Do you want to create change, but don’t know where to start? Have you struggled to feel that your own actions can make a difference? The reasons can be overwhelming and many, ranging from “I’m too young to do something meaningful” to “working for social change is like swimming against the tide“. I would like to tell you how spending five days with youth from all over the world completely shifted my perspective.
Last August, I had the pleasure of attending the Youth Assembly at the United Nations which is a biannual forum aimed at empowering youth to become active members of sustainable development. During the five days at the forum, I was among 1,100 participants who had the opportunity to hear the words of high-level speakers, such as H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st UN General Assembly, as they shared their experience implementing the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in different levels and settings. Although this was both insightful and astounding, I must say that what really made the biggest impact on me was my fellow YOUTH. People in their 20’s or younger who are working tirelessly in their home countries to make progress toward the vision of the SDGs.
I heard someone say in the halls of the UN: “Youth are not only the future leaders, youth are the leaders of today guiding the world into the future”. I couldn’t agree more. Whenever I had the chance I would ask the person sitting next to me why they chose to attend the forum and how they first became interested in the Goals. It was incredible to see the number of youth involved in one way or another in the pursuit of this global vision. I learned that, sometimes, they hadn’t even heard about the SDGs when they began their projects, but had come up with their ideas as a way to address issues they experienced in their local communities.
One of the projects that stuck in my mind was a program called Humans First created by a 16 year-old girl from Turkey. The program is focused on improving the lives of Alzheimer patients by conducting research at an Alzheimer Centre with the guidance of a neurologist, to analyze the effects of music on the patients’ ability to focus.
Another very interesting initiative, was Sit With Us, an organization founded by a high school student from the United States, who had been a victim of bullying. This project seeks to connect students and create a safe club or group of friends for those who feel left out at school.
On the last day, I shared a table with a law student from Cape Town, South Africa who is launching RefRights, an app for refugees to access legal advice from pro bono lawyers. With this app, refugees can be more informed about their rights while reducing the costs of legal aid.
These stories showed me that it is never too soon to work for what you believe in. All I could think of after these conversations was: Wow! These individuals are so young, and yet they have done so much for their communities with most of them starting from nothing! No one asked them to do it, but they were aware of a pressing issue in their communities, so they decided to take action, mobilize and look for the tools to address it.
As youth, we tend to think that we are too insignificant, too little, too young to make a change but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of the youth that I had the fortune to meet, had gone through difficult times in their lives but they were able to overcome all obstacles, and even at times use their obstacles, as inspiration to start a small project and help others. Young change makers are taking the lead and helping the world move toward the achievement of the SDGs by working in their communities and at the same time, inspiring others to do the same.
I don’t want the inspiration that these people gave me to be left within the walls of the General Assembly. I want to share it so that after reading this you think to yourself: “Maybe I can do something to make the world a little bit better” I challenge you grab hold of this idea and to set a goal, even a small one, and work on it for the next month. I am sure that if you give it a try, you will be amazed at the things you can make happen.
If you have an idea that you want to develop, there are many sources of funding for social ventures, here are some examples:
If you would like to hear more stories about young change makers visit:
Alejandra Páramo is a former Research Assistant at the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation where she contributed to the development of BCCIC’s report “Where Canada Stands” for the HLPF 2017. In August 2017, she attended the 20th session of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations as a delegate. Currently, she is a Regional Liaison Officer at World University Service of Canada (WUSC).