4 important lessons for young activists of the next generation
By Abdullahi Alim, Africa and Middle East Manager, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements, including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, that anger resurfaces in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, but this time children of the 2008 financial crisis.
These movements enjoy mass popularity, but how effective are they? Greta Thunberg proclaimed that “almost nothing [had] been doneSince schools staged strikes to raise awareness of the climate crisis in 2018, while Micah White, co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, said social change as we know it is dead.
As the world now faces the the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression there will be greater social unrest and calls for a new set of solutions.
Youth movements will need to find a more mature form of activism to counter the popularized forms of Puritanism that have prevailed. More specifically, here are 4 considerations for young change agents who seek a more just and equitable world:
1. Learn from the past
Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is one example. However, they may not understand the most permanent realities – requiring patience and stoicism.
This wisdom is usually in the hands of individuals who work within systems or who have accumulated much more seniority. This was effectively echoed by 13-year-old activist Naomi Wadler who mentionned, “We can educate our young people much better. We are not going any further in the social justice movements of the past.
Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of previous efforts offer a more promising result. Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by Alicia Garza, 32.
Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents cannot attack its leaders as a means of discrediting the whole movement. In the 1960s, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics attacked Martin Luther King, blocking the collective efforts of the movement.
In fact, King spent his last year mired in public disapproval with over 75% of Americans rating it as “irrelevant,” including 60% of African Americans.
By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally around 75% of the American public; a feat that will undeniably ensure the sustainability of his cause.
For the youth climate movement, he too must reconcile the long history of activism that preceded his mandate. It must model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credibility to activists, environmental scientists and native elders who fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.
2. Take part in changing systems
From college campus to coworking space, you’d be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.
Not surprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take for example, an app for African farmers developed by students who have neither cultivated nor been in Africa.
Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that support inequalities. For example, the University of Oxford hosts the annual conference Map the system competition to celebrate some of the most promising cartographies led by young people and the World Economic Forum Global Shaper Community brings together more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.To achieve systemic change, young people three components; elements, interconnections and functions:
- The elements are essentially the main players in the system. This can include people, land or objects.
- Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.
- Functions are the end goals.
Take, for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a system problem. The elements of the system would include the victim, the perpetrator and other intermediary bodies, including supervisors and human resources teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from resorting to public courts and a management culture that protects high-performing perpetrators and silences victims. In this case, the ultimate functions (or rather the dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing the action and allow perpetrators and facilitators to reap the benefits of career progression without trial.
Systemic change is about rethinking interconnections (cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it is about challenging the use of private arbitrary tribunals and uprooting a toxic work culture. Capturing that intuition opens up a Pandora’s Box that ultimately allows any given system to function in a more inclusive manner.
Today, young agents of change can draw on online resources such as Systems-driven leadership analyze a given inequality system and then direct their unique skills and knowledge to the most effective intervention.
3. Avoid heropreneurhip
Daniela Papi-Thornton coined the term for the first time heropreneurhip to describe a growing trend that attributes social change to the “founder” of an organization or movement exclusively.
This culture has inspired a whole generation of young change-makers who are influenced by the appeal of the “heroic” founder and whose behaviors are validated by rewards for young people, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role under the leadership. the limelight. This pervasive culture undermines the entire spectrum of actors who truly create social change.
Social change does not necessarily justify the creation of a new organization or a new movement. Change actors need to consider the root causes that perpetuate and maintain inequalities, and then map the existing actors and solutions. This process could indicate an intensification of the work of an existing organization or help a local candidate run for office.
For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. It is an expectation that must be managed.
4. Know your place
In 2016, a political action committee entitled Can’t you emerged with the aim of discouraging white males from running for office in minority districts.
Despite the comedic graphics, the campaign highlights an important issue for young change makers, especially if they advocate for issues they have not experienced: in the quest for social change, the actions of agents of change unintentionally perpetuate injustices, even if they seek to end it?
In the example above, would the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of translator between minority communities and the government only reinforce their structural under-representation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume functions without lived experience also signal a low confidence in the leadership of the communities themselves served?
A more effective approach to social change might be to encourage these actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of “taking a step back” to allow others to “take a step forward”. More concretely, this could lead to building trusting relationships with the community and ultimately empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.
For young change makers, it is essential that they assess their own position in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to address.
More targeted and effective activism
Social media has played a vital role in providing a means for young people to advocate for social reform.
Whether it be Speech by Greta Thunberg at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or Emma Gonzalez rallying the crowds for tighter gun control. younger voices influence public opinion and put pressure on political systems to function in a more inclusive way.
The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but they no doubt find it difficult to come up with a plan of action for the average young person motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who is struggling with challenges of experience and credibility.
To be more effective, young change makers need to forge closer ties with late-stage activists as well as with potential allies within power systems. They also need to understand the systems that support equality and identify the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.
Finally, it is essential that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve personal anxieties that can compromise their potential for change.
It is time for youth activism to grow.