There are infinite opportunities for youth to volunteer and “get involved” – both locally and globally – but what about those interested in starting their own projects? What about the young changemakers that are inspired, or have an idea, and are looking to take the next step?
Having founded ACCESS, a non-profit organization, as a high-school student, I’ve realized that there is a disconnect between inspiration and action, especially at the youth level. For the most part, students in high school and postsecondary institutions are presented with opportunities to volunteer, join clubs, or attend one-off personal development sessions. These are all great, and I encourage you to explore all the opportunities available that interest you – but few to none of these allow you, as a student, to truly create, lead, and innovate something unique and take the core action into your own hands and continue beyond those set initiatives or events.
If you’re inspired and motivated and want to take action to create positive social change, I encourage you to do so. ACCESS has run for nearly 10 years as a youth-led organization with its ups and downs and periods of growth, change, funding success, and various partnerships. Now, ACCESS is here to help youth start and build their own projects out to their full potential. Our new ACCESS Innovation program includes workshops, incubation, mentorship and conferences.
To give you some help along the way, here are a few of my tips for youth taking action for the social good:
1. Focus on the Issue
What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What is the main point you’re working to alleviate? Although you’ll have many opportunities for events, partnerships and more, keep in mind your core issue and mission, and evaluate how it relates to everything you do. (Your mission may evolve and expand, but it is key to keep it focused, especially at first).
2. Be Accountable
From the beginning you must be accountable to yourself, to the people you’re helping, to the cause, and to your team (once you have one). This means setting goals, keeping track of your tasks, having a schedule of events that you actually go to. Being a young changemaker is not easy, and it’s easy to get off track, so you need to stay accountable for all that you do.
3. Have Fun
The world is filled with serious, even depressing problems that need to be solved. As a committed young activist, you’re going to be in this for the long haul. It is important that you enjoy it! Get friends involved when you can, host events that are enjoyable, use humour in your messaging and materials (when appropriate, of course), be enthusiastic and have a great time sending emails and scheduling meetings. Make the day-to-day enjoyable, so you and your team can continue creating positive change.
4. Start Small
There’s an infinite number of issues in the world (and in your local community) that could be addressed. Your project itself could expand in many directions as well. Regardless, you need to start with a small, dedicated team (even if that’s just you, or two of you). Keep your programming focused. Rather than running 6 kinds of programs and events, maybe choose two types and do them really well all year; or instead of aiming to solve world hunger, research a certain region or town that could benefit greatly from your focused assistance.
5. Be Present
Although you may be working really hard via email, doing research and having meetings, it is all worthless if nobody else knows about your project. Be active on social media. However, make sure that you don’t spam and overwhelm. Aim to regularly update followers and friends on your project and the issue you’re addressing. That way, when people are interested or have an opportunity for you, they’ll have you and your cause on their minds.
This is a big one. As a young activist, you’ll be faced with “competition” – fellow youth, or large organizations doing similar work, even in the same areas. There is nothing wrong with exploring the option of collaboration. It takes courage and selflessness to approach another group proposing a collaboration, but keep your goals in mind. If you can be stronger together, then consider partnering and working together, or even merging with them. Some can become short-term partners (e.g. a fellow non-profit co-hosting an event), and some can be mentors from larger institutions (e.g. school boards, churches, granting organizations). Be open, evaluate, and make choices for social good.
7. Evaluate and Seek Advice
Every so often, you should evaluate your progress, goals and direction, and seek feedback and input. Meet mentors and share your project and your future goals. There’s nothing wrong with updating your direction, fine-tuning your programs, or even re-locating if it makes sense. Do not be discouraged, but always take criticism into consideration. You have not chosen an easy path, but in the end, if you’re dedicated and patient, your impact will definitely be worth it.
If you’re seriously considering starting your own innovative project, program, or organization and would like to discuss support options, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Daniel Francavilla, originally published on SUFC. Daniel Francavilla is the Founder and Executive Director of ACCESS (and Speak Up for Change). As a youth-led non-profit, ACCESS educates, empowers, and inspires youth to drive positive change.