Why are young people changing the world?

2 October 2019

“This is a generation that will unapologetically put humanity at the top of the agenda”.

– Zamzam Ibrahim, President of the UK National Union of Students, speaking at the Global Climate Strike in London on September 20th 2019

I guess I’ve just given you the answer – young people today have grown up so much more connected to one another that it is impossible to deny our common humanity. We’re alright with being from different backgrounds, with having different political beliefs, with being surrounded by people or situations that we don’t agree with. Young people today will still come together to have conversations and solve problems, because our access to information and communication enables us to open our own eyes, and to have power once we do. 

Hey – my name is Seven. I’ve been part of the Big Change family for the last few years as a Youth Advisor. I support enterprises and charities with focuses around mental health, homelessness, and of course – the future of education. Above all, I like to call myself an advocate for hugs; I think we all need to show each other a little more love. And because of that combination of passions, I was naturally drawn to the Global Climate Strike on September 20th

Alright, you caught me – yes, I sort of just want to talk about how great the strike was, and how great young people are. But more importantly, I want to take some time to understand what we can do to better support young people in using their strengths for good, and thus why I feel so strongly about reimagining education – and why you should too. 

See, when I think about issues like homelessness and mental health, one word comes to mind: hope. There is hope that we will change and improve. We will make the world a better place, and solve these problems.

But climate change is unique; if we don’t succeed – succeed well and succeed quickly – at slowing, stopping, and reversing our damage to the planet, then our hope for solving all the other issues facing humanity starts to fade away. Climate change is the only issue that can undermine all the hope we have to change the other issues we face. We cannot change the world if there is no world to change.  

However, being surrounded by so many strikers around Westminster stimulated a feeling which was also unique. Nothing but climate change could force us to put down our barriers so radically, passionately, and quickly. And with young people at the fore, it was by far the most empowering event I had ever experienced. I walked from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, and the closer I got to the centre of the crowds, the more enveloping the enthusiasm was. There were too many demonstrations, posters, and activist groups to count. I couldn’t take pictures of everything (even though I really wanted to) and there is no way I will remember everything that I thought was so cool. But that isn’t what matters – I will never forget how that day made me feel. I doubt anyone aware of the significance of that day would be able to forget how it made them feel.

 ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

– Maya Angelou

What worries me most is that despite all that energy, we still have huge disparities in society regarding young people – disparity between what we learn and what we need to learn, disparity between how we learn and how we need to be learning, and disparity between who has access to the right learning and who needs to have access. Not everyone is able to get as involved in this movement, and even many of those that are involved are not able to utilise their passion and energy as constructively as possible. We haven’t learned how. 

The education system needs to be creating a dialogue where young people can explore why something like climate change should matter to them, and teach them how to use and develop their skills so that they can have an impact. A good example might be with social action – why don’t our schools teach young people the skills they need to take that energy and convert it into even a simple action plan in their local areas? 

I wanted to write this for Big Change because education really does need to be reimagined. The climate strike is just one instance – albeit a very important and visible instance – that highlights just how powerful young people are. But no generation acts alone. We are all connected – not just technologically, but by our common humanity. If young people – children – are able to recognise that, then I would hope that more organisations, individuals, schools, parents, and guardians can recognise that too. And that we can work together to make real, lasting change.

It’s no surprise to me that the most important movement our world has ever seen is being led by young people; we don’t need to have all the answers to be powerful, and we know it. Or, as another one of the speakers that day put it (I didn’t catch his name, sorry), “You [as young people] do not need to have the answers, but you have every right to pose the questions [to older generations and politicians]… You are teaching us what it means to be responsible.”

Young people today – Generation Z – are empowered like no generation before. Yes, we are innovative and full of ideas and energy to change the world; but I think most people would agree that that naturally comes with youth. What this generation has in its favour is a level of power to take those ideas and action them – to convert our thoughts into energy and ability. But I also know that our education system, perhaps even our understanding of what education is, needs to be updated to enhance that ability. 

I encourage you to participate in that empowerment; to understand it, and contribute to it. Supporting the organisations that do that is a great way to participate, but something as small as contributing to the education of the young people in your life can go a long way too.

I want you to be excited and energised to live and work in a world where young people are so motivated and empowered to change the world. I want that motivation and empowerment for change to be catalysed as much as possible. I want us to use that to show each other and our planet a little more love. 

That is the least our world deserves. 

GUEST BLOG written BY: Seven Jacobs

Seven is a member of the Big Change Youth Advisory Board and runs a London-based youth agency that supports organisations to better understand Generation Z. He also loves talking about the power of social entrepreneurship, and is involved in various tech-for-good startups.

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