Our Time is Now:
Young People Changing the World
Kinkade, Sheila and Macy, Christina (2005).
New York: Pearson Foundation; 176 pages. $19.95. ISBN 0977231909.
Our Time is Now: Young People Changing the World is an initiative of YouthActionNet (www.youthactionent.org). It is a collection of stories from more than 30 young leaders and social entrepreneurs from more than 20 countries around the world. This colorful and attractive book is addressed to a broad non-specialist audience. It presents a positive message of the energy, creativity and enthusiasm of young leaders to make a difference in the world.
The examples presented in the book cover a wide range of issues and approaches. They include: adolescent reproductive health in Kenya; girls education in Afghanistan, South Africa and Kenya; the rights of disabled people in Kyrgyzstan; environmental activism in India and Canada; income generation in slum communities in Argentina; music for peace in Palestine; political participation and activism in Albania; youth service learning in Mexico; organic agriculture by indigenous communities in the Philippines; making films to highlight gender issues in the USA; raising awareness about HIV/AIDS in China and Nigeria; social support services for young Muslims in the UK; peace building in Bosnia and Herzegovina; supporting child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia; involving young people in community service in Thailand; youth journalism in Vietnam; civic education for students in Argentina; promoting the rights of women and girls in India; and mobilizing students to prevent blindness around the world.
Each story ends with a page of advice from the young social entrepreneurs, addressed to other young people and to agencies supporting youth activism. Complementing the stories of young leaders are quotes from human rights advocates, political and religious leaders, corporate CEOs, and journalists recognizing the importance of youth activism and social entrepreneurship. The book ends with a discussion of five leadership styles: visionary, knowledge, political, organizational and societal. This concluding chapter shows how the young entrepreneurs profiled in Our Time is Now are combining different leadership styles to achieve their aims and to bring about social and political change in the world.
A number of key messages cut across the diverse range of experiences presented in this volume. Young leaders around the world are able to make remarkable achievements against many odds. They do not depend on external support and do not wait for others to take the lead. These social entrepreneurs lead by example, take responsibility as young citizens and claim their place in their community’s development.
All of the young activists had life-changing experiences during their formative childhood and teenage years. They experienced poverty first-hand, met a mentor, or discovered that some young people lack access to education or to health services. These experiences often occurred while visiting other countries or communities.
The stories combine personal discovery with social activism. Changes at the personal level lead first to community action, which often progresses to social and political activism for broader changes in society. Many of the young leaders realize that local-level actions have their limits and have to be complemented by advocacy for wider changes in policies and the allocation of state resources.
Another frequent theme is the importance of solutions that are in tune with local culture, for example in regard to the rights of women and girls to education in Afghanistan or to reproductive health services in Kenya. Where external agencies would have to spend significant resources to research local values and behaviors, the young social entrepreneurs, being members of their communities, know how to bring about change in their communities and which arguments to use, such as quoting the Koran to convince leaders in Afghan villages of the need for girls’ education.
The experiences of the young social entrepreneurs reflect a wide range of approaches to social and political activism, from self-help community development initiatives, to awareness-raising campaigns and social mobilization, to political activism. They make use of the available political space and push the boundaries of what is socially and culturally acceptable. They use creative ways to overcome resistance and obstacles.
The young leaders have a vision for change, inspire others, mobilize young people, form alliances, and use the media to get their messages across and to mobilize resources. They are savvy promoters of their causes and experienced networkers who understand the importance of combining a strong community base with wider national and international support. Linking local and global strategies is particularly important in the case of overt political activism, such as in Albania where young people are taking personal risks to challenge those who abuse their power.
Finally, while all the young entrepreneurs are tackling serious social, economic and political issues in their communities, they know that youth social action has to be fun and colorful in order to attract young people and to ensure their continued interest and support. They manage to turn youth into a powerful force for change and to overcome civic apathy among young people.
This collection of stories avoids jargon and clearly communicates the basic issues and challenges facing activism and development work. The book is divided into three main sections: 1. Passion for a Cause: What Sparks it? 2. Different Roads to the Same Destination: A Better World. 3. A Commitment to Grow: From Local to Global. The writers do not explain the reason for this division or on what basis the different stories were grouped into one section or another.
In order to appeal to a broad audience and to maintain its positive tone, the book avoids going into depth about some of the social and political issues the stories touch upon, such as the causes for the economic crisis in Argentina, the background to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, opposing strategies to tackle child labor in India, or the limitations of press freedom in Vietnam. These are positive stories of individual young social entrepreneurs and leaders. They are an inspiration for all those who are struggling for change every day, everywhere in the world.
Our Time is Now was written by Sheila Kinkade and Christina Macy. Sheila Kinkade is a writer and communications consultant who helps nonprofit organizations tell their stories. The author of three nonfiction children’s books, she works for international development organizations. Christina Macy is a published author and former White House speechwriter who has worked in the advocacy and nonprofit field for more than 30 years. In addition to writing about children and youth issues, she has promoted civil liberties, human rights, and religious tolerance.
Joachim Theis has worked for more than 20 years in international development in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He currently works on youth development and participation with UNICEF in East Asia and the Pacific. He has carried out research on child labor and child poverty. He has worked on and written about human rights-based approaches, participatory research methods, and child and youth participation. He holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology.