As an 18-year-old girl, I am often told that my peers and I will be the “leaders of tomorrow.” While this is meant to be a compliment, I am always left thinking: Why can’t I do something today? When I was 14, this question drove me to take action and I quickly realized that you can never be too young to make a difference.
Being a teen adviser to the U.N. Foundation’s Girl Up campaign is proof that age does not affect your ability to affect change. Take a fellow teen adviser, Avery McCall, as an example. In the past year, she has hosted bake sales, awareness events, fundraisers and even a walk-a-thon, raising more than $36,000 for Girl Up. She has spoken on panels around the country and taught countless girls the importance of helping their peers. And guess what? She’s 14 years old.
On the other side of the world, 7-year-old Shravani built up her self-confidence, challenged tradition and educated herself about her rights. She tackled the social and economic issues that led her parents to cease her education and went back to school. Now, at age 15, Shravani is president of a children’s group fighting to end child marriage, including her own.
These young women are remarkable and each and every young person has the potential that they do. Just by being young, we bring a fresh perspective to comparatively ancient world problems. We bring a youthful creativity that is undervalued in the world.
On Aug. 12, the world celebrates International Youth Day. I’d like it to be the day when the youth generation stands up, takes action, and proves that we aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow — we’re the leaders of today.
Why do I have so much faith in young people? No matter what country we live in, we all have dreams. We have new perspectives, plenty of time and unparalleled levels of energy. And, for the first time ever, we have outlets to channel our ideas. We have tools at our disposal that were just crazy ideas merely five years ago. Using these tools, we can mobilize our peers across geographic and political borders. These are tools that the “leaders of today” barely understand. But for us, these technologies form the foundation of our daily lives; we use them every day. And we have the opportunity to utilize these tools to affect massive global change — it just takes a young person to step up and do it.
When I was 16, I launched iCAREweCARE, a student-run nonprofit that leverages social media for social good. We help students find opportunities that match their passions and connect them with like-minded students around the world. Already, students are beginning to understand how global issues are affecting different countries. Students are talking across borders and thinking about how to work together to solve problems.
So, to all the “leaders of today”: In honor of International Youth Day, listen to young people. Include us in the international agenda. Foster our ideas, have intelligent conversations with us, and encourage us to take action. I think you’ll be surprised at the problems we can solve.
Now, from my unqualified perspective, here are my five steps that young people can take to spur global development:
1. Know your passion
This doesn’t just mean to find your passion; KNOW it. Educate yourself about the issue. Read the news every day. Understand the issue through the people it actually affects.
2. Connect with local organizations
Get involved with people who are already tackling the issue. Talk to them about what their barriers are, how they are addressing those barriers, and why they are passionate about the issue.
3. Raise awareness
You have two outlets to achieve this one.
First, use online tools to mobilize your peers and get your voice heard. How many of you use some kind of social network? Use that! Use this network to share your passion and get others just as genuinely interested as you are.
Second, bring your community together. Use social media, word of mouth, letters, incentives, whatever it takes to gather a group of people and educate them about the issue. Explain why you are passionate about it and how you can work together towards a solution (by raising money, spreading the word, etc.).
4. Capitalize on your strengths
Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, focus on what you’re good at. For example, if you’re hosting an event and you’re good at public speaking, find someone who’s good at logistics to plan the event and someone who’s creative to design the invitations.
Focus your energy on using your strengths and let other people play to their strengths as well. Contrary to societal expectations, you don’t have to fix your weaknesses — those are other people’s strengths. Together, you can build great teams.
5. Don’t be afraid to challenge tradition
Tradition may tell you that child marriage is OK, or that girls shouldn’t go to school. But if traditions are interfering with human rights, fight for the rights of your peers! Find ways to educate the affected community about why those traditions can and should be changed.
And always remember: Barriers are no competition for true passion. If you really care about making a change, you just have to do it. The world will thank you later.
Priyanka Jain is the founder and president of iCAREweCARE, a student-run nonprofit leveraging social media for social good. A strong advocate for girls around the world, Priyanka is also a teen advisor to the U.N. Foundation campaign “Girl Up” and often speaks on behalf of youth at conferences worldwide. She was named the "Outstanding Young Philanthropist of 2012" by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and selected as one of the “Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs” by Smart Girls’ Way. Priyanka is a member of Stanford University’s Class of 2016.