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.
This book resulted from an initiative of Youth Action Net, an international organization launched in 2001 to promote and strengthen the role of youth leaders. It tells the stories of more than 30 young people, in more than 20 countries, who are leading actions to help bring about positive change at the local, national, and global levels. The challenges they take on include protecting the environment; preventing teenage pregnancy; advocating for the rights and education of girls; promoting political participation and democratic practice by youth; fighting HIV/AIDS and child labor; and supporting youth with blindness and other disabilities. Their success stories span six to eight richly illustrated pages each, including one page with bulleted suggestions for others who share a commitment to progressive change. Desmond Tutu provided the foreword. Human rights advocates, political and civic leaders, corporate CEOs and journalists supplied quotes that are interwoven throughout.
The editors wrote the individual profiles, but do not offer any other narrative to set the context for or state the goal of this book. However, it is reasonable to infer that its aims are to present inspiration to youth around the world, seeking to redress urgent problems in their communities and society at large, and to demonstrate the capabilities of young people in bringing about solutions.
The profiles are organized into three parts, each introduced by a well-known public figure: (1) Passion for a Cause: What Sparks it? (2) Different Roads to the Same Destination: A Better World; and (3) A Commitment to Grow: From Local to Global. This division serves as a convenient but arbitrary organizational device; one gets the impression that each case could easily have been included in one or another part of the book. The introductions do not explore the suggested themes.
The young people profiled in this book are all in their twenties, save for a group of children mentored by a mother. They were selected by national and international organizations. Some of them lived the problem they took on, while others saw the impact on friends or others. Many of them benefited from university education and at times became aware of problems faced by less fortunate others during trips or study abroad programs. Without lessening in any way the worthiness of their contributions, most of the young people featured in this book had life circumstances that would not be typical of youth growing up in deep poverty or under other severe deprivations. The exceptional accomplishments by these young people may thus have two sides: on the one hand, they show them leading the way towards progress; on the other, they may be so distant from the everyday lives of most other youth in situations of disadvantage that it hinders the intended spread of inspiration. The possibility for such a disconnect may be heightened by the age of these young people, which in many societies would place most of them among young adults rather than youth.
In the final chapter, James Toole draws on his past work and the cases in this book to propose six recurring dimensions that underlie successful social change. He briefly describes each of these dimensions under headings that identify distinct leadership qualities (e.g., personal character; boundary-breaking vision; entrepreneurial attitude). Without doubt, these traits are important ingredients of effectiveness. They direct attention to individuals as agents of change. This perspective is consistent with a view of change agents as social entrepreneurs, not dissimilar to business entrepreneurs.1 Such a market-orientation has certain merits but it does not bring into focus the importance of policies and programs needed to nurture the development of change agents and to support their actions. Although Toole recognizes that social change requires the mobilization of political and public support, he does not discuss implications for local and national governments or international development organizations. However, in the final analysis, it is the interdependence of individual and collective efforts that defines the probability of outcomes that better people’s lives.
1. Cf. Bornstein, D. 2004. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press.
Willem van Vliet- is a professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado.