Oct 16, 2018

Time to make way for a generation that gives a sh**

written by Steven Lang

Wonderful things can and do happen when young people feel empowered to change the world.

This is just one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the excellent RSA report launched yesterday, ‘Teenagency – How young people can create a better world’. It finds that not only do young people care about making the world a better place, they’re actually prepared to do something about it.

A beacon of hope amidst an all too familiar backdrop of headlines reflecting the inability of the world’s current leadership cohort to…..well…..lead….

Whether it’s Trump’s latest pearls of wisdom on climate change, accounting fraud at the top of major companies, or politicians in the UK and EU doing their best to make the worst of Brexit, you don’t have to look far these days for a case study of irresponsible leadership.

Thankfully this seems set to change, with the emergence of a generation of young leaders driven by social conscience rather than self-interest. In stark contrast to the prevailing stereotype of young people as lazy, narcissistic, anti-social and ill-equipped to play a positive role in society, the RSA’s study of almost 600 14-18 year olds in the UK finds that 84% of young people have a strong desire to help others in society, although only 52% feel they have the confidence to really make a difference in their communities.

Despite that, 68% of young people surveyed are already engaged in some form of positive social action, through volunteering or other means – a pleasant wake-up call for the 49% of adults surveyed who feel that young people are either ‘not very likely’ or ‘not likely at all’ to participate in such activity.

All of this suggests that our hopes for future prosperity, a fair and just society, industries that drive social and environmental as well as economic value, and communities that nourish its citizens lie not with those currently in public and private sector leadership positions who espouse ‘purpose’ often as a marketing soundbite, but with a generation whose values and orientation to action are far better equipped to actually deliver it.

The report concludes that this source of inspiration is best nurtured when 4 conditions are met:

1. When young people are allowed to identify with the problem they want to address;
2. When they are allowed to come up with their own solutions;
3. When they are able to lead the response to the problem; and
4. When they are encouraged to reflect on the impact they have achieved.

When these conditions are met, not only do positive things happen in society, the young people involved develop their confidence, their sense of self-efficacy, as well as their innate leadership skills. In short, they become leaders. The type of leaders the world so desperately needs.

So, let’s stop talking about the youth ‘skills and mindset gap’ in patronising, benevolent terms, allocating corporate responsibility budgets to ‘help’ young people develop the capabilities ‘they’ need to get decent jobs in a system that doesn’t work. Instead, let’s start appreciating that young people are the solution, not some problematic societal time-bomb, and let’s start asking ourselves a different set of questions.

• What can we do to best cultivate a sense of ambition in all young people, regardless of background? A point so eloquently made at the report launch by Elijah, a young man from Moss Side in Manchester and a shining example of the great work being done by the RECLAIM youth leadership organisation.
• What can we do to truly empower young people to lead right now?
• What can we learn from young people who seem to know more about purposeful leadership than those currently in positions of power?

An inspiring panel, chaired by the RSA’s Laura Partridge, discussed these and many other questions at the report’s launch event. Adam Ramgoolie (Founder of Get2Learn), Dame Julia Cleverdon (Co-founder of Step up to Serve #iwill , Sam Conniff Allende (Founder of Livity), and Ruth Ibegbuna (Founder of RECLAIM) each had their own take on what we can best do to unleash the potential of young people. All were resolute their passion and belief, borne of experience, that young people, when given the right chance and conditions to succeed are capable, like no other generation, of creating positive social change.

In the words of Sam Conniff Allende, perhaps the best thing we can do is simply ‘get out of the way’ and give young people the opportunity they not only deserve, but are increasingly prepared to seize.

For now, one thing is clear. It’s time we channelled our collective efforts into giving young people the platform, the confidence and the freedom to show us what purposeful leadership really looks like.