History shows us that young people have played key roles in powerful social movements that transformed the course of human history, including India’s freedom struggle, women’s rights, environmentalism and environmental justice and many more. With 65% of population below the age of 35 years, India has the world’s largest youth population and their actions and inactions collectively determine the future of the country. India’s inclusive and sustainable development necessitates harnessing and channelizing the incredible power of the youth into nation-building.
The country faces great development challenges but inherent in these challenges are ‘opportunities for the youth to exercise their creativity, develop solutions and make a real difference’. The talent of our youth to collectively develop and action solutions can be seen from the success of the indigenous Mars Mission and many others.
Mindset change for sustained youth engagement
Young people are increasingly becoming socially conscious and it is heartening to see them raise their voice on issues of social concern. But, candle-light marches and social media campaigns are not enough. India’s social transformation requires sustained engagement with social issues at scale where youth can take ownership and become lifelong contributors to community welfare. As Rana Kapoor, Chief Mentor, Yes Foundation, has rightly said that the only way to achieve this is “through mindset and behavioural change where social responsibility becomes a habit. It should not be a singular journey, but a vector with both direction and speed.”
Change in mindsets can only happen when youth themselves experience the wonderful work being done by individuals and development sector organisations at the grassroots. For instance, Kuljeet Singh, an IT professional from Noida was moved by the plight of abused animals when he visited a Non-Profit. He started Samarpan Troops, an animal rescue and rehabilitation movement and within nine months, he mobilised 1600 volunteers, rescued over 600 animals and substantially brought down the animal rescue time in NCR. But, the catalyst for this was exposure to the work of the Non-Profit and interaction with the committed staff and volunteers. Whenever youth get involved in a sustained manner, rapid social change is possible.
Need for innovative platforms for youth engagement
Engagement of youth in social causes needs to be initiated in an innovative, non-patronising, non-sermonising manner by providing them platforms to harness their latent capabilities into positive action for India’s social transformation. Corporates and Non-Profits have an important role to play here.
Fellowship programs like Teach for India, Gandhi Fellowship, Ashoka Fellows and others play a critical role in giving youth an experience of grassroots social issues and channel their energy, intelligence, and resources for inclusive development
While we must engage the youth of India qualitatively, given more than 50 % of India’s population is below the age of 25, it must also be done at scale.
The government too has good initiatives like Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYKs) and National Service Scheme (NSS) which provides rural and urban youth avenues to take part in the nation building process as well as opportunities for personal development.
Youth participation in development
Increasingly, development sector organisations are integrating youth in actioning their social impact programs. They are being viewed as important stakeholders in identifying community issues, changing entrenched mindsets, designing solutions, implementing programs and monitoring the same. This is an invaluable strategy to deepen social impact and foster a culture of active citizenship for continued participation in the country’s social transformation. Successful examples include youth-led programs of BBC Media Action, Pravah and UNICEF’s Building Bright Future program which develop young adults as social leaders by providing them platforms and resources to contribute to community development.
Providing youth access to resources and opportunities to positively think of challenges and develop solutions is also the need of the hour. The Start Up India initiative of the government is a good step in this direction. With the new amendment in the Companies Act allowing CSR contribution to incubators, the space for youth to develop and action solutions is expanding. It is imperative that CSR is harnessed to develop an enabling ecosystem for development of youth as powerful agents of change.
The ability of a society to develop itself is based on the extent to which it can integrate the potential and input of the younger generation into development processes. The neglect of this potential harbours a serious threat to global future. If on the other hand it is used purposefully, it can help speed up development processes and bring about positive social change. We need to recognize and respect young people as powerful agents of social change, and allocate resources to support, amplify, and extend their impact. Active and sustained participation of the youth with social causes is imperative for the development of an inclusive, vibrant and empowered India.
Prerana Langa is the CEO of Yes Foundation, social development arm of Yes Bank. She developed YES! i am the CHANGE, a mindset transformation project, innovatively using the medium of films to ignite the spirit of driving positive social change amongst the youth enabling them to become agents of social change.
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The CSR Journal Team