When you think back on 2018 will you remember the courage, imagination and will of Emma Gonzalez; Greta Thunberg and Jean Hinchcliffe?
Do you know these names? And what they share in common?
All under 18 years of age, these are three extraordinary young people who took a stand to try make the world safer, more sustainable, more equitable and more inclusive.
In 2018, these young women led school students onto the streets of cities across the globe to protest inaction on gun laws and climate change.
They’ve had an impact. Not only on millions of their peers around the world, but in changing hearts and minds, and emboldening others, across all generations, to stand up for what they believed in too.
Politicians and powerful institutions told them to be quiet, to go back to school and study. What they need to do instead is give young people a voice in the systems that are making decisions around them.
This year there are more Australians over 45 than under 30 for the first time since Federation. This brings with it some hard truths. Young Australians are at a triple disadvantage: from here on in they will always be outnumbered, their needs traded off against those of a growing ageing population; they are grossly under-represented by the majority of politicians; and they will inherit the challenges and issues of the world without any input to the design of their individual and collective futures.
One way to quickly address this issue is to lower the voting age. It’s not a new idea, close to a dozen countries and many more states have lowered the voting age to 16 in the past decade with the rationale that if you can legally work and pay taxes then you should have the right to vote.
In a recent podcast on democracy and young people, the UK’s Professor David Runciman, Head of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) said the voting age should be as low as 6 or 7 years of age. The exact age can be debated, but the point is we should be working overtime to find multiple ways of enfranchising future generations to re-imagine democracy, the economy and technology in a more innovative, equal and sustainable way. Particularly at the beginning of a century they will likely live throughout.
I believe there are ways to address the looming inequity and disadvantage facing our children and young people.
Firstly, start genuinely engaging and bringing young people to the table to solve the real challenges and problems that impact their future.
The diverse lived experience, skills, capabilities and characteristics which we need to lead, navigate and adapt in times of change won’t be found in a text book, playbook, nor a silver bullet of any kind. They are a combination of disciplines and more subtle and nuanced skills, such as problem solving, empathy, creativity and collaboration with the ‘unlikeminded’.
At FYA, we do this through our social enterprise, YLab, which has trained and employed 75 young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to work on 44 different systems change and youth engagement projects across government, community and business in the past year.
Secondly, education and learning is now a rich and deep eco-system traversing early childhood and secondary and higher education – new technology and industries, and a requirement for lifelong learning in whatever employment context. To keep up with the tide of change we need a collective, nationwide conversation on education and learning, new measures and pathways of success, and importantly, a level playing field for every child and young person to be the best they can be.
There are countless examples of educators, schools, TAFEs and universities across this country doing exceptional work in an uncertain environment. At FYA our focus on building ‘enterprise’ skills – digital, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, cultural competence and collaboration skills – through initiatives like $20 Boss has seen close to 30,000 students participate in establishing ventures for people, purpose, planet and profit, with over 2,500 enterprises to date.
The challenge ahead is clear. Can we prepare generations of children and young people quickly enough to ensure they can All benefit and contribute, in equal parts, to a rapidly changing technology-led world of work? Can we inoculate them against a world experiencing unprecedented levels of environmental stress and mental dis-ease?
Thirdly, we must support young people pioneering new ways to innovate and lead social change.
Last week the FYA Hub hosted acclaimed economist, Mariana Mazaccato, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London. Mariana is an advocate for government, entrepreneurs, business and civil society effectively work together to co-create and redistribute value.
Mariana spoke of the need for strong ecosystems with clear ‘missions’ to drive innovation across disciplines and sectors including: giving attention to the entire system; decentralized, dynamic networks; basic and applied research; strategic, patient, long term finance; and, bold demand-side policies.
If we provide these supports and foster an environment and collective mindset of entrepreneurial social and economic activity, we can empower a generation of young Australians to take the initiative and address our most pressing issues with innovation.
With close to 300 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) supported over the past 9 years from across the length and breadth of Australia, this flagship FYA program has become a critical pipeline for early stage social entrepreneurs.
As Daniel Petrie said recently “denigrating innovation is kind of like suggesting oxygen takes up too much space in our atmosphere.”
But one program isn’t enough. We need a national investment in youth innovation to ensure our future and theirs can be more equitable, prosperous and sustainable.
FYA is over halfway through our current five year strategy and we have been actively reviewing our progress and work to date.
Some of our 2018 highlights include:
- Engaging with one of the largest communities of young people in Australia more than 200,000 young people who engage online and face to face through our programs like Innovation Nation in Schools and $20Boss.
- For the ninth consecutive year, backing another 45 young entrepreneurs and social innovators to start, develop and grow enterprises that achieve both a social impact alongside sustainable revenue generation – the largest community of young entrepreneurs in Australia;
- Supporting 125 members who use the co-working hub space to collaborate, communicate and take their ventures to the next level;
- YLab, FYA’s social enterprise, has trained and employed more than 75 Associates to work in co-design and delivery of system change projects with governments, schools, businesses and for purpose organisations in Australia and beyond; and
- Reaching an audience of over 14 million people via the media with our New Work Order research series.
In 2019 we will:
- Collaborate on national education transformation, advocacy and policy;
- Continue research on the New Work Order for young people and demonstrate effective models and approaches to maximise opportunities in the future of work;
- Build youth-led social innovation and design projects with entrepreneurs and intraprenuers – those both inside and outside our current institutions and systems;
- Equip more young people with the skills, capabilities and mindset for the changing world of work;
- Work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to co-design new opportunities for leadership, participation and entrepreneurship development.
I started by describing the extraordinary achievements of three teenagers. Allow me to conclude with an observation Greta Thunberg made to the world leaders at the Climate Change meeting in Poland, “You say you love your children above all else, yet you are stealing their futures right before their very eyes.”
By the time summer is over the nation will be on the brink of an election. Before we go to the polls young people in Australia have every right to put forward and demand a clearly stated and comprehensive policy, set at the heart of the nation’s priorities, regarding their support, development, education and wellbeing.
As we have discovered around the world this year young people are more than capable of mobilising, leading change and speaking truth to power. Our role is to tap into this unlimited potential to help design the future, now.
With huge thanks, gratitude and admiration to the extraordinary FYA community of young people, partners, staff and board members we have worked with in 2018.
Wishing you all a regenerative holiday season and a happy New Year.
See you again in 2019.
Jan Owen AM