Globally, youth face multitude of challenges, including lack of access to education and basic living requirements, mental and physical abuse, and having no voice in decisions which affect their lives. Despite all the ordeals and trials, some self-motivated, enterprising, and innovative young adults and children are already creating small but significant ripples of social progress through the world. Both their vision and their action emphatically surpass what society expects from their generation. In fact, their work as individuals and in groups aptly showcases how youth activism and engagement can bring about important social changes and they can be the forerunners and builders of a very progressive and developed future.
Ashoka Innovators for the Public (Ashoka), one of the largest networks of social entrepreneurs worldwide, is identifying, encouraging, nurturing, supporting, and mentoring these young talents and many like them, conferring them with the title—‘Youth Venturers’. ‘Youth Venture’ (YV) is an initiative of Ashoka with the aim to engage the youth in the process of change-making by helping them realize and understand their own ability to make positive social change. At present there are about 6,000 Venture Teams across 23 countries across the world. These Teams find and support social change ideas and initiatives of young people between the age of 12 and 20 and connect them with social, business, financial and academy leaders to build an eco-system to address the growing social needs of the world. In India, the YV program has been launched in 2015 and has already identified close to 50 young individuals who have launched innovative ventures to address complex social issues.
Sri Aurobindo Society (SAS), a government-recognized not-for-profit organization, headquartered in Puducherry, has been working for social transformation through individual perfection since 1960. It strives to bring integral change in the individual and in the community through material and physical improvement, psychological refinement, spiritual development and the dynamic ideal of inspiring the youth to become builders of a better tomorrow.
YOUTH CONCLAVE 2017
Society’s approach to drive change through individual leadership finds alignment with Ashoka’s theme of ‘Everyone a Changemaker’. Establishing a deep connection and an organic collaboration, SAS and Ashoka jointly organized a YOUTH CONCLAVE 2017, held on February 3–4, 2017, at Puducherry, which was designed to be a platform to bring in the 30 Youth Venturers, teachers from change-making schools, parents of Youth Venturers and leaders from different sectors of the society together to devise ways to sustain and enhance the engagement of youth in the process of change-making. Another major aim of the programme was to formulate a framework that can be implemented across India to identify, inspire and groom youth leaders in the community. The Conclave through various sessions, panel discussions, activities and presentations explored ways to help expand the initiatives taken by the Youth Venturers through support and collaboration.
The venue for the first Youth Conclave was significantly chosen as SHARANAM, the National Centre of Excellence for Rural Skill and Sustainable Development of SAS. Built using best practices of green architecture and earth technology, SHARANAM has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the top five green buildings in India.
Day 1—February 3, 2017
After a welcome address delivered by Yashveer Singh, Director, Youth Venturers—Ashoka, the young innovators and guests were also welcomed by Mr Pradeep Narang, Chairman, Sri Aurobindo Society, who delivered a short talk, ‘Youth—Foundation of India’s Future’, encouraging the youth to continue making the world a better place to live in.
During the first session, the Youth Venturers introduced themselves and their projects. In turn they were introduced to the selected experts from different walks of life who were to spearhead and mentor the sessions spanning the next two days. The presentations from the youth showcased their innovative approaches to their local social problems, successes (and sometimes failures) in facing the challenges that they encountered in their work, and sustainability potential in their projects. Their projects diverged in various categories such as environment protection, including recycling of paper, planting trees and reutilizing other resources; empowerment of youth and women; spreading causes of unity, positivity and encouraging good habits through self-published newspapers, blogs, cultural and awareness camps, sporting activities etc.; educating and creating responsiveness in the society about serious causes such as child marriage, importance of blood donation, significance of organic agriculture, engaging the elderly in productive causes, collecting funds for acid burn victims, etc.
The first Panel Discussion was themed ‘Making of Young Changemakers—Challenges, Opportunities and the Role of the Stakeholders’. The panellists included experts such as Mr Ajit Singh (Ashoka Fellow) Founder—Anant Learning; Mr Gyanendra, CEO—Ekutir; Mr Ashish Mittal, Founder—Turning Ideas; Mr Stanley Mukkath, Ex-Program Manager, OxFam international; and Ms Deepa Avashia, Educator—Riverside School, Ahmedabad. These panel discussions provided plenteous opportunities to Youth Venturers to ask many questions about balancing school, family life, social work and career planning. The action plan handed down to the youth was to put in a continuous and focused effort in all they do. The first post-lunch session was titled ‘An Ideal World and My Role in It’, conducted by Mr Saikat Sen, Director—SAFIM and Ms Rupa, Director—SAS Outreach and Partnerships. The session was highly interactive and revealed that the ‘changemakers’ had actually invested a lot of thought and generated workable ideas for creating a better future for the world.
The highlight of the day was the participation of Honourable Lt. Governor of Puducherry, Dr Kiran Bedi, who also delivered a keynote address at the YOUTH CONCLAVE on February 3, 2017. She shared her life story and many inspirational anecdotes to encourage the Ashoka Youth Venturers. The young audience also asked her multiple questions about how to face challenges and solve them successfully.
Day 2—February 4, 2017
Day 2 began with an inspirational talk by Mr. Satish Kumar, President—IIMPACT, Former MD—Henkel India and Chief Mentor—Rajalakshmi School of Business on ‘Social Entrepreneurship & Its Importance for World Evolution’. This was followed by the panel discussion of the day which generated considerable excitement among the youth. The panellists included Dr. Subhendu Dey, Director, Rajalakshmi School of Business; Mr. Ram Gopalan, Leadership Coach, Former VP & Country Manager SapientNitro; Mr. Ved Prakash Sharma, Director, CISCO; Sarthak Saksena, Manager, CISCO; Mudit Mathur, Network Engineer, CISCO; and Shojana R., Network Engineer, CISCO. During the panel discussion, titled ‘Relevance of Change-making Entrepreneurship in Corporate Paradigms’, the Youth Venturers found insights into how some successful entrepreneurs/executives put into perspective underlying trends, identify new paradigms and confidently contribute in the world which is increasingly defined by change rather than replication.
The next session was mentored and coordinated by Tara Rao, Founder—OntheGrounds, Programme Director—Amnesty International India, ex-Senior Policy Advisor—World Wildlife Fund International. During a highly interactive session for Youth Venturers on ‘Empathy—A Life Skill for Changemakers’, Tara made the participants develop scripts and act in one-act plays, write lists of preferences in life-like situations and made a hard-hitting presentation with upended Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchy of needs. Overall, it was a wonderful learning opportunity for the Youth Venturers to learn about values such as compassion, empathy and tolerance.
The penultimate and one of the most important sessions of the Youth Conclave called ‘Action Plan on Framework for Change’ brought together all the Youth Venturers, parents, teachers, mentors, experts and organizers to brainstorm on a time-bound action plan for the all the participants. It was in all a summing of all the learning and exchange of ideas that had been put forth during the conclave.
Last, but not the least was an inspirational talk, titled ‘Unified Vision of Transformation’, delivered by Vijaybhai, Member Executive—Sri Aurobindo Society. His simple, erudite words of wisdom enthused and moved the Youth Venturers greatly. The Youth Conclave concluded with Vote of Thanks, presentations of certificates and token gifts to each of the participants.
The sessions, aimed to introduce the concept of change-making among the youth, drove home the concepts and practical applications of social innovation and entrepreneurship. The Conclave created a learning space for all to learn about effective solutions to some of the most pressing social problems. During the two days, the Conclave also provided a platform to spread ideas about the social innovations and shed light on some existing models that are acting as change agents in the society.
The platform witnessed attendees from a various sectors of society, including students, parents and experts from corporate and development sectors. It was an event for sharing ideas and experiences and also helped prepare an action plan for the youth to learn, execute and materialize their ideas in a rapidly changing world.