We Will Rock You – Next Gen Leadership
Thursday, 23rd August 2012 at 10:46 am
OPINION: Our young people’s way of thinking, organising and collaborating is leading to a new global conversation for anyone who cares to listen, says Jan Owen, CEO of Foundation for Young Australians.
Picture this. A Thursday evening in August 2012 at Redfern Technology Park, Sydney. Fifty Year 10 to 12 high school students pitching new ideas for business ventures with social benefits to a panel of business and social entrepreneurs.
The effortlessness with which these young people adopt the notion of doing well by doing good is breathtaking. The new eyes and fresh ideas of these students inspires the audience.
In Australia, the past 10 years have seen more social activism by young people than in the previous 20. Young people’s way of thinking, organising and collaborating is leading to a new global conversation for anyone who cares to listen. Our young people are creating a new narrative about not only the kind of world they want to survive in, but one in which they can live, love and thrive.
There have been movements and revolutions for change throughout the course of history, but never has there been: the vast range of tools (offline and online) now available, including instantaneous communication mechanisms (Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Australia’s first online movement to engage 100,000 young people); the ability to mobilise millions of people around global causes, leaving many of the more well established organisations and institutions behind (Kony 2012); the capacity to raise significant funds through crowd sourcing platforms (Simon Griffiths, founder of Who Gives A Crap, sitting on a toilet for 48 hours until he raised $50,000 last month).
Add to this the vast range of talented people from diverse backgrounds, from corporate lawyers and indigenous young people to artists and scientists, collaborating to solve social problems in magnificent and innovative ways.
Armed with this swag full of tools and resources, these young social entrepreneurs are competing for the hearts, minds and wallets of not only their peers, but the general public. They are, interalia, challenging our notions of centralised and hierarchical leadership and the power and influence this has afforded.
At the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) we’ve created a pathway for our nation’s young people to develop their leadership in many forms and contexts, igniting and investing in social change.
This year we established the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy to identify and develop the next generation of young indigenous leaders in Australia while they are still at school. The three founding partners in this venture are FYA and two outstanding indigenous organisations, the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and the Stronger Smarter Institute. The Academy’s methodology is based on changemaking as a tool to develop the entrepreneurial and leadership skills in our young people.
Change It Up supports teams of young people aged 15 to 19 years to generate ideas to improve and change their communities. This initiative is particularly focused on the vast regional and rural communities in Australia. Diverse members of the community itself, such as youth workers, business leaders, local government staff, service organisations and local entrepreneurs, come together to ‘host’ a Change It Up in their local community and then invest (both financially and in-kind through mentoring, access and support) in a young person or group of young people's ideas for change.
Our Young Social Pioneers initiative is part of a global youth entrepreneurs program established by the International Youth Foundation, and currently operates in 12 different countries around the world. Up to 20 young people from across Australia participate in a 12-month intensive program each year to accelerate their social venture – which must have been operational for at least six months – and enhance their personal leadership skills.
The Pioneers work with and support each other. They are also coached and mentored by both young and older people who: may be a few years ahead of them on their journey; who have experience in their cause or issue; or have technical skills from other relevant sectors. Many of our young entrepreneurs have been connected to the global network and have begun learning from and developing business opportunities with each other. What is most exciting is that there are three or four times the applications than we have places for in this program each year.
What is remarkable about these change makers is that their areas of interest extend far beyond issues that are of relevance to young people alone. In the past three years we have run this program the Pioneers have: collectively engaged with 60,000 other young people tackling Australia's binge drinking culture; transformed volunteering through the use of leading edge technology; started new democracy movements; empowered young people through the arts; spearheaded ventures in sustainable fashion, architecture and design in developing countries; and reimagined transport – to give just a few examples. These young people, their ideas, passion and determination are extraordinary and profoundly inspiring.
Many young people we see in or seeking leadership positions, are hungry to learn, to get their hands dirty and to fully immerse themselves in exploring new ways of working with, and leading, others. However, at present, there are few organisations which are preparing our young people for these new ways of leading, working and being. Why? I suspect most older generations are still grappling with the rate of change and working in old ways, which may work for them, but do not work for young people living in a globalised world.
Our communities, workplaces, schools and political institutions need to become much more creative regarding the development of leadership opportunities for young people. Within FYA, we are: trying out the idea of design labs (think Google, where 20 per cent of employee time is provided for work on other projects, design and new thinking); providing opportunities for people from different disciplines and sectors to work on ideas and challenges together through our corporate partnerships; providing coaching and mentoring; and facilitating immersive learning experiences for young people outside of the school and work environment.
Consider the unique and exciting reverse opportunity for older generations. I am lucky enough to be living with, and surrounded by, Gen Ys. I am constantly seeking their support, advice, knowledge and know how. They challenge and enrich my life, my thinking and my worldview daily. It’s not all smooth sailing but any senior executive, manager, politician or leader without a group of Gen Y mentors and guides around them is missing out on profoundly important personal, professional and business growth opportunities.
I am not sure we quite appreciate the magnificent resource young people are. I do know we have an opportunity right now to invest in our young people and their ideas in our schools, communities and the nation. With half the world’s population now under 25 years of age, we have a profound responsibility to Australia’s 3.1 million young people to ensure they are fully equipped with the courage, imagination and will to take on the challenges that lie ahead in an ever-changing world.
About the author: Jan Owen is the CEO of Foundation for Young Australians. FYA is a national, independent, Not for Profit organisation dedicated to all young Australians with a vision for a generation of connected, confident and optimistic young people who have a true sense of purpose and belonging.