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Eight ways we can better support Young Changemakers

Photo Credit: Sylvia Kouveli
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The Possibilists, a new study – the first of its kind – conducted by a global alliance of youth communities, reveals the pressing needs of young changemakers worldwide who dedicate their lives to social and environmental causes.  

“Young people around the world are deploying their ingenuity, creativity and determination to enact positive change where we need it most. They need One Young World’s support in order to solve the world’s greatest challenges which current leaders have failed to do. Many of them sacrifice financial security and their wellbeing in the pursuit of social impact; businesses, governments and organisations must do more to back these changemakers,” says David Jones and Kate Robertson, co-founders of One Young World.

The study surveyed a diverse group of about 800 young social innovators aged 16-35 from 137 countries who all lead impact-focused initiatives, social businesses, non-profits and campaigns related to every single one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from lobbying for the rights of migrant construction workers to supporting sexual violence survivors.  

Key findings from the report include:  

  • Young changemakers are sacrificing their financial security and wellbeing to change the world.  
  • Financial issues: 66% cannot compensate themselves beyond a token amount for their work on their initiatives (41% not at all), and only 9% can live off their ventures. 
  • Wellbeing issues: 59% have experienced some degree of burnout since they started work on their initiative. 
  • 64% feel their work is negatively affected by systemic inequalities. 
  • The COVID-19 crisis has increased both their capacity and desire to make a change in the world. 

Only 3% have been forced to close down activities due to COVID; the majority are innovating, adapting and responding to the challenge. 

The report outlines eight recommendations for organizations to better support changemakers on a personal level and in their work with their initiatives and organizations.

Support programs for youth social entrepreneurship need to:

8 recommendations on how we can better support Young changemakers:

1. Focus on the person, not just the initiative.

Young social innovators want to be seen, heard and valued as individuals. Therefore, the components of support programs for youth social entrepreneurship need to be adjusted to incorporate ways of strengthening initiatives and acknowledge and provide personal-level support. 

2. Ensure the personal financial stability of young social innovators.

Young social innovators face high levels of demand and low levels of financial security. Support programs must take this into account and work to counteract this. In addition to offering concrete funding opportunities, we need to change our perceptions and actions regarding financial access for youth working on social change initiatives. Organizations that engage young social innovators as speakers or promote their work should ensure they are fairly compensated for their time.

3. Prevent burnout of young social innovators.

Young social innovators are under immense and continuous pressure to perform while also feeling an overarching sense of duty and responsibility. We need to reflect on what this means for their long-term health and well-being. As a sector, we must acknowledge this and take sweeping action to remedy it. In addition to offering well-being support, we must consider how our support programs might be placing additional or unnecessary pressure and/or demands on young social innovators. Acknowledging multiple simultaneous or similar demands might be a first step towards better coordination between support programs, organizations, and networks. Recommendations Cont.

4. Support mid-stage initiatives in their growth and development.

Young social innovators emphasized their need for more support in developing quality products and services, scaling, and the need for more financial stability within their organization. To meet these needs, we should offer regular training and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that allow them to deepen the understanding of their work and learn from other state-of-the-art solutions addressing similar challenges. We can help them scale by connecting them to like-minded peers and initiatives that complement their work while also strengthening their global and local networks through mindful strategic partnerships. We should rethink funding processes to lower the barriers of access and develop more valuable frameworks for assessing the financial health of initiatives.

5. Build upon the strong local–international connection of young social innovators.

The participants in The Possibilists study act as bridges between global macro issues and how these manifest locally in communities of different sizes and types around the world. They can effectively communicate local challenges internationally while at the same time translating global matters into concrete local action. To reach ambitious goals such as the SDGs, we need to better leverage the embeddedness of young social innovators in both their global and local worlds. In addition to creating international formats for networking and connection, we must also create spaces where local specific challenges can be discussed. As a global community, we need to honor the importance of the local in driving deep and sustainable social change.

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6. Leverage the strong motivation of young social innovators to make a difference.

Even in the face of crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, young social innovators are stepping up with constructive solutions for new challenges. Their resilience, innovation and adaptability are vital resources for their communities and for building healthy societies in the future. The intrinsic solid motivation of the Possibilists makes them incredible peers and inspirational role models for achieving social and environmental impact. We must appreciate and acknowledge this widely so that they might become multipliers and empower other young people to become change agents in their own communities. 

7. Focus on working to reduce systemic inequalities in our own programming.

System inequalities are one of the main barriers for social innovators and their work. We need to reduce these barriers to achieve real diversity, inclusion and belonging. It starts by looking at our own programming and considering what requirements or formulations might exclude certain people from feeling addressed or welcome. Once we have looked within and worked to deconstruct our own organizational biases, we can begin to look outward. To overcome exclusion, we must actively seek out those who are often underrepresented. This means doing outreach in marginalized communities and remote areas. Even if this requires greater organizational efforts in funding and time, ensuring equitable and diverse representation among young changemakers is essential for developing effective solutions for ALL.

8. Give young social innovators a seat at the table.

Young social innovators’ future-oriented ideas and perspectives should be at the core of devising long-term strategies and influencing leadership at multiple levels. The wish of youth to have a voice, play a role, and achieve social change should be fostered and amplified. As a community, we need to facilitate access to decision-makers and grant young social innovators access to places of power and influence. We need to keep working to amplify the voices and credibility of young social innovators as key stakeholders and contributors.

Rowan Barnett, Head of Google.org for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said:

“If you want to spark change in the world and demonstrate what’s possible, look to the youth for inspiration. The valuable impact that these social entrepreneurs are delivering can be attributed to their fresh perspective; the world has a lot to learn from their ingenuity and perseverance. SAP is proud to support this research, connecting people and information to accelerate solutions for the world’s most complex challenges,” says Alexandra van der Ploeg, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP. 

“Young social innovators can play a key role in helping our societies recover from the pandemic and in building digital, inclusive and sustainable economies that work for everyone. Google.org is proud to support many young changemakers through our programmes and grants. We’re also delighted to support this important research which shows that so much more can be done to help them overcome significant personal and financial barriers, and provide access to capital, skills and support networks to enable them to tackle some of the world’s biggest systemic challenges”  

The participants in the study come from the different organizations supporting young changemakers; Ashoka, ChangemakerXChange, Global Changemakers, Kofi Annan Foundation, MasterPeace, Obama Foundation, One Young World, Peace First, Social Impact Award, Social Shifters, SOS Children’s Villages, The Diana Award, Unleash, We Are Family Foundation, Young Sustainable Impact, and Yunus & Youth. The Possibilists is supported by the SAP Foundation and Google.org. 

The Possibilists is a global ecosystem alliance committed to improving the lives and realities of young changemakers around the world. We conducted a 40+ question in-depth study on changemakers.

  • The Possibilists conducted a 40+ question in-depth study on changemakers. We surveyed 791 young Possibilists from 137 countries across the world.
  • Focus of the study: People aged 18-35 Young people who have started their own impact focused initiatives, either their own ventures or driving change from within a bigger organization. 35% of respondents are in the start-up phase, 37% operational and 28% are in the scaling phase.
  • Participants in the study come from the networks of Ashoka, ChangemakerXchange, The Diana Award, Global Changemakers, Kofi Annan Foundation, Masterpeace, Obama Foundation, One Young World, Peace First, Social Impact Award, Social Shifters, SOS Children’s Villages, Unleash, We are Family Foundation, Yunus & Youth and YSI (Young Sustainable Impact).
  • The study gathers key insights about their impact, their struggles and makes key recommendations of how we can all support them better.
  • Gender representation: 53% were female, 45% male, and 2% were non binary or preferred not to say. 27% of respondents consider themselves to be part of a marginalized group The survey was conducted between February 19th – March 4th, 2021 and distributed among the 16 partner networks, as well as other young changemaker communities around the world.
  • Diversity of demographics: sample includes young changemakers from a mix of rural / urban areas, and a significant number from marginalized groups.
  • Period: the survey was conducted between February 19th – March 4th, 2021.

What Young changemakers work on and why

The three main motivators for their work were to: 

  1. mobilize and empower others for changemaking (78%)
  2. contribute to pressing global issues (74%)
  3. do something for their community (67%)

Most young social innovators focus on education, seeing it as a major lever for reducing inequalities and instigating change.

When asked to think about their work within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework, the three main focus areas are:

  1. Quality education (53%)
  2. Reduced inequalities (38%) 
  3. Good health and well-being (37%)

As a society, we need to do better in supporting the people that are shaping the future’s solutions for complex global problems. 

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