Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But does it really work? If I’m just a mere fifteen-year-old who gets scolded for not doing Math homework and nagged at for sleeping till 12pm on weekends, can I also change the world?
It was with this scepticism that I entered the Treetop room in SCAPE Singapore, to attend a AIESEC YouthSpeak forum. AIESEC is an international organization run by youths from all around the world with a common aim to attain global peace and stretch mankind’s capabilities. As such, this forum was a platform for members of AIESEC to communicate and interact with people of different walks of life, especially students, to inspire them to make a change.
Panel discussion on social enterprises. (From left: Frank Meng, Tan Jun Ya. From right: Pedro Adrian Anguirre, Soon Sing Suen)
In contrary to a typical mundane talk followed by a boring Q&A, the YouthSpeak forum, held as part of the All In! Young Writer’s Festival, was pretty much an informal and lively forum discussion. Not only did it highlight many of the worldly issues present today, it also created an aspiration in me to take that first step in advocating change.
“It was an insightful sharing on passion and opportunities,” mentioned Aafira, a secondary school student. It was indeed, as a group of passionate youths shared with the audience what gives them happiness and makes their lives meaningful - advocating social change.
Group photo of AIESEC members, keynote speakers and participants comprising of teenagers and young adults
So what does it mean to be an advocate for social change? Yes, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela all toiled hard to bring about social change. But as normal youths who have typically grown up in well-protected environment with no violation of basic human rights, are we not capable of effecting change too? With most of us having grown in safe homes with access to basic needs and education, it is all the more crucial for people like us to identify those who do not enjoy the same privileges as us and reach out to them. From distributing donated food to beneficiaries to helping to build self-confidence in visually-handicapped people, there are many ways for youths to give back to society.
Social change does not necessarily only have to mean ending world hunger or attaining full gender equality in all states. It is not dependent on your age or socioeconomic status. “Anyone. I’m young, I’m old, I can (still) do something for someone else,” reiterated Felix Lau, President of AIESEC Singapore 2017.
Social change can be as simple as sharing an act of kindness online, according to Rebecca Lim, Head of Our Better World, a non-profit social organization in Singapore. Our Better World, a digital storytelling initiative of the Singapore International Foundation, wields storytelling as a tool online to evoke empathy and inspire global action regarding social issues. One of its videos on education rights for “longhouse” children in Malaysia had gathered supportive public volunteers for a movement seeking to teach these kids literacy via Skype, Right To Learn.
Keynote speech 2 was made by Rebecca Lim, head of Our Better World, a non-profit organisation in Singapore.
Like Our Better World, individuals like ourselves can also harness the digital revolution to share our stories and encourage others to act on or promote such good causes, to ultimately create a better world for ourselves and those around us.
Terry Pratchett once said, “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” The stories of someone doing something good being shared are often the foundation for youth empowerment, especially in the realms of social media which is widely used by today’s youths.
Because inspiration and collaboration does lead to everyday leadership action, the most important step to making a difference is to take the first step: to share; to inspire.
So here is what I want to say to my fellow youths: You are not just a mere teenager. You are the future of this society. You cannot possibly change the entire world; but you can change the lives of a few. And that would mean the world to those few.
Being the change you want to see in the world does not necessarily make the world a better place. But it does inspire others to do the same. And that is what it really means to be a leader. So give yourself a pat on the back and go get it. Be that inspiration. Be that light in someone else’s life.
But of course, do your homework first.