It’s dusty and hot. Over-polluted, not to mention over-populated.
It seems like nothing you do, no amount of money you donate or children you sponsor, is going to make a difference to the problems faced in developing countries.
So why bother?
In ‘Everyone a Change Maker’, Bill Drayton says that the most important contribution any of us can make now is not to solve any particular problem, no matter how urgent energy or environment or financial regulation is. What we must do now is increase the proportion of humans who know that they can cause change. And who, like smart white blood cells coursing through society, will stop with pleasure when they see that something is stuck or that an opportunity is ripe to be seized.
The children of elite families grow up at home and usually in school, being expected to take initiative and being rewarded for doing so. This confident ability to master new situations and initiate whatever changes or actions are needed is in essence what defines the elite. Entering adult life with confidence and mastery of empathy, teamwork and leadership skills is what ultimately has given this small group control of the initiative and therefore of power and resources for millennia.
However, the other 97 percent grow up getting very little experience in taking initiative.
Adults control the classroom, work setting, and even sports and extra-curricular activities.
And this situation, coupled with society’s attitudes, drums home the message to this majority: “You’re not competent or perhaps even responsible. Please don’t try to start things; we can do it far better.” Teachers, social workers and others are comfortably in control; and, in fact, most school and other youth cultures are not competent and do not train and support and respect initiative-taking. Instead, the peer group culture, not surprisingly, is resentful and in the worst cultures, quite negative.
Do these inarticulate, frustrated youth cultures bring analogous prior situations to mind? Over the last century, many other groups—including women, African Americans, those with disabilities, even colonial peoples—had to make their way from debilitating stereotypes and little prior practice in taking the initiative to becoming fully accepted, capable contributors. These groups, although very different from one another, had to travel strongly similar human and community transformation paths.
Young people are the last big group to set out on this journey. Therefore, it is essential that they be central actors—both in actually shifting to the new pattern (because the best learning comes from action) and in championing the change (because people are most likely to hear and trust peers).
To the degree they succeed locally, they give wings to the peers whose idea they have taken up, they encourage neighbors also to become changemakers, and they cumulatively build the institutions and attitudes that make local changemaking progressively easier and more respected. All of which transforms their community, city and country.
Note: This article is excerpted from a longer article that includes Drayton’s partnership with Youth Ventures and innovative ideas for social financing.