Do Young People Need to Be Saved, or Set Free?

Submitted by: John Converse Townsend on 11/30/12

Editor's note: This post was written by Ashoka's Youth Venture staff.

I'm frustrated by the way that many in the nonprofit and education sectors talk about young people. Individuals, organizations and CSR initiatives use youth challenges as a way to bring importance and relevance to their social missions. But this framework of understanding is disempowering—it affects their relationships with young people and, perhaps more troubling, it may negatively affect how how young people see themselves.

The way that people talk about their concerns and intentions informs the way that people act on those concerns and intentions. This means that youth who come from a deficit perspective will spend their time making up ground, “saving” themselves from the most pressing problems of their generation (i.e. high dropout rates, underachievement, crime, etc.). Why do we not focus more attention on young peoples' assets?

I am not in any way saying that we should ignore the issues which disappropriately affect young people. What I am saying is that we should change how we talk about those issues. What if we were to recognize the power that young people have? What if we encouraged youth to spend their time working towards something great instead of running from something negative? How would that change the way young people view and understand their goals, their relationships, and their places in the world? Time and time again, we see that building a foundation from which young people can take the initiative to create change themselves is a transformative experience.

Social entrepreneurship education may be that foundation.

Youth start off with skills and ideas that they can build upon through their own ingenuity, through encouragement, and through the introduction of tools and resources that they can use to complement their ambition. They do not need to be saved, they need space to grow.

With the second iteration of the course 'Venture Planning for Social Entrepreneurs,' a distance course beginning in January created through a partnership between University of Florida and Ashoka’s Youth Venture, I am hopeful that this recognition of the unbelievable potential of young people will translate into a greater interest around asset-based approaches like social entrepreneurship education.

Society is increasingly being defined by change that we cannot predict. If we do not systematically change our way of understanding what our future leaders are capable nor encourage them to be their best possible selves, we will not be prepared for what is yet to come.

Anyone interested in taking ‘Venture Planning for Social Entrepreneurs’ to launch or improve upon a venture can register for the course by January 11, 2013, or find more information here. If your venture is health-related, make sure to check out extra opportunities related to the course through the ‘Making More Health’ campaign before December 21, 2012 at

Photo: Flickr/bmhkim