7 Success Tips for Young Activists

My tips for youth taking action for social good

There are tons of opportunities to 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?

Since founding ACCESS 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 post-secondary 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 in your own way, I encourage you to do so. Having run ACCESS for nearly 9 years as a youth-lead organization, we’ve had our ups and downs and periods of growth, changing teams, funding success, and various partnerships. Now, ACCESS is here to help youth start and build their own projects out to their full potential, in our new ACCESS Innovation program including workshops, incubation, mentorship and conferences.

Speaking to students during an ACCESS workshop

To help along the way, here are a few of my tips for Youth Taking Action for Social Good.

1 | Focus on the Issue

What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What is the pain 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’s key to keep it focused, especially at first).

2 | Be Accountable

From the beginning 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 get out and go to. Being a young changemaker is not easy, and it’s easy to fall-off track, so you need to stay accountable to yourself.

3| Have Fun

The world has a huge amount of serious, sometimes depressing problems that need to be solved, and there’s always more work to be done. As a committed young activist, you’re going to be in this for the long haul, so you’ll need to enjoy it! Get friends involved when they 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 will continue creating change.

4| Start Small

Again, there’s an infinite amount of issues in the world (and in your local community) that could be addressed, and your project itself could expand in many directions. Start with a small, dedicated team (even if that’s just you, or 2 of you, for a while). Keep your programming focused (rather than running 6 kinds of programs and events, maybe choose 2 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, nobody else really knows it, and that’s not great for your project/program or cause. Be active on social media — don’t spam and overwhelm people, but 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 top of mind.

6 | Collaborate

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 or in your community. There is nothing wrong with exploring the option of collaboration. It takes courage and selflessness to approach another group proposing a collaboration (whether they’re larger or also a startup), but keep your goals in mind. If you can be stronger together, than consider partnering and working together (or even merging, if the opportunity exists and benefits all). Some can be short-term partners (a fellow non-profit co-hosting an event), and some can be mentors from larger institutions (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, your 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. Don’t 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 can 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 innovation@accesscharity.ca.

ACCESS educates, empowers, and inspires youth to drive positive change. Originally founded to help students access education in developing countries, ACCESS has grown to focus on social innovation and youth social entrepreneurship, continuing to inspire, educate, and empower youth to create change locally and globally.