten demands and, working with political connections and partner organisations, these will be presented to Parliament in January, with the aim of influencing the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

Regardless of how they might have voted, the campaign invites all under-30s to collectively shape post-Brexit Britain by sharing their demand at

For the avoidance of doubt we take no political stance on Brexit as an organization, our support is about empowering young people to lead and take action, regardless of their perspective.

This article was first published on on 26th October 2016.