This week I got the privilege of spending a couple of days at the Future Foundations' Global Social Leaders World Summit and the opportunity to lead a session on developing strategies for social change. 30 young people from 11 countries convened at the picturesque Wellington College for two weeks of coaching and leadership skills development. They will leave with practical tools and will also be part of a community of global change agents. More importantly though, they have been part of an incredibly enriching experience that has inspired and shown the possibility of social good that is out there. I found myself pondering why this didn’t exist “in my day”.
I’ll be honest, I tend to forget that this age group exists. My peer group is formed by people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, my youngest cousin is 25 (and frequently makes me feel un-cool) and the little people that my friends now come with are generally at the Peppa Pig and Lego stages of life. So what did I learn by watching and listening to these young people and seeing Future Foundations in action? Frankly, a lot. Here are a few take-aways.
1. Creativity comes from diversity
I watched as the students were put in to groups and tasked with finding SMART, tangible solutions to tackling the SDGs. From increasing taxation on companies working in fossil fuels and redirecting the capital to renewable energy industries, using social media for influence and behaviour change to ideas for reducing food waste in the College canteen that evening, these young minds came up with creative ways to address the goals at institutional, national and local levels. The strength of these ideas came from the mixture of experiences and cultural contexts that they come from and the shared listening and learning that they were encouraged to do.
Top tip to grown-ups: We’ve got to listen better to more diverse voices and experiences. Now more than ever before. It breeds magic.
2. The “social good mojo” is a beautiful thing
Why as we get older do we turn in to nay-sayers? There’s lots to be said for the enthusiasm of youth! When placed in their country groups to think about the social change they can create together when they return home whether in the same schools or not, it was amazing to watch the excitement and enthusiasm that took over. As they populated the strategy framework that they were given as guidance, they took on big social issues breaking them down into roles, responsibilities and deliverables. There was serious ambition in the room and a can-do spirit that I’ve not seen in an adult workshop in a really long time. If at all.
Top tip to grown-ups: We have to find more ways to cultivate our “yes we can” spirit particularly in the corporate world. Social entrepreneurs tend to be full of social good mojo - let’s get us some more of that.
3. Time-outs are great
Traditionally reserved for the naughty, GSL builds in time for stepping out. Used for reflection, meditation and getting in to nature, it nurtures the spirit and the soul to compliment all the learning and development that goes on. Why do this? Because it makes sense. Stepping back to reflect on their experiences, to identify positive traits that they see in each other and celebrate them and to embrace tools that help with positive mental health and wellbeing encourages these young leaders to nurture themselves.
Top tip to grown-ups: Take 5, stop, reflect and smell the roses. It’ll help with cultivating the “social good mojo” too.
It was a total pleasure to talk to the young adults about what they’ve done and their ambitions for the future. Hopefully, my small contribution helped to sow the seeds of the things they can consider as they build their programmes for social change.
As I left through the tree-lined avenue of Wellington College I reflected not just on the students that I had met but also those who were coaching them to be the best social change agents they could be. The Future Foundations coaches are an incredible crew of people who ooze enthusiasm and an infectious energy. They have humility and conviction and act as both guides and mentors for the students. I watched slightly in awe as they motivated and directed with both kindness and humour. As I got on the train back to London I found myself thinking yet again, I wish I’d had this in my day…
I'm incredibly grateful that I get to be part of it now.