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An in-depth look at the lives and work of young changemakers

Why the world needs Possibilists

Young people are creating change everywhere we look. Some of them dedicate everything they have to tackling the most pressing issues of our time, it is their work and way of life. They are changemakers, activists, social innovators, disruptors, dreamers, doers, people who believe social and environmental change is possible. They are Possibilists.

A powerful force for change

1.2 Billion youth 15-24 Aged 16% Of global population
Aged Billion youth Of global population
There are 1.2 billion people between the ages of 15-24 across the world, or roughly 16% of the global population.

They are winning Nobel Peace prizes, they are mobilizing around the climate crisis in ways that put our national leaders to shame, they are voting in record numbers, volunteering for their communities, leading movements against systemic racism, and they are choosing purpose over paychecks. It’s time to take them seriously.

Jo Bautista
SendtoGive Philippines
Alhassan Baba Muniru
Avina Ajit
RIO India
Jan Stassen
Janet Aguti
Sazzad Hossein
SDI Academy Singapore
Vera Günther
Mimycri Germany

The Study

This study was conducted in 2021 by an alliance of 16 of the world’s leading youth social innovation networks. It was driven by the desire to better understand the lives and realities of young changemakers.

This is what we found out.

791

young Possibilists

137

countries
Gender
Gender
Origin
Origin
Age
Age

Young changemakers are resilient, innovative and intrinsically motivated to change the world. But at what cost?

Young changemakers are sacrificing their personal finances and well-being to make a change in the world. The situation demands urgent attention.

Jonathan Funke
Tip Me Germany

What they work on and why

When asked to think about their work within the SDG framework, the three main focus areas are:

SDG 4
Quality education
53%
SDG 10
Reduced inequalities
38%
SDG 3
Good health and well-being
37%

Distribution across SDGs

Key Finding 1:

Our study found that most young social innovators focus on educa­tion, seeing it as major lever for reducing inequalities and creating change.

Rachita-Saraogi_the-Possibilists
Rachita Saraogi
“The education system needs to provide opportunities for girls in their formative years and make a difference in their own lives.”

What they work on and why

The 3 main motivators for their work are to:

    78%
    Mobilize and empower others for changemaking
    74%
    Contribute to pressing global issues
    67%
    Do something for their community

Main motivation for developing the initiative

Very strong motivation
Somewhat strong motivation
Neutral
Limited motivation
Very limited motivation
Key Finding 2:

Young social innovators are not primarily driven by their own employment needs and wishes, but rather by an intrinsic desire to improve the lives of others on a global and local scale.

Dylan-Zajac_the-Possibilists
Dylan Zajac
“When I was 15, I saw how much E-waste was being thrown away, and realized there was an enormous unmet need for access to technology. I had the idea to create an official non-profit to collect these computers, refurbish them, and donate them to individuals in need.”

The key challenges young change­makers face are

60% Lack of personal financial security 59% Juggling various responsibilities and being stretchedthin 54% High risk of burnout
60% Lack of personal financial security 59% Juggling various responsibilities and being stretched thin 54% High risk of burnout

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key challenges.

Key challenge 1

Financial Insecurity

Only 9% of young Possibilists can compensate themselves through their initiatives.

66% of young changemakers cannot cover their financial needs solely through the work on their initiative, meaning they have to look elsewhere for financial compensation and security.

The gender pay gap persists, even in the social impact sector.

Women are 15% less likely to be able to compensate themselves financially than their male counterparts. Similarly, out of the respondents that can cover half or more of their necessary income through their initiative, 35% are men compared to 28% women. Unsurprisingly, older (age 31-35) men living in Europe have the highest levels of financial security.

Therefore, though only 27% of respondents indicated that they felt they belonged to a marginalized group, the data indicates that a much higher number are in fact experiencing discrimination based on their gender, age, region; not to mention other factors including sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or religious affiliation.

A Closer Look

Ronan-O-Dalaigh_the-Possibilists
Rónán Ó Dálaigh

Location

Ireland

Initiative

Thriftify

Thriftify is the online charity shop that connects ethical sources of used goods with consumers who care. Each year the charity retail sector receives over 3 billion used garments - by enabling this sector to sell online, they are aiming to disrupt the fashion industry for the better.

Tell us about your funding journey – how has it impacted you and or your work?

Funding has been our biggest struggle. We got by on small grants and awards for 2-3 years before we were able to raise capital. This came at a great personal and financial cost to our founders – including lost income, lost time in being able to purchase a home and raise families. There isn’t enough funding for early stage ideas. If we had gotten more funding early on, there is no doubt that our impact would be much larger than it is today.

Key challenge 2

Multiple Simultaneous Responsibili­ties

Yes
No

79% of young changemakers have other ongoing professional commitments in addition to their initiatives.

Only 21% of Possibilists can dedicate themselves fully and exclusively to their initiative.

Young social innovators want to be engaged in their communities, while continuously learning and growing as individuals. Many work and study at the same time, and hold various volunteer positions. That said, their overachiever tendencies are also rooted in their financial strife and the need to supplement their income in order to cover their living costs.

A Closer Look

Mirabelle Mora

Location

Nigeria

Initiative

BlankPaperz Media

BlankPaperz Media supports and amplifies the voices and stories of young writers, “artivists”, social entrepreneurs and advocates who use their words, projects and initiatives to address or offer solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

What has been one of your greatest challenges?

When I was an undergrad it was really hard for me to tell people “no.” I was managing BlankPaperz, pursuing my studies, volunteering at different places, traveling around the world and speaking at different conferences. I also had my own personal life and I always wanted to jump on new exciting opportunities and explore so much. I feel fortunate to have had those experiences, but on many occasions I broke down and fell very ill. There was also a lot of mental stress. I had to learn how to balance and prioritize my life. I was between 16 and 20 years old when all of this was happening.

Key challenge 3

Prone to
Burnout

Level of burnout during the entire time of working on the initiative

59% of young social innovators in The Possibilists study reported having experienced different degrees of burnout since they started working on their initiative. Only 7% report no symptoms of burnout whatsoever and 34% emphasize stress as being problematic for them.

Burnout levels seem to be more acute among women and non-binary respondents compared to men. 62% of women and 60% of non-binary respondents respectively have experienced some degree of burnout, compared to 52% of male respondents.

A Closer Look

Ryan Gersava

Location

Philippines

Initiative

Virtualahan

Virtualahan is an impact-driven company that breaks down employment barriers for Persons with Disabilities and other excluded communities using the equalizing power of technology. It is using an impact formula that combines digital skills training, employment and entrepreneurship support, life-coaching and community building delivered through an inclusive, cost-effective, and transferrable virtual platform.

How have you been personally affected by stress personally?

I have experienced burnout several times since I started my company. There was one time when Virtualahan reached the final stage of a competition and I had to pitch while burning with fever just to secure another six months of salary for my team. I also experienced having anxiety attacks while in meetings and even to a point where I had to call my brother to take me home because I no longer had the strength to do it. While on the other hand you are expected to project strength of character, serve as an inspiration, and be seen as always positive so that people will take you seriously. Many young founders experience this and some even worse when they are just starting and it will continue to harm them unless we do something to address this growing problem.

What’s Needed:
For Possibilists

The top 3 personal needs highlighted by young Possibilists were:
  1. Network
    95%
    of respondents said that connections to relevant people for their work (senior changemakers, advisors, experts, etc.) are very important.
  2. Professional development
    90%
    of respondents said developing specific skills for advancing the initiative and mentoring from senior experts is very important.
  3. Value and recognition
    89%
    selected personal financial resources plus recognition and visibility as very important.
95%
of respondents said that connections to relevant people for their work (senior changemakers, advisors, experts, etc.) are very important.
“As a leader, I believe my growth is important to be able to lead not only my team and initiative, but also my community.”

What’s Needed:
For Initiatives

  1. Providing quality services
    95%
    of respondents noted ensuring the quality of products and services provided by their initiative and ensuring financial health of the organization as very important.
  2. Network and collaboration
    94%
    of respondents said that increasing collaborations with other projects, institutions and governments was very important.
  3. Access to funding
    93%
    of respondents said that access to funding, increasing impact and scaling opportunities was very important.
95%
of respondents noted ensuring the quality of products and services provided by their initiative and ensuring financial health of the organization as very important.
Dylan Zajac
“Now that we are donating 15–20 computers per week, we desperately need to acquire funding to hire two staff members. Currently we are fully volunteer run. My Co-Founder and I work fulltime. As Executive Director, I work 50-60 hours per week.”

What’s Needed:
For Initiatives

Impact of the initiative
Very Important
Important
Neutral
Unimportant
Very unimportant

COVID-19 as an Opportunity

80% of youth report that the Covid-19 pandemic increased their wish to make a change in the world. 58% of young changemakers also report that the Covid-19 pandemic has actually increased their capacity to make a change in the world.

Despite these challenges, young changemakers remain optimistic and committed to their work. As a group, they remain resilient, innovative, adaptive and are leading change, even in times of crisis.

They have adapted extremely quickly to the new digital reality and adjusted their programming to serve the needs of their communities during the pandemic – 80% continued activities with 69% pivoting activities in some way. Only 3% were forced to close down activities, while 17% temporarily paused them.

Grace-Callwood_the-Possibilists
Grace Callwood
“Covid-19 has definitely affected my organization. My nonprofit is a community-based movement, so all of our projects had to be reconsidered and approached differently for the sake of our team, our community, and the youth we serve. Lots of Zoom calls and a whole lot more emails became the new normal! While I know that everyone went through the same kind of virtual transition it's important to know that our team is made up of all-youth board members between the ages of 8-18!”

So how can we support Possibilists to go from surviving to really thriving?

Recommen­dations

In order to improve the lives of changemakers, strengthen their ventures and further develop the change-making ecosystem, we urge the following:

1. Focus on the person, not just the initiative.

Young social innovators want to be seen, heard and valued as individuals. As a global support network, we must acknowledge that young social innovators can only create impact for their communities if they are thriving as individuals. Therefore the components of support programs for youth social entrepreneurship need to be adjusted to not only incorporate ways of strengthening initiatives, but to also acknowledge and provide personal-level support. The focus of our work should be fostering a life-long changemaking mindset that is not bound to the success of a specific organization or venture.

2. Ensure the personal financial stability of young social innovators.

Ensuring the personal financial security of young social innovators is critical. They currently face high levels of demand and low levels of financial security.
Support programs must take this into account and work to counteract this. In addition to offering concrete funding opportunities, we must work to change our perceptions and actions regarding financial access for youth working on social change initiatives. Young changemakers are doing important, hard work and deserve financial compensation. Organizations who engage young social innovators as speakers or promote their work, even be it micro-engagements, should ensure they are fairly compensated for their time.

3. Prevent burnout of young social innovators.

Young social innovators are experiencing high levels of burnout. They are under immense and continuous pressure to perform, while also feeling an overarching sense of duty and responsibility. We need to reflect on what this means for their long-term health and well-being.
As a sector, we must acknowledge this and take sweeping action to remedy it. In addition to offering well-being support, we must consider how our support programs might be placing additional or unnecessary pressure and/or demands on young social innovators. Acknowledging multiple simultaneous or similar demands might be a first step towards better coordination between support programs, organizations, and networks.

4. Support the initiatives of young social innovators to grow, improve their quality, and be financially stable.

Young social innovators emphasized their need for more support in developing quality products and services, scaling, and the need for more financial stability within their organization. To meet these needs, we should offer regular trainings and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that allow young social innovators to deepen the understanding of their work and learn from other state of-the-art solutions addressing similar challenges. We can help them scale by connecting them to like-minded peers and initiatives that complement their work, while also strengthening their global and local networks through mindful strategic partnerships. We should rethink funding processes in order to lower the barriers of access, particularly for mid-stage organizations who find themselves struggling to attract institutional funders, and develop more useful frameworks for assessing the financial health of initiatives.

5. Build upon the strong local – international connection of young social innovators.

The participants in The Possibilists study act as bridges between macro global issues and the way these manifest locally in communities of different sizes and types around the world. They can effectively communicate local challenges internationally, while at the same time translating global matters into concrete local action. In order to make progress on reaching ambitious goals such as the SDGs, we need to better leverage the embeddedness of young social innovators in both their global and local worlds. In addition to creating international formats for networking and connection, we must also create spaces where local-specific challenges can be discussed. As a global community, we need to honor the importance of the local in driving deep and sustainable social change.

6. Leverage the strong motivation of young social innovators to make a difference.

Even in the face of crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we see young social innovators around the world stepping up with constructive solutions for new challenges. Their resilience, innovation and adaptability are vital resources for their communities and for building healthy societies in the future. The strong intrinsic motivation of the Possibilists make them incredible peers and inspirational role models for other young people. We must appreciate and acknowledge this widely so that they become multipliers and continue empowering other youth to become change agents in their own communities.

7. Reduce barriers in our own programming and support diverse young social innovators.

Systemic inequalities are one of the main barriers for social innovators and their work. We need to put an explicit focus on reducing these barriers in order to achieve real diversity, inclusion and belonging. It starts by looking at our own programming and considering what requirements or formulations might exclude certain people from feeling addressed or welcome. Once we have looked within and worked to deconstruct our own organizational biases, we can begin to look outward. In order to overcome exclusion, we must actively seek out those who are often underrepresented. This means doing outreach in marginalized communities and remote areas. Even if this requires greater organizational efforts in terms of funding and time, ensuring equitable and diverse representation among young changemakers is essential for developing effective solutions for all.

8. Connect young social innovators with relevant decision-makers.

The future-oriented ideas and perspectives of young social innovators should be at the core of devising longterm strategies and influencing leadership at multiple levels. The wish of youth to have their voices be heard, play a role, and achieve social change should be fostered and amplified. As a community, we need to facilitate access to decision-makers and grant young social innovators access to places of power and influence. We need to keep working to amplify the voices and credibility of young social innovators as key stakeholders and contributors.

Recommenda­tions from the Possibilists themselves.

Who we are

Initiated by ChangemakerXchange, The Possibilists is an alliance of 16 of the world’s largest youth social innovation networks. They have a combined total reach of thousands of young changemakers, activists and startup social entrepreneurs globally. Together we deliver real insights into the lives and work of changemakers and co-create systemic solutions to improve the conditions for Possibilists everywhere.

Three steps we aim to take now

With all their passion, commitment and creativity, imagine what young changemakers could do if they were supported in really meaningful ways.
To that end we are launching the Ecosystem Solutions Initiative.

20210615_illustrations-06
Sourcing solutions
Step 1: Sourcing and selection
We will regularly be calling for submissions of solutions and initiatives which address the key recommendations presented in the Possibilists report. Deadline for the first round passed on Sep. 15.
20210615_illustrations-07
Giving visibility
Step 2: Repository of solutions
We create a "library" and report of the best solutions and connect them to thousands of young changemakers in the Alliance's collective networks and beyond.
20210615_illustrations-08
Connected eco-system
Step 3: Online Meet-Ups
We gather the innovators behind the solutions, alliance members and young changemakers via various interactive online sessions focused on peer-learning and collective action.

The Way Forward

Young changemakers are willing to take on the world’s greatest challenges to create a better future, but they can’t do it alone.

Jan-Stassen_the-Possibilists
Jan Stassen
“I hope that “we” are just the “early adopters”. My hope would be that all of us develop the ambition to co-shape the future. The future doesn’t happen to us, we are active agents and co-pilots on this massive and beautiful planet that we call home. So, I’m playing my part in co-shaping and hope more people will, too.”
Maria-Clara-Magalhaes_the-Possibilists
Maria Clara Magalhaes
Be.Labs Recife/Brazil
“To reach my desirable 2030 future, I must act now. The future has been entrusted to me, I need to be bold and bright. If not now, when? I do all my projects because someone needs to do it. If not me, who?”
Alhassan-Baba-Muniru_the-Possibilists
Alhassan Baba Muniru
“We have colonized the earth and we see ourselves as separate from nature - and hence we also deny climate change. These are the things that keep me up at night. I hope that our generation will be able to change some of this for the better.”
“I think we are pace setters, our job is to challenge certain things and the status quo. I believe sometimes as changemakers we may not live to see the change we strive for. Simply because our work is bigger than us.”

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