Young innovators as agents of change

There’s no question that young people are the future. In fact, that’s the impetus behind Generation Unlimited, a UNICEF and partner initiative to help develop opportunities for young people as they head into their second decade of life. We reflect on the challenges that those under 30 face and ask ourselves what can a global organization do to support them?

Look at the facts: Ninety percent of the global population under age 30 lives in emerging or developing economies. What’s more, according to the latest World Economic Forum Global Shapers Survey, today’s young leaders view large-scale conflicts and inequality as two of the most critical issues of their time.

These are also the same young people who increasingly take the lead on addressing humanitarian challenges through innovation and perseverance. Some challenges, from lack of clean water and quality education to the threats of regional conflict and violence, may feel insurmountable. But young people all around the world are finding new ways to make their communities safer, cleaner, and healthier.

A lady carrying a baby in one arm and some clothes and a teddy in the other stands in the middle of people - anurse in blue uniform and some men in "Rotary" t-shirts.
© Paul MushahoPaul Mushaho and the Rotaract Club of Nakivale support a maternity program in the refugee settlement camp.

On 10 November, Rotary International is honoring six such young people in Nairobi, Kenya. These young people will hear from UN and other officials, and then present their work before NGOs, experts, activists, and Rotary members at the annual Rotary Day at the United Nations. These Young Innovators, all under age 35, have dedicated their time, intellect, and energy to addressing a variety of humanitarian challenges and are making a positive impact. They are true agents of change.

Take Paul Mushaho, a 27-year-old refugee in Kampala, Uganda, for example. Despite fleeing his homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only two years ago, Paul witnessed some of the challenges in his refugee settlement camp. Last year he founded a Rotaract Club that initiated projects to improve the lives of the 90,000 refugee residents. Paul’s club fumigated the new arrivals reception area, provided sewing machines to women’s groups, established farm training and mentoring programs, developed job opportunities within the camp, and mentored other young people. Paul’s club helps build a sense of community among people from more than 13 different nationalities as they build new lives with others they just met, and with whom they don’t share a culture.

When young people are inspired by positive change around them, they’ll likely see a positive path forward for themselves

Shadrack Nyawa, or Sheddy, led a Rotary project to improve sanitation for rural schools in Kilifi County, Kenya where students learned in classrooms with dirt floors, limited resources, and no toilets. He traveled on rough dirt roads to assess and select schools with the most need and coordinated improvement work until it was completed. His efforts resulted in 50 toilets being built in five schools, allowing students more time to study and learn. Today, Sheddy is a leader in providing HIV and women’s health services, often going door-to-door to encourage women to visit their local clinic, take HIV tests, breastfeed, and get their children immunized.

Two men pulling out a sack of supplies from the back of a truck putting it on the ground
© Rotary InternationalPaul Mushaho unloads supplies for the residents of the refugee settlement camp.

Paul and Sheddy demonstrate how young people can create change in their communities and exemplify why expanding opportunities for youth is so critical. As a global organization, Rotary International is working to empower the next generation to become engaged, solve problems, and inspire others. With the right ideas and support, young people can initiate, lead, and make great things happen.

Our role is to identify young people who have the commitment to change and the hands-on skills to get things done. Once we do that, we can provide assistance and financial resources, such as in-kind grants and no-interest loans, as well as mentoring and other types of support, to put those ideas into play.

Strengthening the link between idea and reality will ensure both short- and long-term positive impacts. When young people are inspired by positive change around them, they’ll likely see a positive path forward for themselves. Young people are the future, and they need tools to make that future a better place.

Read more about Generation Unlimited

John Hewko serves as General Secretary of Rotary International, a global network of 1.2 million community leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

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