Last week, a remarkably diverse and dedicated group of young changemakers from around the world gathered for IYF’s Our Future, Our Voices—a virtual summit by, for, and with young people. For five days, they led workshops and discussions, connected with peers, and engaged with other experts from across sectors and generations.

The issues tackled at the virtual summit reflect the collective concerns of young people globally and align thematically with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It would be impossible to summarize the countless insights that emerged during the summit week; however, below are five takeaways that resonated strongly with participants.

  1. We can end violence in a generation. In a session titled How We Can End Violence in a Generation, Frank Fredericks—founder of World Faith—explored the causes of, and solutions to, communal violence. Violence is often regarded as an unsolvable problem—in fact, when people were asked which of the SDGs seemed least attainable, Goal 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions) topped the list. According to Fredericks, though, ending violence is possible. “There are three things that can help us take huge steps forward,” he explained. “For one, we need funders willing to fund innovative ideas that are statistically likely to fail, but which if successful will have a magnifying effect in the field.” Additionally, he discussed the importance of a shared approach to accessing impact and the need for cross collaboration between researchers, policy makers, and practitioners.
  2. We should prioritize inclusivity in tech development. During New Frontiers: Harnessing Technology for Impact and Inclusion, Tiffany Tong—co-founder of Aeloi Technologies—and Dale Chrystie—Block Chain Strategist for FedEx—discussed the ways technology can drive, or impede, inclusion. “We need to design proactively for inclusion,” Tong said, “not retroactively. I advocate for not only standards, but ethical standards” in the development of new technology. A big part of this, she noted, must involve listening to the needs and challenges of real users, many of whom come from vulnerable populations. For example, not everyone who owns a smart phone can consistently afford data, so new apps should include offline functionality. When we listen to end users and address their issues in the design of new technology, she explained, we can ensure that “inclusiveness is embedded in our technologies and in our systems.”
  3. We need to create spaces for young people to share ideas. Two of the youngest changemakers at the virtual summit—11-year-old Arushi Nath and 17-year-old Isha Patel—shared their perspectives during a session titled Generation Now: Young People Living Their Values to Save Our Planet. Patel, who founded the organization The Green Sleep Project to empower young people to tackle climate change, discussed the importance of engaging young people and providing a space for them to share their ideas. “It starts in school,” she explained. “Students often feel hesitant to take the first step to showcase their ideas, so if adults can create a better environment, a more open curriculum in terms of giving students the opportunity to suggest their own ideas and initiatives, this would be a great starting point. We’d have many more, and better, innovative solutions.”
  4. We need funders who trust young leaders as equals. One of the most popular sessions of the week was Flipping the Paradigm: A Challenge for Investors and Funders. Here, Deepa Gupta—social entrepreneur, activist, and founder of Jhatkaa.org—and George Gachara—Managing Partner at HEVA Fund LLP—pulled no punches as they discussed how funders and investors can best support the efforts of young people and youth-led organizations that are already taking the lead to create change. Among other points, they explored the value of a bottom-up approach in philanthropy and the need for investors to trust the young leaders in whom they invest. Drawing on her experience as a social entrepreneur who often works with funders, Gupta shared, “I’ve realized the philanthropic sector is designed to support the funder above the changemaker. This means, the more differently I think than the funder… the less my chances of obtaining funding.” Often, the consequence is that the most innovative, effective changemakers are not the ones being funded. To make a real impact, Gupta explained, “I seek a funder whose courage and creativity matches my own. I seek a funder who knows I am their equal.”
  5. We need to change power dynamics. Sometimes, organizations are willing to take a first step towards inclusion—listening to the suggestions of young people. While this is a step in the right direction, an additional—and more difficult—step must be taken to ensure that people from vulnerable communities are truly included. During Everyone’s Welcome: Learning from Youth-Led Movements, Melissa Diamond—Founder and Executive Director of A Global Voice for Autism—explained, “To take real strides in issues of inclusion, people in positions of power need to see that everyone wins when true inclusion is achieved. Ceding control is not actually a cessation of power if everyone’s lives improve. Ultimately, the only way is to show [people in power] that they too will win by participating in a more inclusive society.”

For the next year, people who registered for the summit will have continued access to the summit platform, including On Demand recordings of dozens of live and pre-recorded sessions. If you didn't register, don't worry—we are working to make content available through IYF's YouTube channel, too.

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