The youth integral to solving the world’s intractable problems

The youth integral to solving the world’s intractable problems
ZahRah Khan

The world’s challenges are cannonballing. This Youth Day serves as reminder that educated youth are key in ensuring that the world survives – and thrives.

All is not well. The youth of today carry the burden of a world in decay. Pervasive violence, protracted civil wars and displacement, unequal and inconsistent access to education and healthcare, climate change, gender discrimination and food insecurity all affect the youth disproportionately.

The mere thought of this is disheartening. But taking a moment to peel away at the negative sensationalism that often accompanies these issues reveals that it’s not all doom and gloom.

There exists an irrepressible force of exuberance, innovation and solutionist thinking among us. This force is the approximately 1.6 billion young people around the world.

Youth wonders of the world

When social entrepreneur Becky Scurlock described the youth as an ‘’untapped resource’’ back in 2017, she was on to something.

She states that in a world that is adult-dominated, the opinions and ideas of the youth on how to address society’s greatest challenges are discarded or overlooked. Yet, she goes on to say, young people have an ‘’acute sense of justice when it comes to society’s issues’’, and have the ability to contribute to grassroots and high-level social justice efforts.

Scurlock also believes that the youth are ‘’unconstrained by deep-rooted societal norms’’, which allows them to ideate creatively to formulate solutions that would not occur to ‘’world-weary adults’’.

Perhaps most critically, she points out that when young people have a defined role in addressing social issues, ‘’they begin to see themselves as capable leaders who can make important contributions to the lives of others.’’

A prime example of just how impactful and coordinated youth activism is can be seen in their approach to climate change.

Who could forget Greta Thunberg, who started skipping school in 2018 to strike for climate action outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, or Somali-American high schooler Irsa Hirsi, who co-founded the U.S. Climate Strike?

On the African continent, scientists predict that climate change will have devastating consequences. In light of this perturbing eventuality, pioneering African youth have joined their contemporaries in making positive change for the planet.

Twenty-two-year-old Vanessa Nakate spends 66 hours a week selling solar batteries in her father’s shop in Kampala, Uganda. Sustainable design thinking prodigy and Forbes Africa 30 under 30 selectee, Leroy Mwasaru, co-founded Greenpact, a social enterprise offering clean renewable Biogas solutions to institutions and homes in Kenya.

And at home, 150 young South Africans have so far contributed to the country’s first-ever Youth Climate Action Plan. Compiled by the South African Institute of International Affairs, the plan aims to consolidate young perspectives on climate change.

These are but a few examples.

Discourse and action on climate change is nothing new among the youth, but for the current cohort of campaigners, climate change has become a matter of generational social justice. They are positioning climate change as an issue that affects gender and race relations, employment and poverty. They recognise that the protection of the most vulnerable people on Earth through climate activism is – and has always been – a fundamental human rights pursuit. This paradigm shift, led by the youth, is what gives this already legitimate cause the gravitas to propel ordinary people (yes, the adults) to act.

How many of the millions of Gretas, Irsas, Leroys and Vanessas among us will reach their full potential for the benefit of humanity?

So while we’re awe of the achievements of these exceptional young minds, we should also be aware that they are just that: exceptions or anomalies who have ignited a process of change.

We know that tangible, lasting change can only be achieved through a collective commitment to action. So for this reason, every single child must have the opportunity to become a productive member of society, assured enough to vehemently oppose injustice in any form, and ready to forge a better world.

The first port of call in ensuring this must be a quality, equal education for all children. It’s no secret that a quality education is essential in creating an equitable economy, sustainable development, social and political enrichment and most of all, a life of dignity and contribution. A quality education shapes youth changemakers that go on to become adult changemakers.

A leader in the transformation of education in South Africa is leadership and education non-profit, Symphonia for South Africa (SSA). This rapidly growing movement places the onus of creating an equitable future for the youth squarely at the feet of each and every individual. SSA’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility, continues to work towards making quality education a topic of national importance, and calls on active citizens to mobilise around the critically important goal of addressing the challenges within the education system in South Africa.

Let 2021 mark the start of an era where the needs of the youth truly take precedence, where their voice is heard and where their education is a priority. We, the adults, are duty-bound to make this happen by supporting the youth in their endeavors to create #TheFutureWeWant.

About the author:

Zah’Rah Khan heads up the editorial team at Symphonia for South Africa. Her focus areas are education, politics, law and research.

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