In a tumultuous world grappling with serious challenges in practically every domain, from violence and intolerance, to climate degradation, poverty, systemic inequality, and a global leadership crisis, it has become self-evident that we need to renew and expand our efforts to have a positive impact, rather than a destructive one, on the world around us.
This process will require not only determination but innovation, a fresh set of perspectives that will allow us to identify and correct what isn’t working. In short, it will require young people.
The youth population is currently the largest it’s ever been; it is more connected and has better tools than any prior generation. Yet young people currently find themselves overwhelmed by economic hardships and trapped in hierarchical systems that silence their voices, rather than being given the support they could use to combat some of the problems they soon stand to inherit.
At this moment, more than 500 million young people are living on less than $2 a day – that’s about 30% of all young people. Without the thousands of dollars on hand that are needed to guarantee access to higher education, many young people are excluded from the education opportunities that would create careers and pathways to success. This holds true even for young people in richer countries, in which rising tuition rates every year make education a luxury that fewer and fewer can afford. Without the resources to support themselves with education, healthcare, and other services, young people are struggling to survive, let alone support others.
Those few who do manage to still maintain an interest in leadership are faced with yet another host of challenges: their lack of agency in political discourse and even in their own communities. Young people, especially women, minorities, and other marginalized groups, are discouraged and systematically excluded from building political and economic power within rigidly hierarchical systems.
Yet members of this generation are showing a deep resilience, working tirelessly to better the world on their own because they don’t want their children to inherit today’s problems. And they could be doing so much more if given a helping hand.
At the Resolution Project, a global non-profit fostering youth leadership development through social entrepreneurship, we’ve found that a little bit of mentorship and funding can transform the type of leadership we get from college students. We’ve invested in more than 400 Fellows, providing them with mentorship, seed funding, and access to global advisory resources from within our network. Most importantly, we have shared with them the very message of this piece – that we believe in them, in their capabilities and in their ideas.
Armed with this very modest set of tools, our Fellows have already gone on to collectively impact over 1.5 million lives and counting. And while they aren’t blind to the challenges we all face, they are optimists, believing that leaders can bring about a turnaround, if they have an approach that is grounded in social responsibility, sustainability, and social justice.
If you’d like a few examples, take a look at:
- Louise Mabulo (age 19) helping develop sustainable agricultural practices (The Cacao Project) or
- Juan Bol (age 26) bringing leadership training and opportunities to underprivileged children (PODER) or
- Suman Kumar (age 26) rebuilding schools devastated by earthquakes (School Relief) abroad.
And domestically, look at
- Hannah Dehradunwala (age 25) facilitating the transfer of extra food from corporations with excess to those in need (Transfernation),
- Samir Goel (age 24) establishing circular savings programs to create better financial outcomes for communities in the United States (Esusu), and
- Derrius Quarles (age 26) offering an instructive e-platform to help students across the country win scholarships and avoid higher education debt (Million Dollar Scholar).
If we want a better future, we need to drastically change the way we think about young leaders today. Otherwise, in 5, 10, 20 years, when we’re still disappointed by the state of our world, after we continued telling young people that their ideas to improve their communities were naive or wouldn’t work, after we discouraged them from getting involved in politics, after we told them they lacked the experience to have good ideas, after we broke down their optimism and drive to help, who will be to blame if they simply look out for themselves like many of the leaders we have today? That’s on us for turning our backs on their potential. Because, in truth, they don’t need us – we need them.
It’s time to try something new, so the next time you see a young person running for office, think about the fact that they may understand the technology around us enough to inform good decision-making and regulations (vs., for example, the Zuckerberg hearings); when you see a young person working on a community service project, build them up and encourage them to scale it, rather than undermining it as a drop in the bucket; and when you see a young person taking a brave stance, even if you disagree with them, celebrate their principles and integrity in seeing injustice and wanting to root it out.
In my work as the CEO and Co-founder of The Resolution Project, I’ve watched more than 400 young people help over 1.5 million in one decade. Imagine what they will do over a lifetime, and imagine what we can do together by building up a generation of such young leaders who value impact over profit, sustainability over scale, and reduced inequality over individual wealth accumulation, all through market-based approaches. This isn’t some utopian socialism – this is just involving the people who will inherit the world in what that world will be. Don’t you wish someone had asked you?
George Tsiatis is the CEO & Co-Founder of The Resolution Project