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Roughly 52% of the world's population is under 30. What is best way to harness the energy and ideas of youth?

Working for a youth development organization we are always looking for ideas about how to engage young people and create programs to effectively involve youth in their own development. Our cornerstone is peer to peer non-formal education. We believe youth innovation drives change.

We are looking for programs, project models, web resources, implementation techniques, big ideas and inspiration to share with our online community. Basically anything to spark a great conversation!

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    Jan 22 2012: Causes.

    Have them identify a "cause" (you can provide a list as a starting point) and then have them decide on a concrete, measurable contribution they can make to the cause.

    They can work in groups, each group focussing on a cause that motivates its members.


    - Collecting food for a food bank.
    - Cleaning up parks and streets (litter removal.)
    - Mentoring younger kids (helping with reading, math, etc.)
    - Helping seniors in "homes" (taking them for walks, writing letters, singing for them, etc.)
    - Campaigning for a local politician.
    - Volunteering on a crisis line.
    - Increasing attendance at local cultural events.
    - Anything.
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      Jan 24 2012: I love reading your responses to anything, Thomas... always crystal clear insight. I totally agree with your thought that they themselves must identify the cause. And, it would seem, the less known, and more quirky the cause, the better (at first.)

      Sarah, I think that they have to want to have their energy and ideas harnessed. By default, and given the nature of the tools they use (FB, phones and video) they'd probably rather operate entirely alone (at first) - less risky for them, you know.

      I think if I were you I'd be targeting young people you find who pour energy into really obscure things, tell them that you noticed, and recruit them to help you harness the energy and ideas of people within their own peer group, for causes that they themselves decide upon.
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        Jan 26 2012: Thank you.
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        Jan 26 2012: Hi Christian,

        This post is for Mary - there is no reply button on her comment.


        Hey Mary,

        Do I think that the voices we hear in our head when we are reading people's comments affect us?

        Yes, I do.

        In my experience, it takes discipline to hear what another person is saying and not hear ONLY what I think ABOUT what they are saying.

        I need to acknowledge both. I "lead" from the former, unless the latter is required for clarification.

        There are people (some here on TED) who seem incapable of making that distinction - they assume, for example, what they think about another person is a true and accurate portrait of that person.

        There have been instances where people have told me what it was I was saying or thinking (and they have been completely wrong.) And, when I offer a clarification or correction, they tell me that I am wrong ... I was really saying whatever it was they said I was saying.

        I don't mind participating in conversations with people who "cannot hear me." I find it fascinating.

        I rarely (if ever ... maybe never) take personally what people say about me, or about my comments.

        Some people understand what it is I am doing. Some don't.


        Do I think that typing robs us of good communication?

        Not at all.

        Do you?

        Sometimes, we assume the purpose of communication is to reach agreement (and, sometimes, it is) but, I say, more often, it is about reaching understanding. (And more often than that, it is simply about social cohesion.)

        If someone understands me, I don't care if they agree or disagree. Understanding is enough.

        It's cliché, but what we think about each other is, more often than not, a reflection of ourselves.

        That's why I think everyone is a nice person. And, by the way, that has been universally true ... so far.

        Sure, some people get a bit testy but, so what? I am not so attached to what I have to say that I would sacrifice a human being on the alter of my beliefs.

        Beliefs, on the other hand, I will hammer.

        It confuses people.
  • Jan 14 2012: Unfortunately, I think that the ideas of the youth have already been limited with a selective lens that's been placed on them by the public educational system. Creativity is the spawn of all innovation, and creativity is stifled when students are forced to learn certain things geared to a specific curriculum. The world will continue to evolve at a blistering pace in regards to technology, but the real, world-changing ideas have already been lost in the pages of books, paragraphs in articles, and the mundane drudgery of monotonous work that is creatively masked as "scholarship".
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      Jan 26 2012: I agree. Just to add to the pot, if you look at the material students are learning nowadays, less and less of the material has any practical application without further education. I went to Stuyvesant High School, but there were no classes that taught machining practices. Most of the "hands on" lab work were made safer or simpler for us. Safety for kids became the major concern, and it seems like we'd rather sacrifice practice education to ensure safety.

      College is no different. Going to an engineering college, I'd expect to work with dangerous equipment, however, we are restricted to working with low voltage devices. Without the ability to tinker and work with high voltage applications as college students, when would one learn such a thing?

      So from my point of view, all levels of education has devolved to a means of knowledge transmission whereas it should really by the transmission of skills required to produce new knowledge.
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    Jan 31 2012: In answering this question, I would start with challenging the premise a bit--it's important to 'harness' the creativity and innovative potential of our entire population, not just our youth. Too often in discussions like this, we reveal an inherent bias toward youth and discredit the value and potential of experience. The perspective and talents of our youth are one important part of our future--but they certainly are not the only part, and, I would argue, not even the most important part, in as much as I don't think any one perspective in isolation is as good or important as a collaboration of perspectives. In fact, one perspective in isolation can serve to blind us to the value inherent in other, less favored perspectives. Like anything else, it is in finding the balance between the value that all perspectives bring to the table that we find our best solutions. The only way to do this effectively is to challenge the biases inherent in our assumptions about what is valuable--and remain open to the possibility that we are not seeing the whole picture in articulating what we think is the most desirable solution. Our youth are vitally important--and should certainly be encouraged to contribute to the larger solution---in conjunction with the valuable perspectives of those with the benefit of experience. In our zeal to celebrate and encourage the potential of our youth, we need to be careful that we don't de-value the potential of our more experienced employees. For me, the question is better considered in terms of how we can facilitate a dialogue between and among perspectives that resonates with mutual respect and ultimately results in ideas that reflect the best of these often polarized perspectives.
  • Jan 10 2012: There are a few ways that really spark the light of enthusiasm in the youth (13-18) and young adults (18+). One of them is to make them feel as though the community wants or needs them, make them feel like they are making a differnce. When the feeling of "Wow, I'm actually doing something for others." Hits a younger person there isn't a lot of things in the world that can snuff the flame that keeps them going. For me being a youth in the U.S. (17) working with a wildlife center that takes in sick, injured, and orphaned animals is one of the most uplifting and glorious experiences I have ever felt. Seeing in Arizona that many children and young adults didn't know much about wildlife disturbed me, so I decided to take this role further and go from school to school making education programs that involve much of Arizona's wildlife. To hear from schools that I have presented at that the students will still quote my speeches and reference me months after my presentation just makes me want to try harder and create more expereinces that broaden the horizens of the youth today.
  • Jan 10 2012: Young men have dreams, old men have visions.If you want to foster people's ideas and creativity, whether you or under 30 or over, the most important thing firstly is to protect our freedom and civil liberties. Slowly, not just in the United States but all over the world, government systems, regimes, and the powers that be, are slowly eroding our freedom of speech and right to privacy. A Democracy is about the power of the people, not the power of a corporation or even a government. But haven't you noticed how the risks have increased to be creative and speak your mind? For if it is "dangerous", you can be imprisoned, gagged, or even legally executed/assassinated without the right of fair trial in a court of justice. Just look at the bills that were passed in the US only a few days ago. Cloaked by the diversion as increased security and anti-terrorist threats, when in fact, we've just given up more personal freedom and power of the people. Martial law and police state regimes are the killers of creativity and ideas. Just watch the movie Equilibrium if you want a good example. People will say the internet is the best way, or technology is the best way, but those things are quickly becoming censored and everything is becoming a legal infringement open to prosecution and imprisonment, even to the very air we breathe. Protect all human rights and freedom....protect the 1st ammendment...this is the priority folks.Thomas Jefferson once said, "I'd much rather live with the inconveniences of too much freedom rather than the inconveniences of too little of it." Me too, my friend. Me too.
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    Feb 1 2012: This question is exactly what I am passionate about! I believe to harness the energy and ideas of "today's youth" has to begin with respecting today's youth. It begins by acknowledging that their experiences differ from my/our youth (anyone over 30) in ways that I can not truly understand without their help.

    When I speak with high school students they are rarely stressed out about their life with technology in hand, and if I take a moment to emotionally travel back in time to 17 and put that technology into MY hand, and all the implications of that technology, it REALLY stresses me out. I take the time to honor today's youth for managing their world as well as they do, and I speak with their parents about taking the time to listen more and to try to stop being "the expert".

    Preparing them for the future really means giving them a voice in their present, respecting their voice, and then working with them as a guide by offering scenarios, choices, possible outcomes, and letting them work with those through the lens of their life experience, not mine.
    • Feb 3 2012: Bravo! Very well said.True, every letter! I would complete with a message for parents: stop trying to control everything your kids do and let them experiment. You can give them a way better education by collaborating with them, than by fighting agaist them.
  • Feb 1 2012: I myself am a "bright" student. I score among the 99th percentile in Math, Science, and Reading tests. I am currently in a program specifically designed for students like myself. Everyone in the program tested in the 97th percentile or higher, so the teachers use material many (grades) above our level. We, as 6th graders, learned Algebra I and were taking a (supposedly) college-level course. We, whenever we can, discuss whatever interests us, which in almost all cases is someone's brilliant theories in the field of cosmology, or someone else's newest computer program which they made themselves. If someone were to listen to these students' approaches to a problem there would be no worries for prices of inventions, no need to have a team of the greatest minds to solve a problem. Just propose it to the kids. The point is, kids who are intelligent talk about intelligent things. If you have all that great conversation, you have a great resource for practically anything.
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      Feb 4 2012: Very understandable and a great comment. However, even the gifted children need leadership and mentoring. There are other things that children need to be prepared for outside in the real world other than being intellectual, many of the things I am talking about should and mostly will be taught by parents. However, we also know that many gifted children may not have the support system, and some might even need to be found, due to poverty or other circumstances. If you truly are a six grader, you have a bright future ahead of you.
      Good Luck in all you do Ethan,
      • Feb 4 2012: Eighth, but I do understand that. Sorry, I may not have expressed correctly: My point was, purely for the intellectual aspect, more advanced kids need more advanced work. They can deal with it, and will far exceed standard expectations if they are provided with a fun way of doing this work. For example, my humanities class is taught in three ways: notes, reading, and simulations. While taking notes, the teacher is engaging. When reading, we often read primary sources or literature reflecting the politics of the era we are discussing. Simulations is just what it sounds like. We play out the civil war on a game board, and we learn to march. We are required to act for two months as soldiers otherwise we lose "combat points". In science, the teacher always brings something to demonstrate the concepts. For physics, we have made bottle rockets, and the teacher has used a Frisbee and a gun to demonstrate newton's laws. The mentors are a huge part of our success, because they keep us involved and progress quickly through curriculum.
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    Jan 23 2012: As a person increasingly concerned with our generation's employability, I would suggest that companies take more risks in their hiring process. Is it really necessary to require 5 years of experience for an entry level position in certain fields?
  • Jan 20 2012: I propose the establishment of an Accredited Open Source University built by a collaboration of volunteers: built to inspire research, contribution, and innovation by giving young people the power to pave their own path to higher learning. By providing a Open Source educational platform and access to professionals and experts to facilitate and moderate and encourage young people we open ourselves up to the creative possibility locked away by the old regimented educational paradigm. Professional assessment could be made by the evaluation of contributions by professionals, academics, individual students, and organized groups. Students would be continually encouraged to publish, and peer review would allow the curriculum to evolve and improve and diversify. All developments would be for the benefit of all who choose to participate, and entrepreneurial groups could form an enterprise to affect social progress and to develop capitol for the implementation of problem solving solutions on a local and global level. By giving students the power and means to affect global change and a collaborative platform to give steam to world changing ideas I believe that students would be inspired to work harder and develop more than they ever would in a traditional educational setting.
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    Jan 20 2012: Mind begins to think out of the world from age of 18 and broaden his vision over the worldly aspects. That's why we call this youth as adult. From 18 - 30 is the phase of hot blood from where every person thinks of getting something different and possess immense and intense amount of energy sparkling out with different choices about the carrier, education and entrepreneurship. This would be of great importance to harness this energy and get a revolution brought out in this world. Study implies that 46% of creative business ideas are developed in this age but only 2% are carried forward and rest are drop due to not getting a platform to show case the same. If this is brought out to the world the GDP would rise like crazy. So for me this topic is of fore most important and should be spread like a virus.
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    Jan 18 2012: I believe the best way is to encourage people under 30 to make important changes to the world is to help them find their passions and talents and design a career (that can provide financially) centered around those passions and talents.

    Each day when someone gets out of bed to go to a job they don't like or don't perform well in, its a waste of human potential. We need to harness the full force of human potential by encouraging young people to find their purpose and contribution to the world.
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      Jan 20 2012: I agree. Job giving bread n butter gets monotonous while working on passion with interest gives utmost satisfaction.
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      Jan 21 2012: This is completely 100% on the money. You need to find something you're passionate about. Channeling Steve Jobs, but if you're not passionate about what you're doing you will never be happy.

      I run my own organization, Empowering Students, where we try to find students organizations they can get passionate about and also get involved with. If you find somewhere to volunteer that you're genuinely interested in, you will never regret your time there.
    • W T 100+

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      Jan 26 2012: Your comment made me think of this quote by George Bernard Shaw:

      "Take care to do what you like or you will be forced to lide what you do".
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    Jan 17 2012: Hi Sarah,
    Young people are speaking out all over the world - the Arab Spring is led by young people, as is the Occupy Wall Street...

    The young are globally connected - old politics are narrow minded and staid as far as they are concerned and the older generations won't be able to stop them changing the world as they see fit!

    Having said that, I feel many kids would benefit from learning debating skills - being exposed to different perspectives, developing their own point of view and practicing verbal communication in public is a valuable life skill. We need to help them develop themselves as passionate, articulate, well balanced verbal communicators so they can become social leaders and mentors to all generations.

    I also feel in the obese west we need to educate young people about food, diet and portion size. There's no point in raising generations of people who will die young from preventable illnesses. Jamie Oliver says everyone should know how to cook 10 nutritionally balanced meals from scratch using real food produce. It'll keep them safe from junk food outlets during college and university and be a good grounding for life (it's also the perfect way to impress that girl/boy you like! :-)
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    Jan 15 2012: Our creativity is limitless, but limit to our lives, to harness what we are and who we can me, we have to do things that we are passionate about. I am young, and I haven't felt all the emotions others have, but I have passions that make me want to change the things that I don't want to be hidden by the fabric of our lives.
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    Jan 14 2012: Leverage your idealism through social media, life experience, and interdependence as global institutions that the older generation relied on decay.
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    Jan 11 2012: Sarah - we had good experience with P2P non formal education also. however the best progress was realized when the youth left the field of "education" and of "being young", which still often translates in "not fully responsible" - at least in the elderly society of Germany.

    In two projects the youth took responsibility for a creative process they invented and they realized, all temporarily.

    one was a youth conference, called global young faculty: the youth was redesigning curriculums of schools: http://bit.ly/xiPXjI

    one was a street art company - having started as a fun spare-time activitiy, now being a commercial successfulll company. there show fill some of the largest halls in germany twice a night: http://bit.ly/zxNebr

    Good luck !
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    Feb 3 2012: Russell,

    I just clicked on it and it took me to WISE Conference.

    In a world where trends in globalization, demographics and technology are changing the labor market – how can schools create adaptable workers equipped with 21st-century skills for a changing labor market? In this session, the panel analyses the limitations of the school system at a time when we need to prepare young people for the 50 to 70 million jobs that are needed tomorrow. With a particular focus on the MENA region and the Philippines, the speakers discuss how school systems need to be strengthened to develop entrepreneurial mindsets adapted to solving real-world problems and the role that effective public-private partnerships have to play in bringing about large-scale educational reform.
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    Jan 31 2012: Turn them loose, but have solid leaders to help mentor and guide them!
    • Feb 1 2012: Your idea is good but not very viable. This is because there is no real way to get these leaders, and also this sort of mentoring creates a format into which "looseness" decreases over time as can be seen in many examples. So rather that having a fixed mentor it would be better to have a plethora of mentors helping in more specific areas and wielding less power while also being part of this society. Thus instead of dividing the general society into three proponent societies; Under 30 society, Mentor society, and Others(not mentors of the 48%), it would be better to have a integrated society in which people of the under 30 group would interact with the group of mentors but also within itself.
  • Jan 28 2012: Hire them. Provide opportunities for them to grow as an individual to become active, productive members of society.

    To do that, we need to address the issues of the system already in place. It's not farfetched to think that youngsters simply see life as "going through the motions" void of any meaning. We need to appreciate the variety of intelligence that people have and not just focus on what a person scored on the SATs or in academia. I believe the traditional system turns people into robots; simply another cog in the wheel of capitalism. To have any chance at tapping the true potential of a human being, we must treat, train, and nurture them as one.

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    Jan 27 2012: My 2 cents worth: collaboration at a very early age.
    In my country, there is this place for kids which promotes fundamental values like helping each other, respecting other people differences, enjoy what you have and take care of it...etc.
    Now, this could be the topic of a very boring class in a school, but they do it in a FUN way: Over the last 20 years, kids from different social backgrounds (I translate: poor and rich kids) have built tree houses during summer in the Belgian Ardennes. It has become a small wooden village, just like in Peter Pan's story. They give kids big responsibilities and run the place, encouraged by some inspired adults.

    The results is that they feel they can accomplish anything and understand that collaboration, with everything that it implies, does matter to succeed. We'll need those kids in the future.

    PS: here the link with some pictures to have an idea: http://www.ecoledeclerheid.com/villageenbois.htm
    PPS: I know my answer is "Western-centric" and does not apply to half of the world where eating everyday is still the biggest concern of these 50+% of kids we are talking about; but it's a start.
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    Jan 27 2012: Today's global youth should learn programming. Computers and connectivity are more affordable and ubiquitous than ever before, open source tools and libraries are freely available, and the innovation that comes from software engineering is limitless. We need a global initiative to transform the world's youth into "generation hack".
  • Jan 25 2012: well years ago bill clinton did a great job by the rock your vote campaigne, if we want the youth to grow and change we need to comunicate to them trough the areas that they are active on. then it was mtv. now that may be facebook or apps on phones, other tv forums ect.. todays more tech using youths will find things on there own but they still need something poining them in the right direction.
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    Jan 25 2012: TED talks have been showing this and proving our education is virtually creating youths "unsuitable" for employment. This era which can be referred to as the "non linear one" is one where mathematical increase of an input no longer yields more output compared to the linear era where the calculation was easier. THIS era gives huge opportunity and advantage for youth provided the employers realize this. In this Non linear era "past patterns are no longer repeating themselves". Products are offered to create "their own demand" and not based on old fashioned research based study of needs. Unfortunately employers are still over valuing "PAST experience in economic terms and THIS must end".
    Since correction in education is taking time, investing in youth and training them is perhaps a very very low cost/profitable way to better innovative results. Youth are the only ones who can be trained to feel comfortable with risk, experiment and failure. So many TED talks have been listed by Sarah which explain with facts and figures. SO if TED attendees are employers then they must in 2012 should agree to REDUCE at the very least just ONE demand for an experienced senior manager and instead invest half the saving on training and the other half on hiring TWO youngsters. This would be a no brainer low risk input.
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    Jan 24 2012: Video Games.
  • Jan 24 2012: First off I would like to say superb weblog! I'd a quick query that I would choose to inquire if you don't intellect. I used to be interested to know how you center oneself and very clear your thoughts before composing. I've had trouble clearing my thoughts in acquiring my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just would seem like the 1st 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just striving to figure out how you can get started. Any suggestions or tips? Many thanks!
  • Jan 24 2012: We can best help by creating intolerable problems that they feel compelled to solve. By create, I mean define an existing set of circumstances in such a way that it is inconceivable that any human being with the capacity to at least in part solve that problem would step aside. The next ingredient would be to attach a significant profit potential to the solution of that problem. It's much easier to appear altruistic while we're lining our own pockets. Challenge them. Tell them it's impossible, because we tried and failed. Those who take up the challenge will be those who are most likely to find a solution. We cannot manufacture passion we can only nurture it. I think it's important that we all come to terms with what really motivates people instead of what our particular set of values tells us "should" motivate them.
  • Jan 23 2012: The best way to harness the energy and ideas of youth is to develop their concern for the world they live in. This should b developed gradually, meaning thereby that this concern should not bypass their family, kinship, society, and region. Once this concern is developed than they would themselves identify causes and will automatically find themselves inclined to participate socially n this will hopefully harness energy n ideas of youth n may help in actualizing their potential.
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    Jan 22 2012: hone their talents and let them discover what they really want and not what their family or society expects them to be...it's really important for me to realize this. i was young once and will always be and what keeps me staying in this attitude is my passion for the things i love to do most.