How do I make a difference?
It’s a question we hear a lot at Americans for Informed Democracy. We hear it at our leadership summits, where top college students come together to discuss a new vision for the U.S. role in the world. We hear it on our conference calls, when chapter leaders share their zany (– and often brilliant!–) ideas for new projects. And we hear it at our office, as we ask ourselves how we do a better job of empowering our generation to take on today’s global challenges.
Amidst all these conversations of how young people make a difference, we are always surprised to see media coverage that portrays us as the “do nothing generation.” Indeed, it seems like everyone our age wants to “do something.” But we’re taking a different approach than past generations. Activism in the 1960’s and 1970’s was overwhelmingly focused on governmental change. Young people then held massive rallies, marches and sit-ins around civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War.
But today’s young people are more focused on issues beyond the headlines, like climate change, poverty, and health. And we’re not just looking to the government for answers. Instead, we see ourselves as a large part of the solution, which is why we’re joining socially responsible companies, buying fair trade products, and even starting our own social ventures. Perhaps what is most noticeable about our generation is that we are a discriminating bunch —we don’t just want to know the cause, we want to understand why your model is the most effective way to impact the cause.
Our generation’s approach to social change raises many questions.
• Are young people today smart to be so focused on individual action or should we put more emphasis on policy change?
• Are there promising policy opportunities to tackle climate, health, and poverty that young people are missing?
• If we do take the non-governmental route, what are the most promising opportunities for young people to get involved in social change?
• Are social venture capital, micro-finance, and non-profit tech companies the best ways to go? Or are private sector opportunities in corporate social responsibility the best way to get involved in innovative, high-impact social change?