Jul
12
2010

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How old were you when you first changed the world?

Most of us start volunteering in high school or college. We find meaningful jobs later in life and donate to our cherished causes. If that’s you, the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition (YSE) probably thinks you waited too long. Check out their website, featuring ‘changemakers’ like William Kamkwamba who taught himself to build power-generating windmills at the age of 14 to supply his village, or Babar Ali who, at age 16, teaches some 800 poor children in West Bengal for free every afternoon. Notice a pattern? By the time these young men and women were high school aged, they were already benefiting hundreds of people and tackling the problems of their communities. Its people like them whom the YSE competition seeks to recognize this year, offering as much as $5000 prize money to the most exceptional youth led venture.

Youth Venture is Ashoka’s initiative to train and support youth changemakers. Just as the Case Foundation realized in our Citizens at the Center study, Ashoka believes that developing a culture of citizen-centered problem-solving means instilling the habit of civic engagement in our youth. To that end, it started Youth Venture in 1996 to inspire young people world-wide to become social entrepreneurs, offering tools, advice, a network of peers and seed money for projects. Enter the Staples Foundation for Learning, which has provided more than $2.5 million funding to Youth Venture, spreading their reach. With the know-how and funding of Ashoka and Staples, Youth Venture has spread to 18 countries, boasting 75,000 members and more than 4,000 individual Venture teams.

Together they’re running the Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition, which will search until September for eight outstanding youth changemakers; leaders of social ventures aged 12 to 24 who make a difference in the world. Youths can either nominate themselves or be nominated by someone inspired by their actions. At the end of the competition, the winners or representatives from winning teams will fly to Washington, D.C. for the November 13th TEDxYSE conference—a TED style conference run by Youth Venture on social entrepreneurship. There, they’ll present their stories and achievements as well as receive $500 prize money. One of the eight teams will win the Staples grand prize for $5,000. All of them will have a chance to meet with some of Ashoka’s inspiring fellows and to share their insights with the world.

How can you get involved? If you’re between the ages of 12 and 24 and head a social venture making an impact in the world, nominate yourself! Or if you’re not yet part of a social venture, you can start one and tell Youth Venture why and how your project will make a difference. Still searching for the way to make a difference? Then visit Youth Venture’s website and try to attend the November 13th TEDxYSE conference in D.C. to get ideas.

For those no longer young enough to qualify as ‘youth’ changemakers, you can still be a part of it. Nominate a youth leader who deserves to be recognized or just pass along word of the competition through Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or however else. Volunteer to help run the TEDxYSE conference or just attend. You can help support the creation of a socially conscious and proactive culture among the younger generations—and in return they may be able to teach you something about how to change the world.

Nikolai Stieglitz is an intern at the Case Foundation.

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