Young people are often portrayed as a monolithic problem that they will eventually “grow out of.” However, without truly recognizing the capability and power of young people while they are young, we ignore their unique position to find solutions to many issues our society faces every day. And in our current reality, young people offer creative ideas and solutions we all must value, support, and uplift in order to achieve a much more equitable, happy, and healthy world.
64% of Ashoka Fellows (leading social entrepreneurs) started their first venture before turning 20
For us all to live in a world that copes with rapidly changing contexts, we must all feel capable and be equipped to take action. That means redefining what success looks like for young people by uplifting their voices and supporting their ideas for change.
During the last four decades, Ashoka has engaged over 50,000 young Changemakers worldwide. And, in the Nordic region, we have been working closely with youth advisory boards, conduct capacity trainings, providing Changemaking tools to youth and educators, as well as advocating for youth leadership towards inclusive and sustainable development during the last ten years.
Supporting and empowering youth in their Changemaking journey
In 2021, the Finnish Young Changemaker of the year 2021 was for the first time awarded in Finland. The purpose of the recognition is to empower, inspire and support Finnish youth in their journey towards launching and leading a positive impact in society. The winners of this first edition, Rens Original and the You Tell Me Collective, have illustrated the characteristic features of Changemakers. After being awarded, both winners were connected to three experienced mentors - each from Ashoka Nordic’s network - to gain support for developing their solutions further.
With this award, Ashoka has established a network of Finnish young Changemakers and an increased understanding of young leaders, their needs, interests and priorities. The mentoring programme has supported them to grow and develop their social initiatives, making their voices heard in wider professional networks. By inspiring and empowering the young Changemakers and gaining a closer relationship with each of the finalists, Ashoka has also gained a better understanding of the mentoring and learning dynamics, which will be taken on board for the next edition of the Young Changemaker of the Year.
How to structure a Collective while pioneering your field
It can be challenging being a pioneer in your field, especially working with big challenges such as sustainability or working against obstacles and structures that prevent sustainable solutions. The winners of the Young Changemaker of the Year 2021 have pioneered their fields by engaging throughout the Young Changemaker of the Year mentoring programme from January to May during Spring 2021. These mentoring sessions covered a range of different topics, where sustainability and structure were amongst the key themes.
How to tackle Greenwashing? How to avoid becoming tokens?
These were some of the questions discussed during the mentoring program with the You Tell Me Collective (YTMC). Meanwhile, mentor sessions with Rens Original open on to a comprehensive sustainability report and good networking connections with sustainability experts.
In addition, the YTMC discussed how to structure their organization, from a friend-based group of students to a registered association, and how classical organization structures and hierarchy might be valuable for achieving more effective ways of working in the long-term and applying for support funding. Together with their mentors Koko Hubara and Mari Tikkanen, the collective achieved an increased understanding of their changemaking journey, helping new members find their place and action in the collective.
Uplifting the voices of mind-shifters
Who is your role model and what impact have they played in your life?
The winner of the Nobel prize of Literature, Toni Morrison. Both her fiction and essays have taught me everything I need to know about writing: you have to invite the reader in, be personal, and find that perfect balance between emotion and fact, horror and love.
Who is a Changemaker for you, and why?
Changemakers to me are not necessarily politicians or those in power. They are every person, especially the ones who belong to a minority or do not fit the norm. To me, the true Changemaker is the one that gets up every morning, getting out there and doing their thing unapologetically.
How is your world different today from the world you grew up in?
When I was growing up in Finland in the 80s-90s, the Finnish language didn't have words for who I was: a Finnish girl of color.
The same goes for a lot of minorities and marginal phenomena. Now, we've started new conversations and created vocabularies. I think everything starts with language, words, dialogues. I'm happy to see this difference.
What would you tell another young person who wanted to solve a problem they care about in their community?
Talk to your friends and just start doing it. You'll have plenty of time to strategize and organize along the way, but the main thing is to just start talking about the issues you care and getting to know like-minded people. Don't be alarmed by the problems and conflicts you encounter, it's part of the process. Change is not supposed to be fun and comfortable all the time, because you can't keep repeating familiar, intuitive patterns and expect a different outcome.
Overall, the Young Changemaker of the year has been a successful journey filled with network connections, great engagement from Mentors, Jury Members and the Young Changemakers themselves.
During the next months, Ashoka will continue to engage both the winners and the finalists in various engagements, such as the Nordic Young Change-Leaders (NYC) Summit in October 2021 as well as other global opportunities.
Nordic Young Change-Leaders (NYC) is a network for further collaboration, professional development and peer support, culminating in a Changemaker Summit in October 2021.
Are you enacting change in your community? We want to hear from you!
Tag #ashokanordic on social media or contact our Nordic Youth Coordinator, Frida Ekstrom firstname.lastname@example.org, to let us know how you are stepping up to create change around the most pressing societal challenges.