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How to Support Youth Changemakers (and How Not to)

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey comparing Gen Z to other generations, Gen Z is currently the most diverse and most educated. “Pivotals” as Millennial Marketing calls this generation deeply cares about social issues and equality and wants to change society.


To get a better understanding of how we can support changemaking efforts of younger generations, we collaborated with Ashoka and Future Coalition to investigate a youth changemaker’s eco-system and interviewed 20 youth changemakers ages 16 through 24 about their change efforts (read the full paper here). These changemakers tackled a variety of issues: gun reform, human rights, gender equality in STEM, access to arts education, social justice, inclusion, civic engagement, among others.


But let’s talk about how you can support youth changemakers as an individual, community organizer, or a business. I want to start with what not to do because this issue came up across interviews and stood out to me:


Don’t “Adultsplain”

Youth changemakers have a “can-do” attitude and don’t take “no” for an answer – if they see a need for change, they will go after it and are creative in finding solutions. However, many of the resources that they need to be successful are currently in the hands of adults who try to explain to the youth changemaker what they can and cannot do – they “adultsplain.” If you find yourself engaging in this behavior – stop. Just because you see obstacles doesn’t mean that they can’t be overcome. Youth changemakers are smart, creative, and persistent. They will find a way even if you didn’t. This is what you can do instead:


Do Provide Mentorship


Be a positive influence as youth changemakers navigate two worlds. Not only do they participate in the “youth” world with their peers, go to school, play sports, and hang out with their friends, they also, at the same time, navigate the “adult” world where they may try to get access to resources (such as funding, technology, or knowledge) to help them with their changemaking. For example, several of the changemakers we interviewed created their non-profits such as Aakriti’s Girls Code Lincoln. This effort takes expertise that youth changemakers typically don’t have. So be a mentor – help youth changemakers navigate the two worlds and help them connect with other changemakers that can help them obtain non-profit status, sustainable sources of funding, etc. At the community level, create incubators for non-profits and social enterprises, and specifically seek out youth that want to create change.


Do Provide Support in Any Form


While youth changemakers are creative in their endeavors and have a “can-do” attitude, they need support. Where and how can you provide this support? Fortunately, it’s easy to pinpoint where changemakers spend a lot of time: at home. Many youth changemakers reported how influential family was in shaping how they see the world and the needs of others. So if you’re a parent, grandparent, or sibling: validate the changemaker’s efforts. Introduce them to topics you care about. Show them how to emphasize with others.


The other place where changemakers spend a lot of time - school. Here you can create resources in elementary and high schools that youth changemakers can turn to. For example, teachers that will support and advocate for them. Information about organizations such as Ashoka that promote and connect changemakers. Extra-curricular activities involving social issues. Policies that allow for flexibility when youth changemakers need to do work during traditional school hours.


Ultimately, the list of resources to support youth changemaking is endless. What is important that these resources are available and accessible, and that the changemaker can use them without too much (unnecessary) intervention of adults that can stifle their efforts. Next time, you hear someone from Gen Z (or any other generation for that matter) talk about changing society, listen. Ask them how you can support them and show up!





Reference: Bublitz, Melissa G., Lan Nguyen Chaplin, Laura A. Peracchio, Ashley Deutsch Cermin, Mentor Dida, Jennifer Edson Escalas, Meike Eilert, Alexei Gloukhovtsev, and Elizabeth G. Miller. "Rise Up: Understanding Youth Social Entrepreneurs and Their Ecosystems." Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (2020), forthcoming.


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