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Youth leaders that are changing the world

Students are making their voices heard on tough and complex topics and offering real solutions. In the classroom, educators can use this as an ideal opportunity to develop interdisciplinary skills.

Children who are changing the world
Young people demanding action to address climate change. Credits: Reuters/Adobe Stock

Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Bana Alabed may all be raising awareness about different issues but what they collectively demonstrate is that young people can successfully bring attention to the world’s most pressing issues and influence change.

Children today are highly exposed to the issues impacting the world and have become increasingly concerned with finding solutions for these social, political and environmental issues to make a long-lasting difference.

Ashoka, in collaboration with the IB, is cultivating a new generation of ‘changemakers’—those who take action to address problems, activate others and work towards solutions for the good of all.

Director of the Global LeadYoung Initiative at Ashoka, Claire Fallender, says: “In a world of accelerating change, everyone needs to be practised changemakers in their personal and professional lives, whether in a company, government or citizen organization.”

In their work with the IB, Ashoka supports young changemakers in the Middle Years Programme on their entrepreneurial journey. Ashoka has more than 1,300 education fellows globally and has supported more than 375,000 young people, who are practising changemaking in 50 countries. The organization strives to enable everyone to become a changemaker.

But to do this, education is necessary. It helps students develop cognitive empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking skills. “It gives them the space to practise these skills, fail forward and gain confidence in the face of a changing environment,” says Fallender.

Ashoka Young Changemaker and IB alumnus Josh Kaplan, says: “classrooms offer the perfect forum for critical thinking, which allows students to develop innovative solutions that target the root of society’s foremost issues.”

In February 2015, Kaplan launched GOALS (Giving Opportunities to All who Love Soccer), a nonprofit organization that partners youth athletes who have intellectual disabilities with neurotypical peer buddies to play together. GOALS has impacted over 700 children of all abilities and is an official partner of the Special Olympics. As part of his role with Ashoka, Kaplan leads workshops, develops advocacy campaigns and structures a global network of young social entrepreneurs.

“Small actions taken can make all the difference”

Creating changemakers

Students need support from schools, teachers, parents and their peers to help them practise changemaking. Giving children the space—within their classes and outside—to lead their own initiatives, build teams to address issues they care about and activate their peers as changemakers too, is a great starting point.

For younger students, cognitive-based empathy is the critical skill to develop. “Practising changemaking for the good of all is as important as mathematics and reading,” says Fallender.

But the aim is not for every student to launch a successful nonprofit or social enterprise. “Entrepreneurship is more about the skill-building process than it is the final product,” explains Kaplan. “Volunteering with local organizations, fundraising for important causes, or raising awareness about global issues are just as valuable for students to understand changemaking.”

Kaplan says IB World schools, offering the IB Diploma Programme (DP), can support young entrepreneurs and changemakers through creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay (EE).

“Allow students to complete projects that count for more than one category and discuss with them the value of interdisciplinary skill building,” he says.

“Also allow students greater flexibility with their EE topics. Even though no ‘entrepreneurship’ category exists, I was able to integrate my nonprofit work with the EE requirements through a quantitative research study. Remind students that the knowledge they develop through the EE can be instrumental to entrepreneurial endeavours,” he says.

It’s essential that educators model changemaking too. “Plan events—whether they are annual fundraisers, food drives, or grade-wide days of service—that challenge students to engage with their communities.”

Four steps to becoming a successful changemaker

  1. Practice is key.
  2. Explore challenges and issues you care about in the school and community.
  3. Research and volunteer with existing organizations that address an issue you care about
  4. Invite others to join the effort and build a team. No changemaker works alone.

Reducing waste

Children who are changing the world
MYP student Diya Kohli, founder of REDONE/IT

IB students are going above and beyond when it comes to their school projects, using it as a prime opportunity to make a real impact and help communities in need.

After learning that the increased demand for consumer goods is depleting the world’s natural resources and negatively impacting our environment, MYP student Diya Kohli, at Atlantic Community High School in Florida, U.S., wanted to contribute in any way she could. She came up with an idea to recycle used denim with a, ‘zero waste’, policy.

She created a nonprofit organization called REDONE/IT, which collects old denim from landfill in India—and from donations from all over the world—and turns this into handbags. In the process, she is empowering women in India by offering them paid jobs, and encouraging them to broaden their skillsets. The handbags are sold at exhibitions and via social media.

All profits are donated to a cancer charity. Diya explains: “My grandmother in India is a cancer survivor. The Tata memorial hospital, Mumbai, is a world-recognized hospital that offers free treatment to cancer patients all over the country. The patients seeking treatment have no money to support them through their stay in a city. So, I decided to donate all the money raised through REDONE/IT, which support patients with their expenses.”

What began as an MYP personal project has turned into raising thousands of U.S. dollars for the hospital. Vikramjeet Singh Kanwar is also attempting to reduce worldwide waste. The MYP student at DPS International, in India, founded an NGO called, ‘Max Xchange’, in 2015 when he realized that poorly managed waste is a major cause of pollution in the country.

He collects dry waste from nearby offices, schools and colleges, which he recycles into paper, pencils, notebooks and other products for underprivileged communities. This solo project expanded into a team of 50 people that collects waste from around 200 places.

“Small actions taken can make all the difference,” he says. “We were learning about, ‘globalisation and sustainability’, and I wanted to impact change.”

As well as making a difference for the greater good, educators are recognizing that entrepreneurship also offers students the chance to build opportunities for themselves and gain problem-solving, teamwork and risk-taking skills. Hiranandani Foundation International School (HFIS) in Powai, India, has introduced an entrepreneurship project for DP students. They identify firms in Powai where they can work on a unique project or product, which encourages students to become inventors.

“The idea is to instill entrepreneurial skills early on so that the students are ready to face the real world,” says HFIS Principal Kalyani Patnaik. “The world out there is competitive, and our students shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks and pursuing their ideas.”

Taking part in community and entrepreneurial projects gives students invaluable life skills. As Fallender says: “A young person finds their power as a changemaker by practising it, not by just reading about it.”

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