The young person’s guide to changemaking

Aug 29, 2019

Around the world, changemakers are making a positive difference— they’re revamping education, improving health outcomes, inventing new technology, fighting to save the environment, and building powerful social movements.

Contrary to what some might assume, you don’t need a lot of life experience to be a changemaker. Young people — equipped with creativity, energy, and fresh perspective— hold incredible power for unlocking solutions to society’s greatest challenges.

In fact, young leaders across the globe are already creating change in their communities, from smashing the stigma around mental health to fighting food insecurity.

But disrupting the status quo isn’t easy — and they’ve faced plenty of challenges along the way. That’s why we’re sharing illuminating insights from young changemakers ages 13–23, along with advice adapted from our Changemaker’s Toolkit, to guide your own journey. Ready, set, go!

Creating change often starts with a simple thought or question. As you critically analyze the world around you, you may have thought something along the lines of…

Questions like this reveal that something isn’t the way it should be —and it’s negatively impacting people or the planet (or both!) as a result.

Of course, there are many problems in the world, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed. This step-by-step video can help you figure out where to start. When it comes to identifying a problem you want to solve, Riya Sharma, who co-founded a social enterprise with her friends in 8th grade, offers some advice:

It’s important to be committed to the cause on a personal level. Knowing that challenges will come, “make sure it’s something you’re passionate and excited about,” 18-year-old Hannah Ford says.

For Hannah, that cause was girls’ education. As high school freshmen, she and a friend created HER (HER Education is HER Right), an organization that builds sustainable libraries to increase girls’ access to learning materials.

Sophia discovered she could share her love of ballet abroad to increase and equalize access to the arts in an underprivileged community. Malcolm started a movement to make hospitals more youth-friendly. Thirteen-year-old Tura expanded her theatre troupe in Bangladesh to include street children from marginalized communities. And at age 15, Garvita co-founded an organization to reduce water waste, starting in restaurants.

To identify your issue, try asking yourself…

Maybe you’ve wondered where to start, or how you can actually make a difference. The truth is that most of us wait for someone else to give us permission to change the status quo. But you’ll discover that waiting for permission isn’t always helpful — for yourself or society.

Instead, give yourself permission to take action.

Whether you’re looking around your local community or thinking globally, make sure to…

Changemaking can feel lonely. Our advice: bring friends and collaborators along from the start. As you’re developing your idea, be on the lookout for people who bring different perspectives and skills from your own.

Come together around your shared values and the goals you’re striving towards. Soon, you’ll have something that begins to look like a team. And the best part? Feeling that powerful changemaker energy!

It’s essential to gather information about the problem you’re trying to solve. Start by consulting people with experience or expertise that might be helpful.

“Reach out to anybody who you think could give you any kind of advice or speak from their own experience in running a nonprofit, especially if you can find a young person who has been through that process,” recommends Zoha Siddiqui, co-founder of HER.

This research process can help you narrow into the unique approach you’re taking to a problem. Learn what’s worked — and what hasn’t — in the past.

But don’t forget that no matter how much you prepare, you’ll always need to….

When it comes to changemaking, risk-taking is part of the territory. Disrupting the status quo involves taking a radically new, uncharted approach. That means you’ll have to trust yourself.

When Zoha was doubting herself — whether she was picking up the phone to make a cold call or clicking “submit” on an online application — she remembered a certain quote, one she’s had on her bedroom wall for the last four years:

Julia Hansen, a teenager who founded The Yellow Tulip Project, an organization eliminating the stigma around mental health, comes back to the same question over and over: Why not try and see what happens?

“We always ask ourselves this question and because we do we are able to reach unexpected communities and organizations,” she explains.

So call up that CEO! Start an outreach campaign! Apply for that contest or grant! (Hint: applications for the 2019 T-Mobile Foundation, T-Mobile & Ashoka Changemaker Challenge are open now through Sept. 26, 2019).

It’s easy to believe the false narratives that young people are too inexperienced, lazy, or selfish to create change when we aren’t armed with stories that prove the opposite — young people are leading change for a better planet. That means we need YOUR story to tell the truth about this generation.

Stories can change the culture around changemaking. #LeadYoung stories are already seeking to shift the narrative by featuring young changemakers around the world.

Taking on a big problem can be intimidating and frustrating — and sometimes young people face additional resistance. Your story will inspire other young people who want to make a difference, too!

If there’s one thing that young changemakers have to say to their peers, it’s…

Kiran Sridhar, founder of the organization Waste No Food, says that he’s motivated to be a young changemaker because he believes “my youth is an asset, not a liability.” When generations work together, it unlocks greater problem-solving potential.

Young changemakers will not only transform the world but also change how the world views young people.

What’s your idea? How are you taking on a problem in your community?

If you see yourself in these young changemakers, consider applying to the second-annual T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge, hosted in partnership with Ashoka and the T-Mobile Foundation, now underway. The challenge supports young changemakers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, ages 13–23, who are leading the way to solve our planet’s most pressing problems.

If you have a creative solution related to education, technology, or the environment, this is your chance to submit your idea. (Deadline is Sept. 26, 2019). Winners will not only receive seed money and support to amplify their impact, but 30 winning teams will receive an all-expense paid trip to a 3-day Changemaker Lab at T-Mobile HQ to connect and collaborate with each other. (Talk about changemaker energy!)

Looking for more guidance? Check out Ashoka’s Venture video series, created especially for young people. And whatever the next step in your changemaker journey might be, move forward with confidence. Because young people really can change the world.


The young person’s guide to changemaking was originally published in A New Game on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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